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How to Succeed In Business? Read fiction.

Revtank Outtakes

There are lots of reasons to read fiction. But did you know it can also make you a better businessperson?

In the Harvard Business Review, Anne Kreamer makes “the business case for reading novels.” She argues:

Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. […]

In one of Oatley and Mar’s studies in 2006, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. “The more fiction people [had] read,” they discovered, “the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and…correctly interpreting social cues.” In 2009, wondering, as Oatley put it, if “devouring novels might be a result, not a cause, of having a strong theory of mind,” they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on the “Big Five” personality traits — extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness — and correlated those results with how much time the subjects generally spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered “a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities” allowing them to conclude that it was reading fiction that improved the subjects’ social skills, not that those with already high interpersonal skills tended to read more.

Theory of mind, the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us — colleagues, employees, bosses, customers and clients — is plainly critical to success, particularly in a globalized economy.

Kreamer was Executive Vice President and Worldwide Creative Director for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, so I’m guessing she knows what she’s talking about. Read fiction, succeed in business? There are less pleasant ways to get that corner office.

Further Reading:
More reasons to read fiction:

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