Saturday, May 25, 2013

Caveat Venditor: Pink's To Sell Is Human

I loved Daniel Pink's Drive and found it extremely relevant to many of problems confronting education (cf. some of my thoughts on it), so when +Chris Long suggested his newest book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others for a #CAedchat summer read, I eagerly jumped right on it.

In To Sell, Pink addresses the techniques that effective salesmen use, after making a compelling case that the majority of us today, especially those in academia, are indeed salesmen. Effective "sales" (in all senses of the word; I'll use it here very loosely) must incorporate attunement, buoyancy, and clarity, Pink argues, and I found his discussions around these three principles illuminating for the way we deal with each other when we're exchanging ideas and opinions.

Briefly, attunement is what's necessary to be a good listener, which I think is right up at the top of the list of valuable leadership skills to have. Additionally, the ability to take the perspective of all involved sides of a given exchange has shown to be more valuable than simply showing empathy (73). To be "buoyant" is, in part, to ask questions to make people think about an idea, rather than make statements, since questions can generate more intrinsic motivation for an idea (103). And clarity involves finding new problems, not solving old ones, and curating our information, not just accessing it (132).

Some other quick notes of interest with regard to teaching that caught my attention:

  • When making a sales pitch, selling an experience is often more effective than the promise of material items (137).
  • Making a partner look good (don't argue!), so that one doesn't feel the other is taking an advantage (198).
  • The best sales are both "personal and purposeful" (210).

All of these features belong in the classroom: We should be selling the experience of education to students, rather than product like grades and stickers, and we should make them feel good about their experiences by allowing them to do interesting things with their learning (e.g. project-based learning, 20% time, etc.). Without personal investment and a clear purpose in learning, our "sales pitches", however well-intentioned, aren't likely to find as much success as we'd like.

Just as importantly, Pink's concepts of sales deserve application to administration and leadership. Next fall, I'm going to assume a joint TIS role with a few other colleagues, when we begin our 1:1 laptop program, and with To Sell in mind, I'm looking forward to paying closer attention to various behaviors in meetings, like perspective, mimicry (75ff.), positive emotions (108), optimism (111), and the different kinds of "pitches" (161ff.) that we use sell our ideas to others. With a little more attunement, buoyancy, and clarity, I'm confident we'll be better equipped to handle the problems we'll certainly face.

First and foremost, I'm going to make it a goal to be a better listener to both colleagues and students in all my dealings with them, with the hopes that we can make our interactions more personal. I'm also going to test out introducing important ideas by asking questions, while striving to make the purpose behind them clear, and I will try to teach my students how to ask better questions and find better problems to solve. I'm going to try to say "yes and..." with positivity (193) as much as possible, rather than "yes, but..." or even "no".

We'll have much more to say on To Sell later this summer in the #CAedchat book club discussion of it, which everyone is welcome to join.