Elevate Your Reading Habits with John H. Patterson’s



“I have learned much from reading.” - John H. Patterson

In our first book Intelligent Fanatics Project we told the fantastic story of John H. Patterson and The National Cash Register Company. But we only briefly described where Patterson got all his great ideas.

Patterson wasn’t born with all the right answers. He was a farm boy. Nor did he merely learn through first hand experience. Like other fanatics, Patterson leveraged the experience of others. He was a voracious reader. He read effectively.

Intelligent fanatics are true learning machines. In other words, the best of what Petterson read was assimilated immediately. Thus the lessons, experiences and stories from others found in books Patterson read became an essential factor in molding NCR’s quality environment for employees as well as Patterson’s leadership philosophy and vision.

We can learn a lot from John H. Patterson’s study methods, which played an integral part in his success.

I’ll share a few of John Patterson’s reading habits from an in-depth 1926 article. If you want our full notes, which includes many more gold nuggets, you can find them [HERE].

Don’t Waste Time on Bad Books

Mr. Patterson never spent much time on any kind of book that did not, in his judgment, merit the time required in its survey and thought. Books to him were subjects for study, not merely a means of whiling away an idle hour.

When looking at time spent reading through an opportunity cost lens, this makes perfect sense.

We’re the Average of the 5 People We Spend the most Time With

Patterson spent considerable time with his well chosen “friends”. He preferred surrounding himself indirectly with greatness:

John Patterson knew that [to be remembered, one has to do something - not spectacular, but serviceable], and while he did not seek undying fame, he did aspire to elevate those with whom he associated, and who played important parts in his life, to higher levels of thoughts, in order, as he expressed it once, “that you may place your business life upon the highest possible plane.”

You will notice in any survey of his life that he quoted a great deal from history and biography. He knew much more about the countries of the world and the part they had played in the affairs of time and circumstance than most businessmen. Great lives - Caesar, Socrates, Hannibal, Alexander, Napoleon - impressed their lessons on his mind.

Mr. Patterson invariably read the life-story of a successful man and with his red pencil marked the outstanding elements which entered into that life.

Patterson internalized these lessons, and stories so well by first being an effective note taker. He’d read with colored pencils highlighting parts he fancied. The most important lessons and stories were noted with red.

He then spent ample time in reflection noting all the ideas on paper when they popped into his mind.

He then read his favorite books many, many times. But he didn’t stop there. He fully internalized these lessons and stories by immediately putting them to use. Those new lessons were found in his vision, speeches, and coaching. All of which helped elevate the people around him. At the same time it served to pound these great ideas into his head, much like the musician practices and performs their music.

Example of a Heavily Marked Passage by Patterson

Here is an example of passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Conduct of Life” that John Patterson generously marked:

Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world unless he not only pays his debt but also adds something to the commonwealth. Nor can he do justice to his genius without making some larger demand on the world than a bare subsistence.

Here are a few other articles you would enjoy:

John H. Patterson’s Reading Habits

Father of Sales and Innovation: John H. Patterson

1916 NCR Sales Convention

Beware When Studying Greatness

Stop Bashing the Halo Effect, It’s Actually Good For You

We highlight John Patterson’s story in our book, Intelligent Fanatics Project. Become a Member and we’ll send you the eBook-Kindle version for Free. [Join Today]


Thanks, Sean. This ability to quickly identify what is wasteful reading is super important. Especially, true today when we are inundated with articles, books and blogs.




Exactly, shankarsaurabh. Noise is over abundant today. The more noise coming at you, the more important one needs a very effective filter. That’s why you’ll notice we prefer going directly to the source of greatness to learn.