The NY Times Best Selling Author Who Never Reads: Why Action Always Beats Thought

Gary Vaynerchuk is the epitome of the hard working immigrant-turned-rich story. Son of a liquor store owner from Belarus, Gary quickly learned the in-and-outs of running a business. From an early age he filled all roles, from delivery boy to advertising manager, he worked relentlessly. His persistence paid off; in several years he had built his father’s small business into a multi-million dollar beast.

It was obvious that business flowed in this man’s veins, so it came as no surprise when in 2011 Gary stepped away from the wine business, and then extremely popular TV show Wine Library, to form his own brainchild – VaynerMedia. Gary’s hard-talking no-bullshit attitude has inspired a generation. He is the man speaking nationwide, screaming that anything is possible with hard work, one of the remaining bastions of the American dream.

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A man of this level of business prowess and insight, has become a leader for countless fans.  During a taping of his show Ask Gary Vee, a Youtube-based forum where Gary answers questions, a Dutch fan asked Gary which books were his favorite. The response was quick, honest and surprising.

Gary smiled, looked away and said, “I just don’t read books”.

Gary, a thought leader of our Internet age, admitted his lack of reading is one of his core weaknesses. Most of us assume a millionaire and intellectual of his status,  would have read countless books, searching for the techniques, secrets and strategies that eventually brought him success.  However,  Gary just didn’t read.

Gary’s statement stood in stark opposition to the “traditional” path that most us seek when attempting to better our lives. We commit to reading first and action later. We require a level of comfort before starting. 

On September 15th, 2015 I committed to a similar path; I made a resolution to finish thirty books, both audio and written. By January I had accomplished my goal, but I was not rewarded with any sort of transformative knowledge. Instead, I felt slightly confused. I wasn’t sure if I had actually learned anything. I even started one book to realize after twenty pages, too many, I had already read it.

Talking to book lovers everywhere many of us share this experience.

So, why do most of us read?

Unless you are reading exotic fiction, the majority of non-fiction readers seek books that will both engage and educate them; they are looking for an improvement. Whether, a mental upgrade or an introduction to techniques. We are looking to be better. And so was I.

With each book came a potential upgrade to my mind and abilities.  A marketing book held the secret to understanding customers. A personal development book would challenge my thinking.  Unfortunately none such experiences were had, instead the ephemeral knowledge that I had slowly gathered just vanished. I felt like I was holding onto a cloud, I could see it but not touch it, and before I knew it, it was gone, and only the memory of having “read” that book remained.  

So I gave up. I stopped reading. I stopped planning what book to read next.

And that is when I started writing.

Maybe it was the idleness or anxiety, but something strange started happening. The knowledge, ideas and words that I had previously forgotten poured forth.  My reading had paralyzed what I had learned. I felt like I knew nothing, but once I finally started to do something I felt incredibly clear.

The clarity that I had been searching for was not provided by others’ ideas, experiences and theories, but rather my own path – my own actions.  Clarity manifested itself through action, not thought.  

I realized that I had it all wrong. The books were not my path, they were not my road I was walking down, but rather pitstops along the way.  The path to clarity, purpose and knowledge was provided only through the hard work of action.  I had been searching in the wrong place. Books were only resources to a journey that I needed to undertake myself.

Gary had it right all along.  

He could not tell you the name of a hundred books, but he could provide the right answer. Work and lots of it.

Gary may not have read about it, but his experiences provided a knowledge that was ingrained much deeper than words on a page.  The knowledge that most of us seek second-hand by reading, Gary gathered from the experiences around him.  The commitment to action surpasses thought even on a neurological level.  

In neuropsychology, the term “encoding” refers to how neural networks represent information. A deeper level of “encoding” means a stronger relationship, one that is more resilient to being downgraded.  Some experiences, usually traumatic or important events, are coded so deeply they will never disappear; unfortunately regular events aren’t encoded at this level.  Neural encoding works by joining multiple neural networks, these networks represent ideas and experiences.  Experiences are coded much deeper than reading for one simple reason – they involve more neural networks.

The process of encoding also coincides with another, “neural pruning” or “synaptic pruning”. For the sake of efficiency, neurons that are wired together but rarely used become downgraded and eventually cut.  Like trimming the branches of a shrub, neurons that are not well-connected are discarded.  Book-based learning, although important, provides a tenuous hold on information – information that is not encoded at a deep enough level.   

How Can You Increase Your Learning?

The simple answer is – by choosing action over thought.  By choosing to “create” rather than “consume”.  Books are pitstops along a road that only experience can help you traverse.

The commitment to action doesn’t come naturally, most of only want to commit after we know we can be good at something.  We ask others to teach us, while we don’t pay full attention, let our minds wander and play on our phones.  We don’t want the effort, failure and frustration involved in action, so we sit comfortably by the sidelines and read, getting a taste of the experience but not enough to really know it.

The question that you need to ask yourself is, are you committed?

Lasting learning is about commitment to action. Commitment to put forth the effort. Commitment to try things you aren’t great at yet. Commitment to fail.

Books are there to help, but only as resources. A committed person with access to resources is unstoppable.

As Gary says, “ Effort is grossly underrated”.


What do you think ? I’d love to hear from you, how have books helped you? What are a few of your favorite books? Do you feel you read too much and don’t act enough?

Drop a comment and I’ll respond to everyone.