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Who Are You Learning From?

by David Brock on October 10th, 2020

Yeah, I know I’m dating myself, but I’d like to paraphrase a line from the 1980 Johnny Lee Song, Looking For Love. There’s the famous line, “Looking for love in all the wrong places….”

Too often, I think we are looking to learn in all the wrong places. (I’ll come back to those who aren’t even looking to learn.)

We, often, tend to overlook great people and places to learn from. Too often, we look to experience. Or with social media, to those with some sort of fame or voice.

“They have 10 years more experience than me, they must know much more than me….”

“They are at this level or position, they must have so much more….”

“They wrote a book, or a blog…..They must know what they are talking about…”

“They have so many followers, they must know so much…..If only I could be more like them….”

While there is a lot we can learn from those more experienced or those with some level of expertise, too often we cheat ourselves by looking for learning opportunities just with them.

If we are going to really learn, grow, and develop, we need to be looking to learn in different places.

The other day, a well known consultant was asking me, “Where do you go to learn more about sales and selling?” I responded, “There are a few people I pay attention to and always learn from. But I don’t see a whole lot of new ideas, mostly some interesting re-packaging of things we’ve known for decades. Where a I learn more about sales and selling is to look at ideas and people from outside selling. Then I try to think about, “How do I take those ideas, tweak and adapt them, then apply them to selling?”

Some of you have heard of my practice of “artful plagiarism.” I believe we innovate in our companies, in our own professional development less by looking for the next new thing, but by taking practices and ideas from very different disciplines, industries, people, and figure out how we might adapt and apply them to what we do today.

So I might talk to a product design engineer, or I might talk to an actor, or a university student, learning from them, taking what they do in their businesses and figure out how to adapt them to what I do.

I look for people, not just in very different roles/positions, but I look at people with very different ideas—perhaps with ideas that are very opposed to mine. I try to learn from them? Do I need to shift my position or change? Or possibly, in learning from them I better understand them, how they think, what things mean to them, but it reaffirms and helps me improve what I’m currently doing.

Sometimes, experience and expertise is revered as sources of learning. Sometimes, those are just old dogs who haven’t learned new tricks. There may be better places to learn–even from those who who have less experience and expertise.

Some years ago, I was a senior in college (OK, it was actually decades ago). I was an aspiring theoretical physicist, about to enter a PhD program. I was walking across campus with my “sponsor,” a professor who also happened to be a Nobel Laureate. I’m sure I was trying to impress him with how smart I was. I was also pummeling him with questions.

We reached a pause in our conversation. He turned to me, he said, “Dave, have I ever thanked you for how much I learn from you…… I hope we can continue it as you enter the PhD. program.” I was blown away. What could he possibly be learning from me? He was one of the leading thinkers in Physics–in the world!

He went on to share some things that he had learned from me. One of the most simple was that he was growing his hair long and he was struggling with how to deal with it. My hair was below my shoulders (Remember this was Berkeley in the mid 70’s). Without my knowing it, he was studying how I kept my hair out of my face and starting to do the same thing.

This morning, I had another unique opportunity. A senior in UTD’s Sales Program (Thanks for pointing him to me Howard Dover), had asked me for coaching on a sales call he was about to make.

He wasn’t trying to teach me anything, I suspect he didn’t really know how much I was learning from him. In our conversation, I started learning more about how he and his peers thought, what they cared about. He caused me to think about some things a little differently.

He and I experimented in our conversation, I didn’t know how to or even if, I could connect with him in a meaningful way. I knew I had deep experience and some level of expertise, but I didn’t know if I could leverage that in a way that would be impactful to him. I spend most of my time speaking to senior executives–all who have deep experience, and some of the smartest thinkers in leadership, business and sales. I know how to connect with them–but didn’t know that I could connect with Devyn and his peers. I started to learn how to do that in this conversation.

I’m sure I have much more to learn, but I can’t begin to thank Devyn enough for the opportunity to begin that journey. See connecting with Devyn and his peers is important to me. Not only are they the future of our profession, but they see things so differently they enable me to open my eyes and begin to see things differently.

Are you looking for learning in all the wrong places?

Afterword: Devyn is going to have a conversation with a “prospect” on Monday. I suspect you are readers of this blog, I know many in your company are. Listen to him, challenge him, learn from him. But he is offering you an opportunity to join a group that will expand your vision of how to grow and develop your people and organization. I’ve been fortunate to participate and learn so much from them.

After Afterword: And for those of you looking for a little weekend nostalgia

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=8mxIHL6d-RM&list=RDAMVM8mxIHL6d-RM

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample
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