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Reading is important to our professional development and growth (not to mention the scientific evidence of how it improves our cognitive capabilities). Far too few business and sales professional actively read as part of their personal and professional growth. (Perhaps, that’s part of the reason we consistently see the stunningly poor data on results.)

Every week, however, it’s gratifying to talk to sales people and executives who’ve made reading part of their daily professional development. It’s not just blogs or trade magazines, they are actively reading books, doing deep dives into their own professional development.

I love learning what they are reading, partly to help me identify books I need to read. (By the way, I’m super thankful when they list Sales Manager Survival Guide as a book they’ve read and value.) But I get concerned when I hear they are just reading books on selling if they are sales professionals, or marketing if they are marketing, or leadership…

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of very good books on each of these topics. But, to be honest, it’s hard to make big break through’s in your own professional development if you just read books from the same genre. Honestly, most of the books offer different perspectives, new data, and different ways to think about the same ideas. They are valuable, they help us think about different approaches, perhaps incorporating some into our own work. But it’s hard to get real innovation or new ideas.

We won’t find the break through’s we need by reading the same subject matter, we have to look more broadly to find ideas in other disciplines or subjects, figuring out how we can adapt them to what we do.

Recently, this lesson was vividly reinforced in a conversation with a client. I walked into their offices. Normally, I turn right heading to the executive offices or the sales/marketing teams. On this particular morning, I turned left (I think it was because the coffee machines are on the left side on this particular floor at the customer).

As I was walking through the open workspace, the EVP of Operations saw me and yelled, “Dave, I need to talk to you!” I knew Peter from having participated in executive meetings, but he and I had never had much more than passing interactions. The client is a construction company, and Peter is responsible for the construction of $100’s of millions of buildings.

Peter started walking to me and I noticed he had a copy of my book in his hand. “Dave, I wanted to talk to you about some of the ideas in your book….”

I was a little startled, “Peter, I’m very flattered that you are reading my book, but why?”

You could probably guess his response, “Dave, I’m reading it, because there are some good ideas that I can adapt to what we are doing in operations. I want to learn how we can leverage them to improve our own performance.” We had a 90 minute conversation about a lot of the things I had written in Sales Manager Survival Guide, exploring how they could be tweaked to help his organization be more effective (He also gave me a lot of new ideas–at least new to me). At the end of our meeting, I asked him what other books he was reading and managed to add a number to my own reading list (many that I never would have thought of–or that Amazon would never have recommended.

At the moment, I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci. One of the things I’m learning about Leonardo Da Vinci’s genius was his insatiable curiosity about a wide range of topics, whether it was anatomy, geometry, astronomy, engineering, how light works, materials, drama, music…. Leonardo was constantly learning about the widest array of topics, incorporating what he learned into what he was doing at the time, whether painting, staging a play, designing a machine. In everything he did, he blurred the lines between disciplines, incorporating ideas from many into each project. Part of his genius was even blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

I believe our greatest source of ideas and innovation in sales (or whatever function you choose), comes from outside our discipline. I believe the break through ideas come from the artful adaptations of ideas in other fields to what we do, I’ve coined the phrase, artful plagiarism.

Don’t stop reading books on sales, but make the majority of what you read something outside your professional interests. Study those books, thinking, “How can I take these ideas and apply them to what I do?”