Since my earliest days of personal development study, my mantra has been "stay a student." I attached an affirmation — a strategy — to that mantra, "learn something new every day."
That strategy has worked and manifested itself in the past 22 years of my writing career. I won't bore you with the numbers of books and columns I’ve written, but I will tell you that my entire body of work is based on my personal observations and experiences.
I write about what I know to be true.
I write about things I have done myself.
I write about personal lessons.
I write about philosophies I have garnered by reading and observing.
I write about strategies I have learned and developed by doing.
I write about what I have learned, and I predominantly learn by reading, thinking, observing, and through my personal experiences.
My mantra of stay a student and my affirmation of learn something new every day have been enhanced by my “power of observation.” More easily defined, I pay attention to everything and everyone.
I consider my ability to observe and create ideas as a result to be my single most important asset besides my attitude. As St. Francis of Assisi said in 1100, “I seek first to understand, then be understood."
Many people erroneously believe that quote is one of the “seven habits” from Stephen Covey. He “borrowed it” from St. Francis without ever acknowledging it. Not good.
There are very few brand new ideas. When I get one, if it’s an offshoot of someone else, the first thing I do is acknowledge my source. It makes me feel better, and makes my source a resource, not a copyright infringement.
My power of observation has also paid major dividends in sales, selling, and sales calls — especially face-to-face sales calls. Using it on the sales call has often led to the right question, the right dialogue, uncovering my prospect's buying motives, and big sales.
I attribute much of my ability to observe to the fact that I walk into the sales call ultraprepared, and don't have to worry about what I'm going to ask for or what I'm going to say. Rather, I can focus on what's going on around me. I'm observing my prospect, his office, his desk, his way of dressing, his language, and everything about him that my relaxed state allows me to look at and learn.
How do you learn? How strong is your power of paying attention? How strong is your power of observation? I find most people to be somewhere between wrapped up in their own world and oblivious. When I see that, I actually smile, because I know how much my own power of paying attention and observation keeps me ahead of everyone else.
OK, so how do you observe, how do you pay attention, and how do you learn?
My best mentor (besides my dad) was the late, great Earl Pertnoy. His mantra was, “Antennas Up – at all times.” He never missed a trick.
Here's the secret: It’s not just observing or paying attention.You must “combine” your abilities as you see things to get the maximum understanding:
— Combine observing and thinking.
— Combine observing and understanding.
— Combine observing and asking questions.
— Combine observing and coming to some conclusion, idea, or AHA!
— Combine observing and comparing to what you already know to be true.
— Combine observing with being open, positive, and eager to learn.
I refer to it as self-collaboration. For example, you see something and relate it to past experience or past lessons. Or maybe you relate it to something your parents taught you, or that you learned on a previous job, or learned in school, or learned from your spouse, or learned from your kids, or learned from your best friends, or learned from a customer, or learned from a co-worker, or learned from a professor, or learned from a mentor.
Get it? It’s what you see — compared or combined with what you already know.
Paying attention and observing costs me zero, but it’s worth a fortune. It can be your fortune, too.
Paying attention and observing has given me the biggest opportunity for new knowledge and new information. It can be your biggest opportunity, too, if you decide to harness the asset you already possess.