As a business owner, we understand that you’re an exceptionally busy individual. Even when you’re not keeping operations moving forward, you have other important matters to attend to, like your real life. However, science has (almost) proven that there’s one activity that you may (or may not) do that can inadvertently improve the way you do business: read literary fiction.

Richard Branson, one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the world, has a reading list that’s filled to the brim with literary classics, including:

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie
  • The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • 1984, by George Orwell

There are others, of course, but a chunk of his reading list consists of these classics. The reason? Reading helps to improve your emotional intelligence and helps you better understand those around you.

Here’s the thing about running a business. It’s made up of people–real people, with thoughts, feelings, and lives outside of the workplace. You need to understand how people work before you can become a successful manager. Venture capitalist Mark Suster states: “You need to understand power, ownership, leadership, performance, relationships, motivations, alcoholism, depression, resentment, jealousy, scorn. They all exist and ignoring them is like ignoring human norms.” These are all very human things that you must be knowledgeable about, especially if you want to work with people for a living.

Behind the Science
The first connection between literary fiction and improved emotional intelligence was observed by two psychologists named David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, who published their findings in the journal Science. The study used random samples from both literary and genre fiction, but was deemed to rely on sweeping generalizations. Thus, the second phase of their experiment began, in which 2,000 people were asked to look at a list of authors to identify which they were familiar with, and to analyze their eyes to determine which emotion that person was experiencing.

The results saw a direct correlation between well-read people and the ability to determine emotion in others, and even held true following an analysis of other variables, such as education, gender, age, and others.

While these findings hint that reading literary fiction may help you better understand others, keep in mind that it’s still just a theory. The only way to prove it for yourself is to give it a shot. Besides, it’s always good to kick back and catch up with the classics. After all, just because you’re a busy business owner doesn’t mean you don’t indulge in the arts every now and then.

What are some of your favorite literary classics? Let us know in the comments.

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