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Over the last six months, I've had many conversations with entrepreneurs, managers, and executives, where I asked them one question: "How many books do you read a year?"

The answers were surprising. Very few of these people read more than three books a year. And most of those who don't are the same people who are having difficulties in marketing, sales, innovation, and the general growth of their business.

You're likely doing your best to makes strides in these areas, but if you're not reading enough, you're at risk of being blindsided by changes in the marketplace, missing growth targets and promotions, being denied raises, and ultimately missing out on opportunities that would come about if you achieved greater success.

Consider these facts:

33,000 new products and services are launched every year, at a cost of billions of dollars. Yet, as many as 75 per cent of them fail. Why? One reason is that the majority of those in charge of marketing, selling, innovation and growth strategies don't know what customers want or how to give it to them.

Nearly 600,000 companies go out of business every year in the United States, according the U.S. Department of Commerce, and over 11,000 a year in Canada, according to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Why? The companies don't know what they need to do to stay profitable and to grow.

Thirty-eight corporations fell off the Fortune 500 list in 2009 alone and 429 of the original 500 from 1955 are now gone. Why? Their leaders lose touch with changes in their industries, with new technologies and new customer demands.

The key to avoiding all of these grim scenarios is to make a commitment to lifelong learning. The most successful people in the world have an incredible appetite for learning. They do what they can to stay on top of the opportunities and challenges that present themselves.

As General Electric's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, explained, "I'm a learner. I never pretend to know all the answers, and I want to continue to be fast on my feet."

He's one of many well-known executives who attribute their continued success to reading. Bill Gates said that on a recent vacation he read 30 books. Warren Buffett credits his success to spending the majority of his days reading annual reports, business periodicals, and a variety of books describing potential trends. Proctor & Gamble chairman Alan Lafley said he has spent countless hours reading Peter Drucker's books and how they affected the cornerstones of P&G's business: their consumer-driven strategy, innovation and leadership.

Like Mr. Gates, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Lafley, the world's top executives understand how important it is to stay on top of new ideas, which gives them a clear and powerful advantage over the majority of executives and managers who don't take the time to read.

Consider this final set of statistics from a recent study:

Forty-five per cent of adults haven't read a book in the past year, 12 per cent of adults read at least one book a month, and just 4 per cent read at least one book a week.

Which group do you think leaders like Mr. Gates, Mr. Buffett, and Mr. Lafley belong in? That small majority of readers … and leaders.

I challenge all of you to read a business book a week. After a couple of months I can guarantee you will have more ideas for new products, services, campaigns; you'll feel more confident, and even excited to come into work to try out what you learned.

It might sound corny, but this old adage is absolutely true: readers are leaders and learners are earners. If you want to achieve greater success in your business and want conquer particular challenges, both current and future, you have to read more. You can't afford not to.

Ryan Caligiuri is a growth strategist whose mission is to get you reading a #bizbookaweek. Ryan is the host of Cut the Crap Podcast – a podcast for business professionals and students who don't have the time to read books but want the big ideas from the world's brightest business minds.

The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit brings together the brightest entrepreneurs in Canadian business to share insights for an inspiring day of keynote talks, workshops and networking. Speakers include Ryan Holmes of Hootsuite, Aaron Zifkin of Airbnb, Harley Finkelstein of Shopify, Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures and many more. The event takes place on April 26 in Vancouver, April 28 in Calgary and May 3 in Toronto. Click here for details.

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