Sometimes I think skimming gets a bad rap. We’re worried that people in the future won’t be able to focus long enough to comprehend anything of real value. While there’s likely some truth to that, I also see huge opportunity and huge value in skimming…especially for business owners.
Half of the battle when it comes to making business decisions in our current landscape is knowing what’s possible. Whether we’re talking specifically web development (HTML5, CSS3, responsive design, etc), or any other aspect of running a business – marketing, customer service, human resources, legal, accounting, strategy, and the like – it’s impossible to be even close to an expert in all of them. Things are changing too fast. The best that I can hope for is to have an idea of what’s going on, of what’s possible if we need to improve something in one of those areas. I need to do this in a relatively short amount of time. And so I skim. I skim my Google Reader, I skim magazines, I skim Twitter. Most of the time I just read a headline plus maybe a few sentences, and then move on to the next piece of news. My goal isn’t full comprehension, it’s getting a gist of what the article was about in 15 or 30 seconds, and then to move on to the next.
When I do this, I’m creating a “mental database” of what’s going on in the world. Often times when we encounter a problem, the first thing I do is think “I remember hearing about xyz company that had the same problem” or “there’s this cool new website/software/technology that might solve our problem”. From there, I usually only remember a small part of where I saw the article. Maybe I remember how I read it (say Twitter) or where I read it (say Wired.com) or who shared it with me, but I’ll start to dig backwards and usually find what I’m looking for in a matter of minutes.
Only then do I start reading more traditionally, aiming for full comprehension. I’ll send an article to my Kindle, buy a book, find other online resources, or whatever makes the most sense for the particular situation. So, to me, skimming is a great enabler. It’s a highly efficient path to more knowledge. I can consume vast amounts of incredibly resourceful material in extremely short periods of time, and then circle back and dig deeper if and when I find it necessary.