Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Re-Reading is Twice as Nice

"You can never step into the same river twice." -- ancient Greek guy

"You can never read the same book twice." -- modern American guy

The first quote, of course, deals with the fact the river you're stepping into is always changing. As the water pushes downstream, the riverbed, the tree branches, the rocks, and the aquatic life change forms, so the river is never exactly the same from one moment to the next.

Check-roger. Got it.

But the object in the second quote -- the text of a book -- obviously never changes (let's assume no new edits here). You, however, do.

That's why it's always a rewarding and underrated experience to go back and re-read books that you haven't read in years. If, like me, you're a chronic underliner and margin note-taker, you can see what you thought about it then and then compare that to how you respond to the same words now.

This just happened to me with Rudy Giuliani's wonderful tome from earlier this decade: "Leadership." Whatever your opinion of Mr. Giuliani, his time as mayor, as a U.S. Attorney, a father, a Presidential candidate, or whatever (and I'll admit, I'm a huge fan of very few public figures but I count Mr. Giuliani among them), this book is chock full of very down-to-earth wisdom about the way organizations work and how they can be effectively (or ineffectively) run.

A true auto-didact with a sharp wit and keen ability to discern b.s. from truth, Giuliani's smarts come through in a very practical way. He doesn't pull any punches, he doesn't hold back where he might offend some readers, and he never indulges in false modesty (a major personal pet peeve). The stats for his tenure as NYC mayor are amazing, and he touts them repeatedly, as he ought to.

But anyway enough about the man. I first read the book before being commissioned as a Naval Officer, which, mind you, is my first-ever real (i.e. full-time) job. So while I still enjoyed the book the first time around for the stories and ideas contained therein, I lacked a context to really understand the lessons about leadership and about organizations in general.

Now, lessons in the book about the extreme importance of accountability among employees (and within organizations in general) actually have some real meaning. In fact, that's one of the single-strongest beliefs I have -- if people aren't held accountable for what they're tasked with doing, their output will slowly fade away into nothing. As obvious as that sounds, it's way too common in both government and the private sector for people not to hold their subordinates accountable out of some misplaced fear of micromanaging.

Ditto for the mentions about the importance of intense study in order to understand your field, the importance of taking ownership for whatever happens on your watch, the need to be there for people when the chips are down -- not just up, etc. The entire book makes sense in a new way for a reader who can appreciate both leadership and having played a real role within organizations.

There are things I can do without having to experience again. I could live without another Will Ferrell movie about the zany antics of a washed-up but recovering sports personality. I could live without another Kenny Chesney song about marryin' yer high-school sweetheart. I could live without another person ever telling me about how precocious their four year-old is.

However, I would never want to be separated from my book collection. I could just go to Pollard all the time, but there's something I love about owning the texts.

That way, I can experience them again, whenever I want.

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