The Opposite of Talking

Daniel-PinkI just finished reading Daniel Pink’s latest book, To Sell Is Human. If you have not yet read it, I can highly recommend it. Like all Dan’s books, this is a very thought-provoking and perspective-changing book.

Ever since I read his first book, Free Agent Nation, in 2002, I have followed his work. Free Agent Nation describes with great accuracy the change in our workforce from employees tied to one company forever to independent agents moving from one company to another with ease and alacrity. What some saw as the demise of loyalty, Dan correctly identified as a tremendously creative force moving throughout the economy, allowing people to contribute to each project at their highest level of ability.

This theme, of each person contributing at his or her highest level of ability, permeates his next book, A Whole New Mind. In this work, Dan delineates the movement from moribund companies hiring large numbers of information workers to agile companies hiring smaller numbers of conceptual workers. Conceptual workers are those who can both understand the larger ideas, and have the ability to implement them.

Probably his most famous book to date, Drive, is about motivation in general, and what motivates the conceptual worker more specifically. Identifying conceptual workers, recruiting them, and helping companies create cultures that will motivate and retain them, has become the most important focus for a growing number of companies.

I have previously written much about Green Beret Leadership and conceptual workers. For software developers, the concept of Agile programming is familiar, and very similar. Late last year, an international group from Australia, The Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States met to spend two days becoming certified in Dan Pink’s work. There are only 15 of us who are certified, all using one or more aspects of Dan’s work in helping organizations grow and flourish. With Dan’s latest contribution, we can now expand that work to include sales.

To Sell Is Human is a wonderful addition to Dan’s body of work. As always, he has done the social science research to turn our traditional thinking on its head. Sales is no longer a one-sided transaction where the sales person has the advantage of information. It is now a relationship of nearly-equal partners trying to find a solution.

In my Vistage peer group, we have been successfully using this concept for the past few years. My members’ customers expect them to share their knowledge about the future of their particular industry to assist the customer in his or her strategic decision-making process. In my group, we call it relieving customer anxiety. It has become a tremendous competitive advantage for companies that do it well.

To do it well, however, demands the skills and talents that Dan describes in To Sell Is Human. Empathy, service, and listening are all explained. Exercises are provided. Further resources are listed and recommended. As always, Dan’s style is crisp, interesting and fun. Don’t miss this book.

I will close with one of my favorite lines from the chapter on improvisation: For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting.

Oh, how sad. Oh, how true!

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