The Japanese Art of Reading

Not too long ago I was diagnosed with ADHD. Apparently, 8% of business execs have it and about 3.5% of the general population. In creative types, especially people who talk or perform for a living, it’s a LOT higher.

It’s time consuming to diagnose ADHD and hard to spot in many people, especially adults, which is why so many people go undiagnosed. It’s also really expensive to diagnose which is why many GP’s are not incentivised to look for it. Mental health at work is a BIG thing that we need to talk about far more often, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.


My diagnosis came as quite a shock to me at first, but once I started to explore and understand exactly what that meant, I learned two things. The first was that having ADHD is actually a superpower and not the weakness that I initially thought it was. “He’s weird”… “He’s too easily distracted”… “He thinks a bit differently”… “He won’t be good at that job because he talks too much”…“Don’t ask him to that that he’s rubbish at it”… Comments like these, while true, soon create a chip on your shoulder. Yes, I might not be great at certain things, but I’m also a bit better than the average bear at other things.


The second thing I learned is that my brain likes systems and processes. There is a cliché used by some psychiatrists that I’ve heard a few times.


“Some people think inside the box. Some people think outside the box. People with ADHD aren’t even aware that there is a box!”.


Many people’s monkey brains are easily distracted, but in my experience, having a box-like framework is good to helping people to focus – the key is find a way of having some fun and freedom within that box.


It was during my search for an answer to that conundrum that I discovered “Ikigai”.


Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.




When I used to create content for Facebook years ago I used a framework that I wrote about in my book Ten Words. It was a simple idea based upon the idea that we must speak to the head and the heart when telling a compelling story. It’s not enough just to educate and inform someone for example, you must also inspire and entertain them. I used this format to brief storyboard artists, designers and copywriters. I believed then (and still do) that great content must try to hit as many of these “content pillars” as possible.




What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was actually using a slightly overcomplicated form of Ikigai in order to create something clickable and memorable.


You will be familiar with the concept of Ikigai even if you are not aware of the word itself. It is that moment of happiness when you manage to find a way to combine the thing(s) you love, with what you are good at, what you are passionate about and what you can get paid for.





The two most important days in a person’s life: The day they are born. And the day they figure out why”. Mark Twain


I am very fortunate that I have a job which lives at the intersection of these four areas, but the one missing piece to the puzzle was being able to manage my ADHD and my reading habits.


For several years now I have read one book each week, often speed-reading them first, and then going back to review the important parts that I highlighted more carefully. (The Bill Gate’s documentary on Netflix features an amazing insight into his reading process).



The quantity of books I have read has made me happy, but the problem with my schizophrenic reading style was that there was no order or system to whatever I was reading. It was literally just reading whatever I was interested in that week. As I’m sure you do, I often have several books on the go at the same time and flick between each of them depending upon what mood I’m in.


But then inspired by a chat with my friend Marketa Benisek, I thought about applying the concept of Ikigai to my reading list.


What if I set aside time each week to focus my reading on one area, just like I did years ago at Facebook when I focused content creation on at least one of my content pillars?


So that’s what I did. I created a very simple reading system that my brain approves of, where I place the books I want to read in the mind space that I want to focus on.




For example, some books I will read just for fun or to be inspired – they fall under “what I love” and are read late at night or on weekends. Some books I will read for work and they’re often a bit heavier, so I read those on my morning commute traveling to “what I get paid for”. Books that “the world needs” must be read with a good view, a nice drink (“An Old Fashioned please”) and no distractions, so that my brain has time to think and form a point of view. Lastly, something related to “what I’m good at” might be saved for my commute home to help me process the days work and give me something for tomorrow.




It seems like a good system. It’s probably not for everyone but it works for me.


So anyway, I just thought I’d share. Perhaps like me you’ve been struggling to focus or read the right thing at the right time? If so, maybe this little system might be a good place to start before you find your own groove.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s