Keep Track of What you are Learning, It Might be a Book One Day

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Keep Track of what you are Learning--It Might be a Book Someday

When I graduated with my MBA from the University of Arkansas Walton School of Business  many years ago, I told a few friends I would like to write a book someday. Most of them laughed and said they were surprised I even read books.  

Nice.

In the last 3 years I have written 2 books and have outlines for 2 or even 3 more.  Who knows where this might take me. It really was not as hard as I thought it would be because I had been preparing for 30+ years.

The reason I was able to write my first two books and have ideas for the future ones is because I wrote down what I was learning for all those years.  The idea of keeping a journal was not on the radar yet, so I just made notes. Back in the day it was a Franklin planner, then in notebooks, and finally on various handheld devices, palm pilots, Blackberries, and then smartphones and tablets.

Not everyday brought breakthrough ideas or thinking, but it is surprising and interesting how my notes and ideas evolved and started to develop into key themes and topics.  

Write it Down

Notes and stories from 30 years ago still have relevance and provide texture, history, and context to my keynote speaking topics today  The stories from the years of not having cell phones or computers and driving 800-1000 miles a week to go see customers may seem that a episode of The Flintstonesto many, but they tell a story about how people got things accomplished. They also provide insights into how we work today and will work in the future. Most importantly it tells us what we must never leave behind in our quest for faster, cheaper, better.

 

I don’t think any of us from my generation would want to go back in time to the non-electronic world were we got all our information in the mail.  We might not have had answering machines or pagers, but we talked to each other. We developed better listening skills because we were not distracted by the handheld devices or the 24/7 availability to search anything globally.

 

How I Learned from Writing About Customers 

We spent quality time planning for each interaction with customers.  We took orders, many times one item at a time, by hand, in an order book with a pencil.  We talked to customers about what was selling and why. I would spend 4-6 hours writing a Christmas order for each of my 50 customers.  After you did that for a couple of months, you had deep learning and insights on what the customers wanted and why. The salespeople back in that era were product, marketing, and store layout experts.  Some of the salespeople were brilliant on predicting the best selling items, designs, and trends because they were in the marketplace every day. Being in the marketplace matters, especially today.

 

Today all of that information is handled electronically and the data is aggregated, summarized and processed quickly.  I get that. I supported those decisions to be faster, save resources, take cost out of the system and all that jazz. Today, decisions are made more frequently by a long series of cross- functional meetings and debates.  All of this comes from a good place to include more people and make sure no issues are missed. But the grit of being on the front line in the marketplace is missing.

I have found that the simple, practical advice coming from experience is still the most valued. 

Recently, I found myself telling a new leader of a cross-functional team to put what the customer would tell you in his front pocket and common sense in his back pocket and when he needs help coming to a decision, the answer is in one of those pockets. 

I know this sounds too simple, but it’s really not.  

I miss the old days were people were taking the orders by hand and developing key insights about the business.  Salespeople gathered after work every few weeks and traded stories, mainly a pumped up version of the truth. And in all those stories were some key insights and lessons that were shared.  I wish the new customer-facing people in companies could experience some of that, but, sadly, it’s probably way past the time.

So instead, every week or so, I will continue to write and post articles based on things I have learned over almost 40 years, and hope a few people can use them to help them get to where they are going.  

So, I suggest you start recording what you are learning every day.  You might be surprised where that might take you. And you might help someone along the way.