Over the course of my career, I’ve known a number of successful sales people who have unfortunately become formerly successful salespeople. One is someone I’ll call Harvey. He had been a great salesman, but lately his sales results have fallen and his income has dropped to roughly 50 percent of what it was just five years ago.
What happened? And what can you learn from Harvey’s story, so you can make your career last longer?
The skills that Harvey had amassed — skills that had propelled him to the top — began to stagnate. Even though the world kept spinning and moving, Harvey assumed that how he went about doing his job didn’t need to change. Unfortunately, he was gravely mistaken.
In his popular book, The Pursuit of Wow, prolific business author Tom Peters introduced me to the notion of thinking about your career as though it’s a physical asset. Machines, computers, trucks and even your clothing styles wear out over time, he noted, and so does your career. That’s why I think you should take preventive maintenance to keep your career from depreciating in value.
You need to recognize the harsh reality that about one-fifth of what you know, what you do, and how you do it will become useless next year and that you must replace that obsolete knowledge with new and relevant skills, knowledge and experience.
So I advise starting your own preventive maintenance program today. Here’s how:
Make yourself read books and newspapers more regularly. I’m always amazed at people who don’t stay current. They’re atrophying, and that can be deadly in the workplace.
When I travel around the world meeting with my employees, one of the questions I always ask is: “What have you been reading?” I’m really interested in what interests them. And, what people read provides me with a quick answer to that question. By the way, this isn’t a trick question. There’s no right answer.
There are, however, a couple of really wrong answers! Either: “I don’t have time to read or “I only read trade publications” fall into the wrong category. Both of these answers indicate a lack of curiosity and a lack of desire to grow. And, at my business, like most businesses, we absolutely need both.
Reading the latest business books is great, but it’s also important to become a student of the world. Know what’s happening in politics, the environment, sports, and the arts. Instead of just reading your normal newspaper, pick up a couple of papers that approach today’s issues from different and contradictory points of view. For example, try reading the opinion pages of both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Challenge yourself to try understanding and even appreciating the opposing editorial positions that each are taking.
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