3 Ways Content Creators Can Learn From A Book

by Paul Wolfe on January 22, 2011

Recently there was a post on Copyblogger entitled 38 Critical Books Every Blogger Needs To Read.  The 38 books listed in the post make an interesting collection – and the post inspired a slew of comments with suggestions of a whole heap of other books.

And reading books IS something that bloggers and content creators should do regularly.

However the problem with most authors of business books is that whilst they can put together great content, making that content accessible so that readers can readily learn from it and implement it is a much more difficult task.

And a task that few authors seem to tackle.

I think there are 3 ways you can learn from a book – each successive method is more time intensive, but yields proportionately greater returns.  Most bloggers and content creators only use the first method:

Method #1: The ‘Overview’ Read Through

This is how most people treat business books.  They get recommended a book – by a friend, or Amazon, or Copyblogger, or wherever – and they head off and order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

When it arrives they read through it once.  Maybe a chapter a day for several days.  Or in a shorter time period.  Perhaps they take a few notes.  Perhaps not.

What they take away from the book is a general overview of the Author’s ideas – and possibly an idea of what direction they now wish their online business to be headed in (if they agreed with the Author of course).

If they did make a few notes, then maybe they’ll have some concrete and actionable steps that they can actually apply to their business.  If not, the effect of the book will wear off quickly – especially if it’s replaced by another business book from the recommended list.

If you read a book to get an overview of the Author’s idea, and you find them startling and revelatory the last thing you should do is read someone else’s book.  Instead you should read the book again – and that’s the second method.

Method #2: The ‘Digging Deeper’ Read Through

After you’ve read a great business book, one that excites you and fires you up with ideas you should go back to Page 1 and start all over again.

The first read through helps give your brain a working overview of the Author’s subject material. But you simply cannot take it all in with one read through.  To get into the detail you need to dig deeper into the book.

Hence the ‘digging deeper’ read through.

There are two ways you can do this – you can read the entire book again and take detailed notes as you go through it.

Or to get a really detailed understanding of the Author’s subject material you can read the book by repeated read throughs of the same chapter.  So go back and read Chapter 1.  And then go back, and read it again.  If you’re going for a walk or a drive and you have the book on audio book, then listen to chapter 1 on your iPod or on your car story.

Only when you feel you fully understand Chapter 1 do you move onto Chapter 2.  And you start the process again and repeat Chapter 2 as many times as needed before you move onto Chapter 3.  And so on.

This immersion in the author’s subject matter lets you gain a much more comprehensive understanding of the material – combined with detailed note taking it will allow you to come up with many ideas that you can implement in your own business.

This second method will give you more material to put to work in your business.  But there’s one more method that will really allow you to master the material.

Method #3: Create Your Own Workbook

Here’s where you’re really mine the gold.

Go back to Chapter 1 and go through the written version and your notes, and now turn that into a workbook.

Imagine you were teaching someone who had not read the book you’re working on – and what you want to create is a rich, learning experience for that person that not only presents the information they need to know in a concise and complete manner, but also presents the information with a step-by-step Action Plan so that they can grasp the concepts and go immediately to their own real world experience and apply that information.

By the time you’ve finished creating a workbook from the business book that you really like, you’ll not only know the material and the concepts intimately but you’ll also have laid out a blueprint that you can use to actually implement the material in your own online business.

How Do I Choose Which ‘Method’ To Use?

That’s a good question – methods 2 and 3 can be very time intensive.  With the right material though, the time invested is more than paid back from the learning you make combined with the practical implementation fo that learning.

My advice would be to look for books that interest you and potentially offer skills that you would like to acquire to improve areas of your business.  Start off with an overview read through – and only when you’ve read the book at least once do you decide whether the book warrants a ‘Digging Deeper’ read through, or perhaps even a Workbook approach.

Next Step
There are scores of business books out there – so here’s what I want you to do.  In the comments section of this post I want you to write down the last two or three ‘business’ books that you read, and what kind of reading you did, and what concrete, actionable steps you were able to take away and apply to your business.

So what were the last 3 business books you read?  Answers in the comments please…


Jack January 23, 2011 at 2:02 am

Another interesting post Paul.

When I am reading a book and it grabs me, I go back and start over. I get a highlighter and I get my mind mapping software loaded. I highlight the meaty stuff (from my point of view) and I make notes in the mind mapping software. I like using the mind mapping software because it lets me expand and collapse different sections and move them around on the screeen. This technique really helps me to remember the material and share it with others.

The books I have read recently.
– The Talent Code (book)
– Mindset (book)
– Start with No (audio)
– Beyond Bullet points (book)
All were excellent and worth the time to do the mind mapping note taking.

I have applied some of the techniques from these books. It would be very difficult to apply all of the techniques.

Without doing the mind maps much of the information would be lost.

Paul Wolfe January 24, 2011 at 7:05 pm


Good books.

The Talent Code is excellent. Beyond Bullet Points is great too – I recently filmed some videos using Keynote (the Mac’s version of Powerpoint) – and having read Beyond Bullet Points really all0wed me to understand how to connect with people on an image level.

I have Mindset – but haven’t yet read it. It’s on the list – though I have to be honest and tell you that there’s a John Sandford thriller at the top of my book pile.

My iPod playlist is set to play The War of Art by Steven Pressfield at the moment – very cool.

Peggy Baron January 25, 2011 at 12:45 am

Hi Paul,

Fascinating post. Although it depends on the book, I probably am more of a Method #2 reader. I slow down, reread parts that say WOW to me, take notes, jot down ideas on how to implement the info into my business, and fold back the corner of the special pages for added emphasis. :)

I like your Method #3 though! It reminds me of an economics class I took where I pretended I had an extra million dollars laying around and used the principles I was learning to multiply my money.

