I want everyone to make reading a consistent habit. It’s a powerful way to develop focus in your life. People are busier than ever these days; at least that’s what they want us to believe. When people are busy, good habits tend to fall by the wayside, and activities like reading become a wish list item that most people can’t get around to doing.
It’s unfortunate because learning is a big component of staying relevant, and expanding your skillset.
So when Blinkist, a Berlin based startup, reached out to me with its app that helps people make some time during a busy day to read, I was intrigued.
Blinkist is a mobile reading platform that condenses non-fiction books into 15 or 20 minute digestible formats. The app’s goal is to allow people with curious minds to squeeze more reading into their day by flipping through “blinks” (the startup’s term for distilling only the most memorable and important parts of a book). The most recent release of the app will allow users to listen to audio formats of the startup’s library.
Blinkist allows for effortless swiping through a variety of non-fiction titles.
I was curious to see how a condensed version of a book can stand up to its long-form counterpart.
Below are the top 10 books on business and entrepreneurism read by an assortment of Blinkist’s 200,000 subscribers in 2014.
I’ve read quite a few of these titles in their original form, and I’ve reviewed the Blinkist version of each of these books to see if the condensed versions would leave readers with enough knowledge to confidently execute the lessons being taught.
Note: Although many of these books were published before 2014, I do love seeing old prints of titles hanging around years after being published.
Let’s take a look at how the titles faired:
The $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau (2012)
The condensed version comes off as self-help theory, with no real practical implementation for someone to execute what they have learned. It’s a basic read for someone who has never run a business before, or worked in an industry that never required him or her to manage a function of a business. The reality that anybody can start a profitable business with only $100 is being fooled; sure you can kick off a new business for $100, but the investment beyond that is untold and full of uncertainty.
Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson (2011)
Bite-sized literature isn’t always a bad thing, and Steven Johnson shows that in his book. I think people should read this entire book to get the full effect of Johnson’s analysis; but if you’re only looking for the quick and dirty of his thesis, then this version hits the right points. Johnson’s work reads intelligently in any format, and I found this version of his work to be just as helpful as the full length. I would encourage readers who enjoyed this “lite” version, to challenge themselves to the full text.
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries (2011)
I believe in this book and its philosophies to an extent. I think the condensed version doesn’t articulate some key specifics that readers who want to follow this model need to know. If you are to read this book, I suggest the following sections: measurement, finding a sustainable business model, and developing a prototype product (or what Ries calls the Minimum Viable Product).
Start With Why, Simon Sinek (2009)
Sinek’s book delves into the motivational and self-help realm. This is one of those books I wouldn’t even recommend reading in the 15 minutes Blinkist suggests. I’m not blaming the technology here; I’m blaming the writing.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz (2014)
Horowitz’s book taught me a lot this year, and I can say it was my favourite business read. Given the book is a longer version of his blog posts; the condensed version will quickly gloss over many elements that require close reading and detail. To truly get into the struggle, the sweat, and the tears that Horowitz writes about, you need to read the full text. I don’t think you get the full effect of Ben’s writing in this condensed version.
One Simple Idea, Stephen Key (2011)
Stephen Key’s book was a tough one to digest, even in its condensed 20-minute format. The object of building a successful business is to bring some form of simplicity to people’s lives; but the journey by which a business will get there, is much more difficult. I’m not convinced that the simplified version of Key’s book provides enough meat to share practical advice to someone who’s never run his or her own business before. I think the problem with Key’s thesis is that it comes off more as gaming the system, rather than building a useful business.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen (2011)
I’m learning that the condensed versions of great writing can pass, but it completely depends on the ability of the writer to communicate his or her ideas well. Clayton Christensen does this well, because his theories, ideas, and analysis of innovation are solid. I’ll also give credit to the Blinkist team that is scouring the text to pull what they believe to be the worthy excerpts. To Christensen, I commend his ability to provide concrete examples for his theories and opinions—something a lot of business books fail to do.
First, Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham (2014)
This is a management book and I hate management books. Primarily because there is no true path to success, and that management as a role is based on trying all sorts of things. That goes for business as well. If you want to read a management book, I’d suggest reading Horowitz’s Hard Thing About Hard Things. If you are already struggling as a manager, reading Buckingham’s book won’t really help you.
What Would Google Do, Jeff Jarvis (2009)
I’m a Jeff Jarvis fan and I think this is a great book. I think some of his points are a bit outdated or overzealous, but at its core, the book speaks truth to the reality businesses face in this Internet era. The condensed version is a good introduction to the Jarvis school of thought, and I encourage readers to dig further into the full text to see his bigger picture.
Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith (1999)
I love this book because it says so much about the state of our industry today, and it was published in the midst of our first technology bubble. Beckwith’s book, when condensed, still packs the same amount of knowledge and practical advice that allows the reader to walk away with something tangible. This is a great read, even in Blinkist form, to quickly understand the reality a business faces in the service economy—a culture that now consumes more services than they do tangible things.
Blinkist is a beautiful, simple app that allows users to effortlessly glide through books. I think what they’re doing is good for a student who has to source and juggle multiple references; it’s perfect for the person who likes the idea of running a business, but doesn’t really know how; and I hope it encourages more ambitious readers to challenge their minds to the full text.
As much as I love technology, I still think habit-encouraging tools aren’t really solving the problem of a “less busy life”. They’re actually forcing us to multi-task on top of other activities (commuting, exercising, or cooking for example). This is a terrible hurdle for people who want to practice better focus.
I’m excited to see where Blinkist will take reading next, and I hope they push users to go beyond the Coles Notes idea of comprehension.
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