How companies can encourage deep reading

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Christopher Allen, COO of Nova Space Inc. and CSO of Allen Interactions. Building better digital learning experiences for all of humanity.

Your digitally enabled workforce is swimming in communication at every turn. From email, Slack, Jira and back, there’s no end to the amount of text and data corporate employees need to read. Is it any surprise that our reading habits have changed dramatically over the past decade?

It turns out that the modern workforce tends to skip and skip instead of reading deeply for understanding and introspection. Many digital influences, from our usual scrolling through social media to the frantic pace of all-day meetings, have led employees to be trained to read diligently and minimize deep comprehension practices.

For almost 20 years I have been helping organizations change employee behavior using the best technology and proven instruction and motivation techniques. I’ve noticed that when we skim through text, there’s often a tendency to take information as factual and not critically analyze it. To save time, we can easily be influenced.

Skimming text to clearly hook potentially important information is a radically different process than deep reading. By scrolling through text alone, we are often ready to determine whether the information:

• Something I should pay attention to.

• Something I need now.

• Relevant to what I care about.

Contents

The shortcomings of AI

Generative AI systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard don’t always provide the best answers, nor truthful ones. Today’s advanced systems are not necessarily that evaluate the meaning of the content they create. Many examples of false information generated by AI are quite humorous, while others are terrifying insist the user is dead and produces a broken obituary link.

A real danger may not be the actual output of generative AI, but rather the quality and consistency of our reading and information consumption habits. If we’ve taught not only a generation of adults, but the next generation of digital natives that skimming and skipping is the most efficient way to navigate the online world, how often will they miss crucial opportunities to think and rate content that goes beyond its superficial value?

Beyond the untrained mind-reading that mixes false and factual information, what about the implications of AI systems trained with proprietary data that can now share it with other users? New corporate governance may be required to ensure that competitive advantages do not melt away along with the efficiency gains generative AI systems can provide knowledge workers.

Regardless of current output quality and compliance risks, innovation and evolution in AI systems are moving fast, increasing the likelihood of fewer mistakes being made in the future, but how will we know and can we (people) adapt?

Deep reading

Of course, there are more advanced reading processes than skipping and skimming. Maryanne Wolf has emphasized the cognitive differences between how we generally behave in a digital context versus deep reading techniques – where we tend to open our minds and emotions and unlock critical analysis, empathy, analogical reasoning, reflection and application of prior knowledge.

For all of us, deep reading takes practice and time commitment. It’s also important to pay attention when you skip reading. Many readers now use one F or Z-shaped pattern to scan the first line of text and extract important keywords from the rest of the body. Pay attention to the context and times when your reading habits follow this pattern and ask: Is skimming the right application for this content, or is there more to be gained by fully internalizing the author’s intent?

Deep reading can take real practice to break bad habits. One of the most valuable benefits of deep reading is the ability to internalize and experience the emotions of others. For example, reading fiction for pure pleasure can put you in a character’s position to explore emotions and challenges that we would otherwise be unlikely to experience. These emotional experiences prompt deeper thinking and explorations that are difficult to replicate in other modalities.

I’ve found that deep reading also benefits people who practice it more often, regardless of the content. When we have time to think and analyze text, we get the opportunity to apply the cognitive benefits to the next thing we thoroughly read.

What’s next?

How business leaders integrate AI systems into the workflow, from customers to employees, may depend on corporate governance, market competition, regulations, application and attitudes.

I think the biggest challenge in a culture accustomed to directness is overcoming the myth, “If only they knew, they would act differently.” The performance of helping others learn often ends up as a set of PowerPoint slides, filled with text and a quiz at the end. This tedious and tedious implementation has given corporate training a bad reputation.

How long does it take the average employee of a company to complete an hour of e-learning? Seven minutes, in my experience. Just enough time to take the quiz at the end and maybe read a few key words from the slides. Many employees don’t really read; they foam. And training is not the only context in which skimming occurs.

You can’t wave a magic wand and make all your collaborators deep readers overnight. Here are a few things you can do to jump start deep reading with the important text you share.

• Set aside time to practice. Deep reading requires time and isolation from competing interests. Have your teams schedule time to practice and eliminate distractions.

• Make the practice meaningful, but not personal criticism. I’ve found that we have a better chance of remembering when the context is personally meaningful. Beginning to read thoroughly does not begin with a critique of our own writing.

• Make practice responsible. Reading the same text on the same schedule as a partner will ensure practice. In addition, reading the same text provides the opportunity for partners to think together.

As a business leader, your challenge is to help people succeed. Today’s challenge is to prepare your workforce with education not only on the state of AI innovation, but also to help elevate our behaviors into patterns rooted in competence, confidence, thoughtfulness and joy .


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