Actually, this might be applicable to virtually any professional article or book you might pick up. But let me go into a bit of a back story before I go on.
Yesterday morning, I got an email from a client and close friend. He was ranting about a blog post another friend had written.
Friend A said, “This is naïve, simplistic, completely off base for most B2B sales! How can this guy (Friend B) write this stuff? It’s irresponsible!” Friend A has a huge amount of credibility with me, he’s been the top sales executive of some of the largest enterprise software companies in the world, he knows his stuff and has led sales organizations to produce Billions in revenues. Now he’s CEO of one of the most exciting early stage companies I’ve encountered.
He was right, sort of, Friend B’s blog post was a little simplistic, and idealistic. While he presented his ideas in a “Do this and you will succeed,” format, the real world doesn’t match the ideal scenario he described. The world, customers, and the situations sales people face every day never fit the idealized scenarios we often write about. The real world is messy, there are a lot of moving parts, things aren’t as clean as one would like, so simplistic approaches to very complex issues are seldom the “silver bullet,” people hope them to be.
But in fairness to Friend B, who’s a great blogger, and to all other bloggers (at least the good one’s), it’s impossible to get into the depth necessary to address very complex issues every sales person faces every day.
This is exacerbated by the increasing trend of attention spans reaching 140 characters. How can you talk about a very tough issue in a relatively short blog post? (Mine tend to be long and a barely scratch the surface.)
The reality is the situations each of us face at each moment in time are very different. They are colored by, our past experiences, the company we work for, the products we sell, the customers we deal with, their past experiences, their own companies, markets, competition, the state of the industry/markets, the phase of the moon, our personal styles/comfort zones, and on and on. And it changes for each of us moment by moment.
As bloggers, we write, based on our won experiences, which are different from everyone’s
No blog article of 400-1000 words can possibly address “your situation.”
No credible writer will claim, “Do these 5 things and you will always win!” If you are reading someone who claims this, stop, cross that blog off your reading list, the author is a charlatan (even though they may have 1000’s of likes).
With that as a very long preamble, perhaps readers might benefit from some sort of instruction guide about how to read my blog and those of hundreds of other great writers. Perhaps you can apply some of the same lessons to the professional books you read (with some adaptation).
- Make reading blogs part of your daily professional development routine.
- Read a variety of blogs. Search for people that have very different points of view and perspective. This exposes you to lots of different ideas.
- Read these blogs regularly, get comfortable with the author, learn how they think, learn their biases, so you can “calibrate” what they say. I devour the editorial and opinion pages of the NY Times every day. I’ve gotten to know the key contributors and their Points Of View. There are some that, socially, I’m very aligned with, but economically, I’m more conservative. But whether I agree or disagree, I have a framework to understand and learn from what they have to say.
- Don’t read a blog seeking answers! None of us have the answers. If one claims to, then abandon that writer immediately. First, we are limited to our own experience base, while it may be very broad and sometimes deep, it’s different from yours. We can’t possibly have the answers because, as I stated earlier, each of us faces a completely different situation and set of circumstances–and those change from moment to moment. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you know my favorite response to comments and questions from readers is, “It depends,” because it does!
- Read the blogs to think about the ideas. How can you adapt the concepts to the situations you face everyday? What would happen if you tried some of the things suggested by the writer? How do you combine some of the ideas in this post with ideas you’ve read in others’ posts?
- Great blogs should stimulate you to thinking about the issues, they should provoke you to think, to learn, to consider new ideas and approaches. Read them with this in mind. Read them to think, learn, evaluate.
- I happen to be biased against “How To,” types of articles. The Why, What, What If, Imagine This, Have You Considered…. types of articles tend to stimulate my own thinking and learning. Sometimes, the “How To,” articles are great compliments, but a strict diet of “How To” articles seems to be empty calories to me. Beside, the How To’s for my particular situations always seem to be different.
- Read blogs that have sound research and good data. But evaluate it carefully, because even “unbiased researchers” have an agenda and their results are tilted to that agenda. Read counterbalancing research, arrive at your own opinions. Truth is always somewhere in the middle.
- Read the comments, engage the authors with comments and questions, challenge them for clarity. In the case of my blog, 99% of the time, the commenters are far smarter and have far greater insight than I do. (Here’s where I’m have a little different point of view from some very close friends and some very famous bloggers. I actively seek blogs that allow comments and stimulate discussion at the blog site. Every blog that I read that allows this has far better content than those that don’t–and that’s because of the reader engagement.)
- A good blogger should be learning from their audience. That’s why comments are so important to me. While you may be learning something from what I write, I always learn from you–whether the comments, emails, phone conversations. It improves me, and hopefully, causes me to up my game in my own writing. Other great bloggers I speak with share the same experience.
- Recognize we are trying to sell you something, so make sure you are holding onto your wallet. In the very least we’re selling you ideas. In the case of our blog, we want you to be provoked by our thinking, consider talking to us about your particular situation, and perhaps engage us in a consulting project. Others are selling books, training, speaking engagements or something else. What we are selling colors our writing and commentary, so be sure to have the appropriate filters when you read what we say.
- Be skeptical, think, and evaluate. Regardless how deep our experience, how great a person’s reputation might be or how big their “social presence,” we make mistakes, we are wrong–sometimes completely off base. But being right isn’t important, if you are reading to think and learn for yourself, you will be able to overcome our own limitations or errors. If you blindly accept what we have to say, then you will fail.
- Consider sharing your own ideas in a blog. Perhaps your own blog, perhaps a guest post in someone else’s blog, or a something like LinkedIn Pulse. Others can learn from you, but more importantly, writing and expressing your own ideas helps you learn yourself.
- Make all of this habit, make continual learning, challenging yourself, challenging others part of your own journey to be a top performer.
Hopefully, this makes sense. If you apply these ideas to your reading of this blog, you will get much more out of it and I will get more out of your experience!