[Analysis] Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's Reading Strategies That Will Make You Smarter

Bill Gates is a world-renowned tech entrepreneur, business tycoon, and philanthropist. He was born in Seattle, WA in 1955 and had a keen interest in computers ever since he used his first one in 1967. He started coding with his childhood friend, Paul Allen, in 1968 and eventually dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft. Today, Gates and his wife co-chair the Gates Foundation and are working together to give their wealth back to society.

Likewise, Warren Buffett is an American investor, business mogul, philanthropist, mostly known for his role as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He was born on August 30, 1930, in Omaha, Nebraska. Early in his youth, he displayed a gift for financial and business affairs; relatives and friends said that he was a mathematical prodigy.

So, what do these two successful men credit their intelligence to? Reading.

Over the years, they have developed a few strategies which I want to look more into now.

Read As Much As You Can

Normally, you would consider these men to be extremely busy (which they are); however, they both set aside a minimum of one hour a day to read.

On average, Gates reads around 50 books a year. He even goes as far as taking a week-long vacation to an excluded island just to catch up on reading. He said in a 2008 video of Microsoft’s CEO Summit that he "...would literally take boxes out to a beach place and sit there for a week reading them day and night and scribbling on them". To continue, he has a blog where he writes book reviews, gives book recommendations on certain topics, and promotes his books as well. Clearly, he’s an avid reader.

Buffett spends 80% of his day reading. In an interview Buffett stated “I read and read and read. I probably read five to six hours a day. I don’t read as fast now as when I was younger. But I read five daily newspapers. I read a fair number of magazines. I read 10-Ks. I read annual reports. I read a lot of other things, too. I’ve always enjoyed reading. I love reading biographies, for example." He is also responsible for reading around 500 pages of corporate reports daily.

Fair, you might say corporate reports and company research don't interest you. There are many other genres/modes of reading for you to explore. So the first step to becoming smarter is just by reading as much as you can.

Making Connections/Incremental Knowledge

You might be wondering how they are able to retain all the information when reading so much? Making connections while reading enables the reader to comprehend the text they are reading. It is necessary for a reader to expand on their previous knowledge and experiences while attempting to make connections with the text. It also requires a lot of thinking, which makes them more involved in the reading experience. All in all, a reader achieves a better comprehension of the text by constructing authentic comparisons.

"If you read enough, there’s a similarity between things that make it easy, because this thing is like this other thing. If you have a broad framework, then you have a place to put everything," Gates says in the Quartz video. This is implementing incremental knowledge, which is understanding data as it becomes available gradually over time. The purpose of incremental knowledge is to adapt to new data without forgetting existing knowledge.

Charlie Munger, Buffett’s business partner, explained the motto that both of them live by: “Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.” They believe the way to do this is by not only reading text but comprehending it. When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said, “Read 500 pages like this every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.” This emphasizes the importance of incremental knowledge: it builds up.

So, simply making connections will enhance your understanding which will develop incremental understanding.

Annotate

I’m sure you all remember your high school teacher nagging you to annotate more. Well, they were doing it for a reason. Gates and Buffettt swear by annotating.

Gates explained in an interview with Time magazine that "I refuse to stop reading a book in the middle, even if I don’t like it, and the more I dislike a book, the more time I take to write margin notes. That means I sometimes spend more time reading a book that I can’t stand than a book that I love." This is primarily caused by the fact that Gates will never stop reading a book before he has completed it. So, if he doesn’t understand the text, he will not just give up, he will continue annotating and writing in the margins until he is able to comprehend the text. This is something that most readers will not be able to do. We are so inclined to give up when things get hard or don't fascinate us immediately (I mean, just look at Tik Tok...). Whereas, Gates has the mental strength to work through those difficult texts and not skim over the confusing/uninteresting parts.

Similarly, Buffett explained that we, as readers, need to be able to summarize or explain what you understood from the reading to someone else. While annotating, you are jotting down important parts in your own words, making connections, taking note of plot changes, and a lot more. All of these margin notes lead to an accumulated understanding of the text allowing you to comprehend the text in your own words. In turn, you will be able to summarize your reading to someone else. While Buffett reads usually printed words, there are many tools out there to do exactly this on the laptop and phone, including Supermemo, Polar, and other readers.

Conclusion

So by altering how much you read and how you utilize the knowledge you read, you are able to become smarter. Gates and Buffett have demonstrated this through their numerous readings, they have been able to develop these skills to infiltrate their readings to process the important information. These skills allow them to move at a quicker pace while making fewer mistakes.

Currently, most of us are doing the opposite. We tend to minimize the use of these skills because there is a higher chance for error and it's more burdensome. Although, Buffett has been working on developing these strategies his whole life. So one of the smartest people alive is doing the opposite: he’s creating these filters as a means for allowing for information to be processed better.

Thus, by modifying and constantly improving your reading habits, you are guaranteed to become smarter.

Posted on: 2020-12-03