“Can you summarize that for me?” — “Give me the management summary.” I hear something like that much more often than I would like. When you heard the summary of something, what have you got? Almost nothing, I think.
Think of what it means to watch a good movie compared to reading its plot summary. For a good book, the difference is even starker. Reading a book like Willpower teaches you something important and makes you a better person. Summaries almost never do. Summaries don’t engage. Summaries don’t convince — they’re bare information without context.
When managing a project, I often have to give management summaries to decision makers. By providing proper context and bringing additional information if questions arise, I try to make them more meaningful than bare information.
At its best, a summary can guide a decision the way the summarizer wants it. But a summary can never replace the real thing. It can’t replace researching yourself and it can’t ever replace the experience you get by reading a book.
It’s only a faint shadow.