Listen & Learn Your Way to Communications Success

by Rick on October 4, 2011

"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." Confucius

Corporate communications is challenging. New issues every day, shifting sentiments and changing media channels mean there is always something to learn. If you want to get ahead as a communicator, you need a curious and open mind.

You also need a curious and open mind if you want to stay on top, no matter how many years of experience you have. The value of your experience begins diminishing the minute you stop learning because you think you know everything.

Rich Becker (@RichBecker) at Copywrite, Ink., got me thinking about all this with his post about Making It Up: Orabrush Marketing. Basically, some smart young marketers realized they didn’t need to reach millions of people to succeed. Instead, they needed to reach a few people at Walmart who could put their product into the hands of millions for them. It was a huge success without wasted effort.

As Rich said in the comments:

“It’s all a matter of setting the right objectives. Instead of acting like most companies and making their objective “more sales,” Orabrush set an objective of increasing distribution through Walmart. That is the secret…”

He’s right that sometimes you need a different objective. But, how often is smart thinking like that ignored because someone ‘knows’ more or doesn’t listen to someone with a different approach? The answer is probably far too often. Someone with more experience might have killed this success by falling back on old lessons.

And that got me thinking back to a post by Danny Brown (@DannyBrown) Help Yourself to Help Your Clients, which, to me, boils down to keeping your eyes and ears open to new ideas, regardless of the source.

As Danny said,

“New media sources and resources have changed the way PR is handled – and if it hasn’t made your agency change with it, then perhaps questions should be asked why.”

Yes, I do hear my peers in this business—at least the few who might be reading this—saying, “We’re doing that.” The problem is the many more people in leadership positions who’ve told me they simply don’t have time to keep up with new ideas.

Really? As a part-time consultant, I realize I’m lucky to have more time now to learn about the latest trends in the communications industry. But I would hope that even if I were still in the agency world, I’d be finding time to keep learning. Not just about communications and social media, but about everything that interests me.

No, I didn’t always make the time, but I tried. The one place I always felt I did a pretty good job was learning from people I worked with. The times I didn’t  keep an open mind were not my shining moments. There were plenty of times I had to remind myself of my younger days and how it felt both when I was and was not listened to, and how much more motivated I was when I felt I’d at least been heard. Best of all? Every time I listened and learned, the business was better for it.

When I wrote the initial post for this blog, Tools Change. Not the Job…, I didn’t say there was nothing new to learn. There has been plenty to learn over the 35 years I’ve been in corporate communications. If you’re not listening and learning, I’m not sure how you think you’re going to be successful in this, or any, business. As leaders and communicators, we preach that to our clients and our teams. It is advice we need to heed ourselves.

Benson Hendrix (@DesertRonin) wrote an excellent guest post The Beginner’s Mind at Work on Geoff Livingston’s blog. As Benson points out:

“One of the concepts in Zen Buddhist philosophy is the idea of the “beginner’s mind.” This is the idea that people should approach a subject with excitement, an open mind, and no preconceptions, regardless of how much knowledge they have gained about a subject.”

If I ever think there is nothing new to learn about this work I do, I’ll know that I need to find something else to occupy my time. The same is true for the day I think I don’t have to listen.

One of my personal rules for my consulting work is I now only work with people who want to listen and learn. Life is way too short to do otherwise, don’t you agree?

What do you think?

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