Give Priority to Old Sources

Acquire the habit of attending carefully to what is being said by another, and of entering, so far as possible, into the mind of the speaker.

Advice from the latest designer advocating empathy? The newest self-help sales craze? No, a snippet from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, written in the first century​​​ B.C.E. Old books can be useful. Sometimes, more useful than the “latest greatest.”

According to Forbes, there are between 600,000 to 1,000,000 new books published every year in the U.S. alone. There are also other media competing for your attention: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, news websites, blogs, TV, etc. That’s a lot of content, and you have limited time. How do you know what to prioritize?

Whenever I’m faced with multiple choices for a particular subject, I gravitate towards older sources. Recently I’ve been reading about strategy and consulting. There are lots of books in these categories. Some have been around longer than others. Those are the ones I start with.

Why? Because the market weeds out the less useful ones over time. Among the countless books being published this year, only a few will still be in print fifty years from now. That’s because the ideas in those books have proven useful to people from multiple generations. They’re probably useful to you too. When given a choice, prioritize these older sources. If you can see beyond their sometimes stale examples and illustrations, you’ll find much that is timeless and valuable.

(I write this with conflicted feelings since I have a book coming out soon. But I’ve aimed for it to be useful in the long run. I’m also honored to have contributed to another book that has been in through four editions over twenty years of continuous publication.)