I fielded a call from a disgruntled client a couple of weeks ago.  He had subscribed his sales force of seven people to a program that included four one -hour training sessions, delivered on-line, and a 45 minute session for him to show him how to orchestrate and implement the training system.  His problem was that only one of the sales people did the work.  The other six didn’t bother.  He had paid for seven people, but only one actually did it.  A little further discussion revealed that he himself hadn’t bothered to view the manager’s session.

In a discussion with another client, he indicated that his sales force could not be counted on to concentrate on anything for over a few minutes.  Ten minute sound bytes was the preferred approach to delivering content.

With that in the back of my mind, I attended a meeting with my ninth grade granddaughter.  The meeting was about an opportunity to attend a charter high school that focused on helping the students excel in college.  At the meeting, both the students and the teachers emphasized the need to “do the work.”  If you are going to be successful at learning, they all emphasized, you must “do the work.”

It had been awhile since I had any interaction with high school educators.   I was relieved to see that if you are serious about getting a high school diploma and a college degree, you are still expected to go to class, do the homework, and study for the exam.  The time-tested principles of learning and self-improvement are still in play.

Now, if you are still with me, you may be noticing a dichotomy.  On one hand, we have a couple of groups of adult sales people who don’t have the discipline to stick with a learning experience of over ten minutes, if at all.  On the other, we have a serious 15 year old, who understands that if you are going to get ahead, you have to “do the work.”

As a professional sales educator, one of my biggest disappointments arises from my observation that, evidently, vast numbers of adult sales people don’t have the same understanding, the same discipline, and the same motivation which their teenage children have.

That tracks with my oft-repeated observation:  “Out of any group of 20 randomly selected sales people, only one has spent $25 of his own money on his own improvement in the last year.”

I often share this quote from James Allen in my seminars:  “Men are often interested in improving their circumstance, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”

What is true for 19 of 20 sales people is, unfortunately, also true for the vast majority of mankind, and business people in general.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Here’s a list of the most common:

*  Only a small percentage of people think of themselves as professionals;

*  Many sales people never acquired the study skills and the discipline of concentration in college, as they never attended;

*  A certain percentage think they know everything and can’t get any better;

*  Others don’t really care to improve their results;

*  Others still have never considered that by improving themselves they can improve their results;

*  Still others understand that they could improve, they are just too lazy to put in the effort.

There is nothing new about any of these issues.  This has pretty much always been the case. In recent years, however, I’ve seen a deeper degradation in the learning potential of the work force fueled by a growing inability to concentrate.  I’m afraid that much of the adult population in this country has become so conditioned to sound bytes, texts and tweets that they have lost the discipline to “do the work.” Like an unused muscle, their ability to concentrate has atrophied.  That, to me, is alarming.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had seven different sales positions, selling everything from groceries to homemakers, to capital equipment to educators, to surgical staplers to surgeons.  Twice, I’ve been the number one sales person in the country.  In every one of the seven sales positions, I performed at levels far above the average.  Now, those were a long time ago, and I’m not boasting.  What I am doing is trying to make a point.  It’s this — when asked in an interview why I thought I had been successful, my immediate reaction was this, “I’ve always been able to learn.”  In other words, in my life, my ability to learn has been the character trait that has, more than anything else, contributed to the degree of success that I have had.

I’m not unique. The ability to learn is the single greatest success skill a sales person, or any person for that matter, can attain. Couple that with a bit of motivation to succeed, and nothing is impossible.  Excellence is assured. Success is only a matter of time.

I’m afraid that most business people, and most adults in this country, are losing the ability to learn.

While that is pretty scary for the future of this country, it represents an incredible opportunity for you.

You are clearly not among that group of people who don’t take their careers seriously, who never expose themselves to good ideas and best practices, and who don’t care to learn.  You are reading this, and that puts you in a special class.  And for you, the general ‘dumbing down’ of the population represents a great opportunity.

In a world where your colleagues and competitors would rather watch a two minute video on YouTube, there is tremendous upside for the five percent of the sales force – that’s you – who choose to improve yourself, and “do the work.”

If you invest in yourself, if you expose yourself to the good ideas and best practices, if you discipline yourself to put in the time, you’ll quickly learn more, develop more rapidly, and improve yourself dramatically.  You’ll sell more, make more, be more fulfilled, and rise to positions of influence and greater responsibility.  You’ll be able to provide for your families more effectively, give more generously, influence those around you more significantly, and help those who need it more intimately by exercising your growing storehouse of wisdom, competence and insight. You’ll become more accomplished and competent, more valuable to everyone from your customers to your employer to your family and your community.

The greatest investment you will ever make is the investment in improving yourself.

In light of the overwhelming desirability of the benefits of learning, I have often been befuddled by the lack of interest on the part of so many people.  Regardless, in a world where few care, those who do easily rise above the rest.

Culture the desire to learn and the discipline to concentrate, and watch as you gradually take over your world. There has never been a time when the opportunity was greater. ###