How to research business ideas with newspapers

Here’s a surprising position from a guy who writes a daily case study about trying to make $10K a day: reading the newspaper isn’t the best way to learn about current events. You are better off spending more time reading something else. This is especially true of Entrepreneurs and those interested in personal development.

Reading is important, both the news and actual books. I wrote a whole piece on how to read more books, even when under a busy schedule. That busy schedule is a huge problem!

How our busy schedules impact our ability to read

We all know that value of reading, and of how the most successful people say reading every day is incredibly necessary. Warren Buffett & Mark Cuban even gave the advice to read for as many hours as possible as you can.

But then life gets in the way. You intended to read, but reading isn’t an activity that needs to be done ‘now.’ When ‘now’ activities pop up, it’s really hard to say no. For example, how do you read when:

  • Something went wrong at work and your boss needs something ASAP
  • Your child/friend/family member/yourself has the flu and needs to see a doctor
  • You’re low on groceries and need to pick something up so you have food
  • The list goes on….and on…and on

I don’t blame anyone for pushing off reading due to an immediate need-I’ve done it a ton myself! Rest assured, when I had the flu, a ton of Game of Thrones was watched and nothing productive was done.

The types of reading you can do…and why some are better than others

Keeping in mind that it’s important to read, and how busy we all get, let’s briefly run through the kind of reading there is, how long it takes, and it’s educational value.

The most common types of reading I came up with are below. Some research also indicated these are the most common types of reading:

  • Fiction Books
  • Academic Articles
  • Non-Fiction Books
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper

Reading fiction books is easy to do, but has limited educational opportunity

Have you ever picked up a great fiction book and just lost yourself in it? For me, those were always the Oregon Files books by Clive Cussler. Absolutely amazing books-I could lose myself in the plot in a second. Plus, as a story, it was really easy to run through the pages.

But unfortunately, it only has moderate value as an education source.

Reading academic articles is the best way to learn, but is incredibly tedious

If you want to really learn a topic, there’s no better way than to read a well researched and cited academic article.

If you want to put yourself to sleep, academic articles are also a great choice.

Reading non-fiction books is the best balance between ease of reading and education opportunity

Non-fiction is your bread and butter for learning a topic, and you really should spend as much time as possible reading them.

It’s the best way to make yourself the most well-rounded individual you can be.

Magazines are easy to read and have a range of educational value

If we’re talking Popular Science, it’s pretty good material. Cosmo, not so much

Newspapers are great for current events, and not too difficult to read either

Reading the news should be part of your morning routine in order to better understand what is going on in the world. It’s important to know the important stories of 2018, and what the key opinion pieces are saying at the moment. It’s got the added benefit of being quick and easy to do.

There’s a reason Warren Buffet starts his days with newspapers!

However, all this reading does not provide the education an entrepreneur needs most

If you look at that list above, there’s a wide range of material to learn from. Ranging from heavy content information on academic articles to opinion pieces in the paper, there’s a ton to learn!

Notice, however, that the thing entrepreneur’s need most isn’t on that list!

The thing an Entrepreneur needs to know most of all is how their target user thinks, what they care about, and what matters most to them

If you show me an entrepreneur who cannot describe in detail what their target user thinks about, I’ll show you an entrepreneur who is unemployed.

Since the core objective of a business is to provide value to its customers, you need to know what a customer values in order to provide it!

As mentioned above, none of the types of reading mentioned above really provide you a great window into how large swaths of the population thinks about things.

Sure, you can read an opinion piece in the newspaper. However, the post could argue a position that’s relatively uncommon.

For example, how many people actively root against their alma mater due to the dangers of football? With more than 100 million people in the US as viewers, the writer is certainly in the minority.

So here’s the key point: just because that piece above was published in the New York Times does not mean it is representative of the country.

As we just saw above, ~100 million people have a different opinion than the writer. That is not to say who is right or wrong, it’s simply to point out that it’s important to understand how everyone thinks.

Or, you could try reading articles that report poll statistics. As we’ve seen through the 2016 election, polls can do a rather poor job of understanding what people think about and care about.

There’s a reason Nate Silver has a ranking on the quality of polls: they aren’t foolproof ways to understand what people care about and why.

Again, will reading about poll results really provide you a great understanding of what your customers care about and think about?

An entrepreneur should learn about their customers by leveraging online newspapers

The answer here is that the entrepreneur should leverage online newspapers and other news sources to understand what large swaths of people think about and care about.

As always, the trick is to learn what other people think, not what a talking head or newspaper might say. I wrote an article on the value of learning from other people in my piece on how successful people talk with their Uber drivers.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Create a compendium of sources
  2. Read key stories that grab your eye
  3. Read the conversation to really understand how people think

Let’s talk about it in more detail!

#1: Create a compendium of news sources: ‘Like’ news sources on Facebook

Every news source and blog has their own Facebook page.

The beauty of it though is that every one of these news sources posts links to their content on Facebook. This is handy because it allows a constant stream of important news to fill up your newsfeed.

Create your compendium by simply searching for a news source in your search bar and liking the page.

One tip is to aim for 5+ sources. In particular, it’s helpful to get a perspective from as many sources as helpful to avoid any bias. While reports of bias are likely overblown, the more different sources you can read from, the better.

