I was finishing up some sales email templates as part of a contract. I had something pretty good, but I figured there's always room for improvement, so I dug out eight to ten of my favorite books to see if there was any more juice I could squeeze out.
When I do work like this, I go to a number of different sources. So I opened up a few books centered around email templates, some books on marketing, some books on consulting, a book on networking, and two books on sales. These are some of my favorite books covering their respective topics.
What shocked me -- and I mean, shocked -- is that there was a piece of advice given in almost every single book that I'd never noticed before, despite having read these books many times.
It was about professional affiliations -- joining organizations and going to events and conferences.
This was never something I did much of. I didn't know how useful it was previously. I always preferred connecting with people one on one, and I had a flawed conception of events and conferences.
That turned around with time and new experiences, and there I am, flying from Narita Airport to Berlin for an event.
And suddenly, every one of these books has a chapter or sub-chapter on joining organizations, going to conferences, and getting a lot out of them.
I'd never really noticed the advice before, even though it would have been useful for me to notice it. My mind just parsed it. It wasn't something I was doing, it wasn't something I was interested in doing, it wasn't something I was interested in considering doing, and so I just skipped over it.
To my own detriment.
It's not that I considered going to events, did an analysis, and decided against it. That would be fine, because you can't do everything. Rather, I didn't seem to notice it at all. Books that I've worn out by referring back to repeatedly, I seemed to notice the sub-chapters for the first time. It was like I'd never read them before.
This is scary, because it makes me think that there's probably a lot of other things like that. How many key activities, core components, and useful actions to take is my mind just outright ignoring?
Most of them, right?
How many useful activities is your mind parsing out because of some preconception?
Most of them, right?
Scary stuff. Blindspots. What advice are you not even noticing, because you don't want to?
A lot of interesting research in the fields of psychology and behavioral economics has basically shown that we don't see with our eyes, but rather with our brain. The human brain has a tremendous ability to see only what it wants to see, and to "fill in" the information in the way we expect to see. The brain interprets information by incorporating our expectation into our perceptions.
Professor Dan Ariely has done a lot of interesting experiments on the subject.
Check out this short 1mn video to test your powers of observation, it's quite interesting to see what we can miss! http://youtu.be/AqOEdzanMCE
Great posts as always, Sebastian.
I'm going to a small business conference in 2 days. Any tips?
I've been there too; thanks for reminding me of this oversight in the selection of where and when to focus on what is being experienced.
I've spend stupid amounts of money on books in my life. When I wanted to learn about a topic, I'd go to Amazon and order the top 5 to 10 books in its category. If I saw a book referenced in a few papers on science I read, I'd add it to the cart, and buy it the next time I ordered a stack of 10-20 books.
I figured it was better to have books lying around unread than to miss the opportunity to read on a topic when I was inspired. Books piled up on history, governance, economics, investing, finance, marketing, business, psychology, biographies, time management, habits, willpower, discipline, creativity, writing, selling, publishing, technology, innovation, philosophy, and, umm, lots more. Fiction too, though I didn't read fiction for a while because I thought it was a waste of time. (I was mistaken on that point.)
At least half of those books never got opened up. But it didn't matter. Books were so ridiculously underpriced compared to what they're potentially worth, that I thought it was worth it to have a copies on hand that I could break open to look something up, or check a controversial study's results. I had books on health and nutrition and biochemistry, and man, those were a nightmare contradicting each other.
I was never good at predicting what I'd want to read, so I'd keep a mix of things onhand in case I got inspired, or hit a roadblock and needed to learn more.
There were auxilliary benefits too. I must have bought Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" at least a dozen times, because I kept giving a copy away to people who hadn't read it. Everyone who runs a small business should read that book.
For years people who came to my place for the first time and looked at my books would be confused. First of all the amount of them would freak people out as they never seem to take me for a reader anyway but also the selection. I'll pretty much read anything.
Now I haven't always been that way. When I was growing up I pretty much only read Stephen King. Sure, they made me read stuff by dutch authors in school but I only read that cause I had to. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I didn't like anything else, it just never occurred to me to try it. And why should I? There were enough books for me to read that I knew I would enjoy. So I would only add a new author to my reading list if I'd had exhausted the works of whatever author I was into at the time. So for a long time I didn't really expand my reading selection a lot. Only doing that when I had to.
Then one day when I was flying from London to Amsterdam my flight got delayed and my I finished my book before my flight was even boarding. As it wasn't sure when we would start boarding and there was no bookstore near the gate I was waiting at I was stuck without a book. Or rather, I did have some books that I picked up for a friend. She's an English girl that lives in Amsterdam and had given me a list of books to pick up (this is pre internet ordering. Yes, I'm that old ;) ). So technically I was only "without a book I like".
Now for some reason she decided to give me a list of romance novels so I was stuck with 7 of those. As the delay was taking ever longer I eventually opened one of them and started reading and... exactly as I expected, I hated it! Seriously, I forced myself to read the first chapter but then really couldn't handle it anymore. But about 30 minutes later I was so bored that I decided to give another one of the books a try. Again, a romance novel but this one was much better than the first one. I found myself actually getting into the book and before I knew it we were boarding, took off and landed and I was home having finished the book.
That moment though was when something changed. Although I have always known we can't see whether or not we like something (or can do something for that matter) until we've tried it, it wasn't until that moment that the message finally sunk in.