Of course, as communicators you should just read. Period. But fiction helps develop your storytelling skills and your creativity—both things you need to stand out in today’s extra loud content world.
And, if you’re a book lover like me, having a business reason to read is always a good thing.
Now if we could figure out a way to bill that time…
I’m not the only one who believes fiction is the way to go, either.
Author and researcher Keith Oatley describes what reading fiction does for our minds and souls:
- Reading stories can fine-tune your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.
- Entering imagined worlds builds empathy and improves your ability to take another person’s point-of-view.
- A love affair with narrative may gradually alter your personality—in some cases, making you more open to new experiences and more socially aware.
Reading Fiction Defines Your Humanness
Your storytelling abilities increase and you will better define your humanness.
Reading is so important to us, in fact, that when we interview candidates to join our team, we ask what they’re reading.
Hearing what kinds of books people read tells us a lot about what kind of person they are and, better, what kind of writing they’ll be able to do for us.
But it’s also a very telling question.
Most people say, “Oh, I don’t have time to read.”
(A little hint: if you interview with us and you say that, you won’t get the job.)
That tells us more about the person than what they are reading. It tells us they aren’t interested in lifelong learning, in building their storytelling skills, or in any sort of professional development.
All three of those speak to our values, so we know immediately that person is not a good fit for us.
But almost as bad is when someone says they just read an issue of People or US Weekly.
Some say it in jest, but if you can’t tell me the latest thing you read—really read—you’re not a good fit for our team.
(It reminds me of the former librarian on the Jimmy Kimmel clip who couldn’t name a single book.)
Reading Fiction Makes Business Sense
But you don’t have to be in a creative field for reading fiction to make business sense.
During the past decade or so, Oatley and other academic researchers have shown how reading fiction helps a person better understand real human emotion, which improves social skills.
In one of Oatley’s studies, 94 respondents were asked to guess the emotion of a person by looking at a photograph of their eyes.
The more fiction people [had] read, the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and…correctly interpreting social cues.
As well, they tested 252 people on the theory that the big five personality traits—extroversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness—could be affected by reading novels.
Once again they discovered:
A significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities.
Reading Fiction + EQ = More Money
But it’s not just about social skills or being able to interpret social cues or about empathy—though those things are incredibly important when dealing with people.
It also affects the bottom line.
The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence shows how teaching employees to focus on their work, and not simply just getting the job done, cuts down on grievances, mistakes, and even safety issues.
Emotional intelligence is forged in many ways by, you guessed it, reading fiction.
Just like anything else, we have to work our minds…for leadership skills, for managing profits, and for working better with our human capital.
If your brain begins to expand because of what you’re reading, your emotional intelligence increases and so does your job performance.
We often joke about having a Spin Sucks book club, but perhaps it should become a reality—reading fiction is that important to us.
And so is professional development and helping the industry progress in a way that not only keeps us alive, but helps us thrive.
Imagine if you have a communicator, a marketer, an SEO expert, and a copywriter sitting at a table.
They are asked to write a brand story using the same elements, but only one person at the table is a big fiction reader.
Who do you think tells the best brand story?
It has nothing to do with what each person does for a living, and everything to do with how they’ve built the creative muscle in their brains.
Read More Fiction!
If reading fiction improves your storytelling abilities and your emotional intelligence—and emotional intelligence improves your bottom line—then it makes business sense to make it part of your routine.
The next time you go to pick up a business publication or haggle through your email, at the end of a long day, think about reading some fiction instead.
Not only will it give you some time away from work, it will help you at work.