I believe that in order to maintain intellectual integrity, you cannot take in enough input. The difficulty arises when you realize that even relevant input could keep you busy for three lifetimes without sleep. The first step is to cleanse your head of guilt for not including the total universe of information. (As one with both Catholic and Jewish lineage, this was a huge hurdle.)
I also think that you cannot ignore any source or medium. In the last few decades, this has expanded the level of technical and dimensional skills that one must be familiar with. Witness how quaint my kids think our standout collection of 8-tracks and vinyl is. Sometimes staying current with the technology is an exposure effort unto itself.
Without being too long winded, I'll toss a few of my reading, visualizing, and hearing categories out for your review.
OLD READS -- These are books which are not reabsorbed in their entirety, but are rather reviewed piecemeal on relevant themes.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. This Frenchman traveled through America, and, in my judgment, made more timeless observations on themes than any current practitioner of the commentative arts. Most recently, we sourced his thoughts on feminism.
NEW READS -- This category covers books that have been written in the last 50 years.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro. Caro's style paints this larger-than-life man even larger than larger-than-life. Moses, one of the most influential men of the second half of the 20th century, was the force behind the modern highway transportation system. Read the whole book, even though it's well over 1,000 pages.
Hawaii, by James Michener. I am not generally known to be spiritual, but the introduction to Hawaii establishes or re-establishes spirituality in almost anyone who reads it.
Plain Speaking by Merle Miller. Harry Truman's legacy tome looks into the trials of a man as simple as we would all like to be -- and lets us know that no one is really that simple at all.
MAGAZINES -- The currency of any professional realm -- literally.
In addition to any book related to my business (auto-related), I read collateral books from professions including lawn care and landscaping, towing, fleet management, and auto retailing. At Loadhog, we subscribe to 57 titles of specialty books related to our industry. We also subscribe to specialty titles in related industries including Wood Working, Job Shop Digest (metal working) and IFAI Journal (textiles, sewing and thread). Then, of course, there's Inc., Harvard Business Review, and the occasional newsstand buy of Fortune, Barron's and Forbes. Recreationally, I read Brill's Content, occasionally George (do you think our lack of subscriber support put them out of business?), and The New Yorker (I used to live in the rarefied atmosphere of the city and drink martinis at the Algonquin thinking I was absorbing aura).
NEWSPAPERS -- The local rag is a tribute to what happens in a one-newspaper town. As much as I am on the road, I like to read the local papers and get a sense of both the social and economic climate in a given geography. I also occasionally scarf the National Enquirer. (For all its flaws, the hard news aspect of this paper is more often than not way ahead of the national media. The three-headed man stories are also great fun.) And occasionally I treat myself to the Sunday New York Times, even though it's now tailored to the region.
RADIO -- Lean to the left, lean to the right, seek, seek, seek, seek, please don't fight. NPR on the left, Rush Limbaugh on the right, Tony Kornheiser with sports talk for people who read more than the sports pages, and god-awful local programming. (Classifieds on the air: "I have a canoe with a hole in it -- just call 237-8896 and I'll give you all the details. I want $25 for it." I actually heard this in Indiana last week.)
TELEVISION -- I do watch Jerry Springer from time to time, but never for more than 10 minutes. This gives me a quick view of the absolute bottom of publicly acceptable taste. I also West Wing it, along with 60 Minutes and Sunday Morning. I will also watch any motor sport activity at any time that it is televised -- including swamp buggy racing. My video library includes Citizen Kane, The Red Desert, all the Marx Brothers, Animal House, and Blazing Saddles (director's cut).
E-STUFF -- Obviously inc.com and our own loadhog.com. I can also get lost for hours chasing topics on dogpile.com or yahoo.com. Edgar (the Security and Exchange Commission's database of documents filed by public companies) is always a great place for those of us who do due diligence as a pastime (we better get a life). The patent section of the IBM Web site (they have inventoried every patent since the beginning of time including drawings) is a real lazy afternoon for us. (Told you we needed a life.)
John Kowalski is co-founder of Load Hog Industries, a manufacturer of specialty truck accessories headquartered in Aliquippa, Pa. He and his wife began work on the Load Hog concept in 1992. Before that, Kowalski gained business experience in a variety of jobs, including time in the U.S. Air Force, at GM, PACCAAR, and International Harvester. He is a graduate of Boston University, and holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University.