In the world I was born into, people went to school in the traditional way. During that time, you were asked what you wanted to be one day. You went to elementary, middle school, high school, and university. You learned a profession, and you worked in that profession most of your life.
In those days not many people switched from one profession to another. Not only did most remain in the same profession, but even with the same company. It wasn’t nearly as possible as it is today to move from one city to another, let alone from one country to another. As time passed, mobility greatly improved—automobiles, trains, and planes. But this movement grew slowly because the workforce was slow to change.
We didn’t learn new things—at least not at the rate we must learn them now. We were more or less like the Freemasons, brought into the “mysterious insights” of some profession. We learned those and then built on them over time.
There has certainly been a radical shift in this pattern.
If you were to examine the knowledge we gained beginning with the Industrial Revolution all the way up to today’s Knowledge Revolution, you’d see that much of what was learned is now obsolete. A person has to learn new knowledge or lose their job. This is true of companies as well.
Interestingly, there is a notable example of a company that evolved breakthrough technology that, even so, remained grounded in technology that would shortly be made obsolete. That company was Kodak, which invented the digital camera. They held tightly onto the old film-camera model, though, because that was its bread and butter, and didn’t change when they should have. Once one of the world’s leading companies, today it’s only older people that even remember Kodak, even though they are still in existence.
Today we live in a world in which the knowledge of yesterday can even be a hindrance. One of my favorite things to point out is that the challenge of today isn’t so much to add new things to your mental computer (the mind) but to rid ourselves of knowledge that is affecting us in a negative sense. If knowledge is positive, it should remain with us. But sometimes it’s worth it to erase knowledge because it’s incorrect—it is no longer helping us but holding us back.
Due to the sheer volume of knowledge today, as well as its rapidity of change, we have to be as flexible, open and as transparent as possible. So much is coming at us through video content, books, articles, and others, that we can’t possibly follow it all anymore. Knowledge grows exponentially, all the time.
One example I like to use is GitHub, the world’s largest open-source programming platform. On GitHub today are over 36 million programmers working on over 100 million projects. Who knows where this is going in the next few years because it is just so rapidly expanding?
How do we deal with that on a daily basis? We’re constantly bombarded by email, news, and information that we can’t possibly process all of anymore. Some people are overwhelmed by it all, lost in this information tsunami (although a tsunami isn’t a perfect analogy, because a tsunami is a single wave that is then gone. This information deluge is constant.).
General to Specific
It’s also true that, in years past, a person could have a general sense of things, and could even have a general education. This has now disappeared, too. This can be seen in the realm of medicine, where once there was such a thing as a General Practitioner. Today the GP is no more—every medical professional is a specialist, such as a cardiologist, dermatologist, obstetrician, or what have you.
Another example is in my own field, where we’ve had an enormous expansion in programming languages. One paradigm shift I predicted 20 years ago—for which I was called “stupid” and told I was absolutely wrong—was that of open source. I engaged in a study of open source along with the Austrian government and attended the press conference where I announced my predictions. Microsoft was there, and they and other giants of the time said that open source would never succeed because no one that wasn’t getting funded would participate. Therefore such a movement could never get off the ground.
Boy how times have changed. Last year, Microsoft, the previous naysayer, shelled out a hefty 6.4 billion dollars to purchase GitHub, the world’s largest open source community. They’ve obviously changed their mind on the subject.
But the open-source movement has resulted in an explosion of open-source programming languages: Perl, Titan, C, C++, Pascal, PHP, and many more. And yes, Microsoft even created their own open-source language, TypeScript.
So how can we stay on top of everything? We need the information to be filtered. The problem is that everything that gets filtered is done so by the person or group creating the filters. With each “filtering,” we lose just a little more objective reality, a little more of the holistic view, lost to subjective biases on the part of those creating the filters. Every filter is created by a human being, and we know that human beings all have biases based on their history, race, culture, gender, living standard, and more. In my book Sales Automation: Is it Replacing Us…or Carrying Us Forward? I point out that there really can’t be such a thing as a totally unbiased algorithm, just because algorithms are created by human beings.
What to Learn?
Education, then, becomes more and more of a tough business. Are we learning the very latest? Have we examined past knowledge, filtered out what was unneeded and what should remain? Are we learning things that aren’t even useable for the future, because nobody is using them anymore? If you talk to children currently attending school, you find out they have that feeling—they’re learning things that nobody is using. Why is someone bothering to teach them subjects they can just search online if they need to?
What has changed in our knowledge system? It’s the nature of knowledge itself, changing all the time—like no other time in history. What should we learn? Facts? How to process information? These are questions I feel it will take a long time to answer.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that we have to constantly learn how to learn. We can never sit back and say that there is nothing to learn anymore.
What Stays the Same
So if knowledge is changing so rapidly, is there a constant? Is there something that always remains the same, despite all the changes?
There is. It is the interaction with human beings.
The interaction—which is what sales is all about—is always the same. You ask a question, whether figuratively or literally, you get an answer. You knock on the door, and it will be opened. Human beings communicate with each other, and this interaction is crucial for the future. This means communication between two individuals, or—as in B2B sales—between groups.
This interaction is constant. If you lie, you lie. If you’re trustworthy, you’re trustworthy. If you relate to people, you relate. The way that you communicate informs others of what kind of mindset you have, and your emotions. This communication includes your physical bearing, which is why there are computer programs today that analyze a person’s appearance.
All of this is completely vital in sales, as most sales are still done in ways where the salesperson and prospect can see each other. Therefore how you look, act, and appear is all part of your holistic communication as a human being. Your actions backing up your words is part of it, too.
While everything else is changing around us, learning to interact is the most important knowledge a salesperson can obtain. Character—which I covered in my ebook Who Are You? —is also very much a part of this.