For me, the news sources I ‘like’ in my Facebook compendium are:

  • CNN
  • CNN Money
  • CNBC
  • CNBC Make It
  • Business Insider
  • Bloomberg
  • New York Times
  • Wall Street Journal
  • BBC

#2: Read the key stories that catch your eye: Start your day by reading key news stories within your Facebook compendium

As mentioned, start your day by scrolling through and reading a news story that catches your eye. For fellow coffee lovers out there, this is made even more fun with a piping hot cup of coffee.

As mentioned in the caption on that image, this article caught my eye because it seems counter-intuitive. There’s been so much publicity about why standing desks are better for you. Most around my old office have just accepted it as fact.

So this article caught my eye and I gave the post a read. The author is a Professor of Pediatrics and clearly a doctor. He gave a well-reasoned argument that essentially boiled down to the fact that standing is not the same as exercise.

What’s the take away from this article?

Well, a Doctor just told me in the article that standing desks aren’t that great.

As an entrepreneur, that’s interesting. It means I shouldn’t be involved in any deals with a standing desk company, shouldn’t provide them to my employees, and generally forget about them.

That’s why we have step number three.

#3: Read the comments to understand how people really feel

This is the most important part, and how one really learns from Newspapers.

We just read the article, which was articulate and written by a doctor. However, that is just one data point

If we look at the comment section, we have a much better understanding of how people actually feel.

This post was made ~1 hour before I took the screenshots, and all these comments are brand new.

Starting at the top, Jason commented on how the standing desk had helped him with a medical condition. Theresa, right below Jason’s comment, mentioned a similar point.

Check out the likes though. Between Jason and Theresa, they have 38 likes.

If I just read the article, I’d think that standing desks are clearly silly because that was the author’s main point. If I read the comments, I see that a large number of people actually really like them.

Comments are how an entrepreneur learns

If we continue with our standing desk example above, we can see reading the article teaches us one thing, while reading the comments teaches us the exact opposite message.

What can we learn from these first two comments?

  • Standing desks, despite the author’s opinion, are in fact valued by people
  • If I were to start a standing desk company, I should cite research on it’s benefits to people with herniated disks and rheumatoid arthritis
  • I should market the product to people with herniated disks and rheumatoid arthritis.

It took 30 seconds, and now I have a product, marketing strategy, and target customer. Thanks, comment section!

What else can we learn from comments on this post?

If we look through the rest of these comments, there are some clear jokesters we can just ignore.

For example, while funny, the comment “My Boss is just as dumb standing!” doesn’t provide a lot of learning opportunity for us.

However, there are some interesting nuggets here that we can learn from.

People seem unhappy with the bold claim

A couple of comments above show immediate pushback, likely because standing desks are accepted as healthy. These comments are:

  • “Wow, we got here pretty quickly. Just yesterday, they were the silver bullet”
  • “This profoundly misunderstands the point of standing desks”
  • “They have their benefits. Why be so contrarian?”

Again, learning opportunity! These comments tell me that people will be skeptical if you make a bold claim.

Let’s say I wanted to make a bold claim, such as “Rum Raisin Ice Cream is the best flavor of ice cream”

If I just made that claim, it seems based off the comments above, there would be immediate pushback.

Rather, I now wonder if it would be better to make this claim in stages.

First, I could write an article about how Rum Raisin ice cream is growing in popularity. That’s less controversial, and allows people to read it and go ‘hmm, interesting.’

Next, I could write an article about how Rum Raisin ice cream has fewer calories per tub than other ice creams. Again, less controversial and again allows people to read it and go ‘hmm, interesting again.’

Now, I can write my article that claims Rum Raisin is the best. My hunch is people would be more receptive to it after seeing a few positive articles above Rum Raisin.

Again, it only took reading a few comments to get this hypothesis!

Okay, but what about all the fighting in the comment section?

It’s a fair question, as you will certainly see a lot of stupid people getting into fights about absolutely stupid topics within the comment section. There are two tricks here!

#1: Do not get into fights in the comment section

You are here to learn by understanding what people think! There’s no point to get into fights in comment sections as absolutely no one will ever win that fight.

Plus, it’s a great opportunity to practice self-restraint.

#2: Learn from the fight within the comment section

The example we were looking at above did not have a fight…yet. There was, however, one comment that is pretty much guaranteed to start a fight. It was:

“The ‘stand-desk’, pseudo science promoted by capitalism, especially in corporate New York City, where eight hours of work is never enough”

Based on this quote being fairly inflammatory, it’s pretty safe to say someone will jump in with a not nice comment about the value of hard work.

Here’s the trick: do not engage. Just learn from this.

Right off the bat, the article about standing desks does not say anything even remotely related to the merits of capitalism.

There is a learning opportunity in that someone can transform an article on the scientific benefits of standing desks into a fight about capitalism.

It shows there is a lot of anger right now towards capitalism.

As we know this comment is going to start a fight, it also shows there is a lot of anger against those who are angry about capitalism!

That’s why this comment is a learning opportunity: it shows that people are so angry right now, they will use an article about the merits of standing desks to fight.

Again, for an entrepeneur or someone interested in their personal development, this is a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s why I also advocate for talking with Uber drivers.

As we talked about in the beginning, it’s important to read books, newspapers, and comments

However, if you are an entrepreneur or interested in becoming the best possible version of yourself, the comments on newspapers will be your best friend.

It’s the best way to understand what people care about, how they think, and what matters most to them. It’s hard to beat a learning opportunity like that

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