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Next Wave
Another Way to Learn

Participating in or even starting a book club offers unique professional development rewards.
  • Carly Burnham
  • July 2019
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Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham

A book club allows you the accountability of a class with the flexibility of being self-directed.

Last month, I wrote about how important it is to take time for professional development in the insurance industry and taking responsibility for it. If you're like many of us, you're busy with day-to-day work, and while you may be able to schedule 15 minutes a day on your calendar for articles or company material, you may struggle to find time for deeper learning. You can enroll in classes or sign up for something more formal (like a professional insurance designation) that requires a significant financial commitment as an incentive to focus on your development.

But, what if you want something a little less structured, but still valuable? I'd recommend forming a book club. This type of group will give you accountability to fellow learners and the opportunity to discuss what you've read and hear other perspectives on the material. Whether you start one at the office or elsewhere, here are a few tips for the success of your book club.

Find a buddy. When you decide that you want to run a book club, it can seem overwhelming, especially if you haven't done this before. I've found that there are usually others who are looking for the chance to read and discuss new material. Working with someone can allow you to bounce ideas for your first book and your first few meetings off each other. You can work together to divide the book up and create questions for your meetings, not to mention getting help with the scheduling and administrative task of finding meeting places.

Invite people who aren't like you. Much of the value in discussing source material comes from the new perspectives you can get through synthesizing the information as a group. So, if you're in an underwriting department, and you're reading a book on predictive analytics, you may want to consider inviting your actuarial or claims friends. They may think of applications that don't spring to mind for you. This gives you the added benefit of getting exposure to others in your organization (or community) and breaking down silos.

Schedule your meetings before starting the book. I would venture to guess that many people, including me, read a title and a blurb about a new book, get excited about it, and buy it. And then it sits on your bookshelf, collecting dust, while you ignore it in favor of other pursuits. A book club makes you accountable to others to come prepared for the meetings, and laying out how many meetings you'll have allows you a time-bound goal for completing that book. Depending on the layout of the book, four or five chapters are often good for one meeting. This can vary if the author has grouped the chapters in some meaningful fashion. If you're using a popular book, your local library or the book's website may have suggestions on how to structure a book club's discussion centered around the book.

Some good reads to get your club started are When Words Collide by Bill Wilson and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Send out questions ahead of your meetings. Some people are great at answering questions thoughtfully on the spot. But, for the rest of us, having a chance to prepare and collect our thoughts ahead of time will lead to a better discussion. Of course, the discussion will likely lead in directions you hadn't thought of, and you may not get through all your pre-written questions, but you'll have prompts to fall back on if the conversation stalls.

A book club allows you the accountability of a class with the flexibility of being self-directed, especially if you take responsibility for organizing it. As a young professional, organizing this type of activity is a great way to grow your leadership skills and show your commitment to professional development in the insurance industry.

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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