Reading develops your skills as a communicator, leader, and all-around human being. Just ask Oprah, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Barack Obama--or anyone who has achieved a measure of success the rest of us would love to emulate.

But what should you read?

If you are like a lot of professionals, your reading list is likely limited to books on your industry and the occasional self-help book. Of course, reading anything at all is better than reading nothing at all, so if all you have time to read is Tim Ferriss' latest volume on performing your own heart surgery in less than four hours, then go ahead.

You will be better off.

However, a myopic approach to your reading list limits your personal and professional growth.

Why?

Because every self-help book--no matter how well-written and insightful--is a how-to manual on living a pale imitation of someone else's life. 

Tim Ferriss didn't become Tim Ferriss by reading someone else's how-to manual.

Becoming an original requires feeding your creativity and critical thinking skills.

In other words, originality is fed by originality.

If you're looking for a competitive edge, you won't find it by reading the exact same book with the exact same lessons everyone else is reading. Being one of the herd is the definition of mediocrity. Fitting in means blending in, and no ever listened to or followed anyone who aspired to blend in. Anyone who wants to make an impact on their company, their community, and the world would never aspire to disappear into the herd like a bison in Dances with Wolves.

Yet so many of us take the herd mentality to personal and professional development.

We follow the same "thought leaders" everyone else follows.

We retweet the same inspirational quotes everyone else retweets.

And we read the same books everyone else reads.

Discard the belief that you can separate yourself from the pack by doing the exact same thing the rest of the pack does. The safety that comes from numbers has a specific side effect: anonymity. If all you see are other bison who look like you, think like you, and read the same books you do, run hard toward the edge of the pack until you see the open plain beyond. 

And you can start by taking a different approach to your personal and professional development.

To quote from the Netflix series On My Block, "Expand your palate, homey."

Read a biography.

Read a poem.

Read a short story.

Read a novel.

Listen to music that inspires your heart and expands your mind.

Do all the above, and if you can, do it today.

The rest of the pack may not understand why you are carrying around a book of Frank Bidart's poetry--but the rest of the pack didn't understand why Oprah, Elon, Jeff, Bill, or Barack did the things they did, either.

And they turned out okay.

Published on: May 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.