Why Reading Is The Most Important Key To Success, As Told By 3 Successful People

by Gary Wu

In my study of successful people, the one thing they all seem to have in common is a passion and dedication for reading. Below are three firsthand accounts from highly influential people highlighting the importance of reading.

1. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger

I group these two together because of the extent to which they share the same ideologies. The duo is legendary for their longstanding business and investing prowess through investments at Berkshire Hathaway, which has consistently outperformed the market since its inception.

The result has spawned an army of devoted followers and has earned Buffett and Munger titles of two of the richest men on the planet. As a testament to their influence, thousands of people fly in from across the world to spend just a day listening to Buffett and Munger speak at their annual shareholder’s meeting.

So when Buffett or Munger give advice, we should listen. The two largely share the same philosophies on best business practices and investment styles, and they also happen to agree on the same method for success. In a 2007 commencement speech given at the USC School of Law, Charlie Munger said:

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

He goes on to reference Buffett as an example of such a learning machine:

If you watched Warren Buffett with a time clock, I would say half of all the time he spends is just sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking on the phone or personally with people he trusts.

Buffett echoes his partner’s sentiments. When asked how to get smarter at a conference, he held up a stack of papers and said:

Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.

2. Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban seems to achieve success in every industry he enters, whether it’s business, entertainment, technology, investing or sports. He started and sold his first business, Micro Solutions (a systems integrator and software reseller), despite never having formally studied technology or software. How did he do it?

The reason, according to Cuban, is that reading gave him the competitive advantage to succeed where others couldn’t, and this applies to all endeavors. As he explains in his book, "How to Win at the Sport of Business,"

I read every book and magazine I could. Heck, three bucks for a magazine, twenty bucks for a book. One good idea would lead to a customer or a solution, and those magazines and books paid for themselves many times over. Some of the ideas I read were good, some not. In doing all the reading I learned a valuable lesson. Most people won’t put in the time to get a knowledge advantage. Sure, there were folks that worked hard at picking up every bit of information that they could, but we were few and far between. To this day, I feel like if I put in enough time consuming all the information available, particularly with the Internet making it so readily accessible, I can get an advantage in any technology business

3. Malcolm X

Perhaps the most inspirational example of the importance of reading comes from the life story of Malcolm X. He dropped out of school upon completing the 8th grade, disgusted with the educational system after a white teacher at the school had discouraged him in his dream of becoming a lawyer.

Out of school, Malcolm X eventually entered into the world of drug dealing and pimping in Harlem at age 18, then got into larger robberies and was arrested and incarcerated for larceny at age 20.

However, Malcolm X began to turn his life around during his time in prison, partly through his conversion to Islam, but more so through a fellow inmate who inspired in him a serious passion for reading. He writes in his autobiography:

In every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge [...] In fact, up until then, I had never been so truly free in my life [...] My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned my from London, asking questions. One was, ‘What’s your alma mater?’ I told him, ‘Books.’ You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something...

These three people worked or continue to work in a range of fields spanning business, investing, technology, politics, public speaking, civil rights and leadership.

They lived or live through different periods of time with different purposes and missions in life. Yet the common link among them is their affinity for reading and their accreditation of success to that key trait.

The takeaway is, regardless of your endeavor, your current situation, your upbringing, or the path you wish to take in life, reading is the key to upward mobility. It may not guarantee success, but it surely increases the chances of it.

Fortunately, the amount of time we spend reading is entirely within our control, so get to it.

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