I just finished reading The Pledge and I’m now reading The Power of Focus. Next up will be to reread Problogger.


Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion January 25, 2011 at 2:41 am

This was a nice analysis of a subject that really doesn’t get talked enough about Paul– How to truly learn from and read a book. I think when someone has the entrepreneurial spirit, they can get a little ADD, and thus actually sitting down and reading a book and taking notes and going into depth is tough. This is a shame though, as it’s the classic quantity over quality syndrome, which leads to a bunch of general knowledge and very little action to back it up. Personally, the only way I really get good at something, or know I understand it, is by teaching the subject. That’s one reason I love blogging. It forces me to really, really know my subjects–which goes along with step #3 you mentioned.

Well done Paul.

Paul Wolfe January 25, 2011 at 9:30 am


Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The Problogger book has got some useful stuff in there – you’ll definitely want to use Methods 2 and 3 for that one! So that you actually implement some of the concepts into your own blog. (I kind of know Chris G, we are both members of a Forum, he’s a nice guy too!).

Method 3 is for books that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up – if you find a book like that and go through it in detail you’ll come out with a battle plan that will really rocket your business forward when applied.

Sadly I haven’t found a book like that yet that would be categorized as a business book. Back in the day I wrote novels and screenplays, and I found a book called THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Chris Vogler that I studied for about 15 months. Really moved my writing forward – though I let resistance derail me from that path. (This was before I’d found Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART).

Fiction writing is something I have in mind to turn back to in the next year or so….

Paul Wolfe January 25, 2011 at 9:33 am


Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! Appreciate it.

Breaking something down and teaching it is the best way of learning something. You’ll make connections that would never otherwise have occurred to you – there is a neurological explanation for why this happens, but this is probably not the time or the place for that.

I wish more ‘business authors’ were prepared to convert their ideas into more consumable systems – so that more people could benefit. That’s a post for another day I think.

Thanks again, and speak soon.

Melanie McIntosh January 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Hi Paul,

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I never would have thought of creating a workbook from a book I’m reading! Exellent idea!

I often re-read parts of books I’ve read before, or keep them hanging around and pick them up here and there. I’m not very dedicated about going back to take notes though.
Creating my own workbook for the ones that have ideas I want to implement is something I’d like to try. Thanks for the tip!

Paul Wolfe January 26, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for stopping by Melanie!

It’s a great way to really deepen and solidify the learning you can get from a book. Plus you get the benefits that you can teach it to other people if you need to – or you can use your workbook as a blueprint to implement the ideas for yourself on your own online business.


Steve Youngs January 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Hi Paul!

What you have outlined here is a great way to learn and take on new concepts and ideas as if they were your own. I see also that you are combining the spaced repetition (what I’ve always known your method #2 as) with multi-sensory input (sight, sound, touch). Definitely a winning combo. :-)

I’m trying to recall the last business book I read, I don’t read very many of what I’d classify as “business books”. Self-help, motivational, even sales training I have plenty of, but not so much business. Pretty sure the last one I read would have been: “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber. An excellent book, BTW, if you haven’t read it.

I enjoyed this article, Paul, there is some terrific value here, and if you’re not careful they’ll have to start putting the price of books up because everyone will be getting too much bang for their buck with book purchases. :-)

Kind regards,

Paul Wolfe January 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Hey Steve

Thanks for the comment.

A good one for your fiction writing might be ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler. Back in the day when I had dreams of being England’s answer to Stephen King this book was a BIG game changer for me in many, many ways.

I use the hero’s journey now in different ways – it works as a model of human development, you can use it as a business planning tool, hell you can even use it to outline a detailed ‘pillar article’ type blog post! You should definitely check it out.

That reminds me….I must get round to writing about the Hero’s Journey.


Marina Brito January 31, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Hi Paul,

My last 3 “business” books were:
- The Talent Code
- The Brain That Changes Itself
- Don’t Make Me Think

I should probably go back and write myself some notes about them…

Also, after I read your post, I kept thinking… Method 3 makes sense for a book, but… can it be applied to a blog post such as this one?

Paul Wolfe February 1, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Hola Marina

I think you can apply Method 3 to just about anything – too many people read something, maybe apply a small percentage of it and think they’ve learned from it.

Now if there’s only one or two ideas really worth implementing you can get a lot of juice for your online business by applying them thoroughly. If there are lots of ideas worth implementing you have to really dig in for the long haul to implement them all and do it in a step by step (spoon by spoon) method as you can’t do it all in one go.


Trisha Cupra February 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I don’t know about writing a workbook.

I’m all about application. The book will either give me ideas to incubate, or action steps to take. I have a good memory, so anything profound in the book that changes my paradigms will stick in my mind.

Paul Wolfe February 1, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Few ‘business’ books will have Action Steps to take IMO. That’s the point of the article. OFten when you find something profound YOU have to work out how to learn that profound thing thoroughly, and then learn how to implement it for your own business. Hence…the workbook (Or Action Plan if you’d prefer to visualize it that way…)

Kevin Steed July 12, 2011 at 2:11 am

The three ways that you have discussed here in your post is relevant and it is the true reasons why many people are able to learn from it. I myself agree with the information that you have given her and I know many will benefit from this due to this informative article. Thanks ones again for sharing to us this article.

Raluca Stone August 22, 2011 at 6:10 am

In the past, the most common source of information are books. However, with the development and improvement of the new technology, majority of the content creators rely on the internet due to the overflowing informations. Information coming from the internet and boooks are the same but it would be best if you will be using both of them as your main good and reliable source of information .

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