Have you ever attended a PGA Golf event, an NBA basketball game or any other professional sporting event? If you have you may have witnessed the continuous “sharpening of the axe” that the best of the best undertake. At a major golf tournament, you will see your favorite players on the range, on the practice green not only hours before their tee time, but often after their round is finished and the sun slips down over the horizon.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.” Your axe is the problem solving ability you bring to your clients. If you are still doing the same things that you were doing five years ago and watching your personal productivity decline, you’ve probably got a pretty dull axe.
Peter F. Drucker, a management guru said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Many of us have become very efficient at keeping our Facebook status up-to-date but haven’t yet learned how to use social media as a means of positioning ourselves. We may be well-versed on “what’s new?” in terms of product but don’t have a clue on how to use promotional products to solve organizational problems.
Make this year your year to invest. Invest in yourself. Have the courage to try some new ways of sharpening your saw. (Remember; your saw is your ability to solve problems). Don’t just wait for your clients to ask you for stuff. Study their organization and pro-actively suggest solutions to problems and suggest more efficient ways to achieve results. When you try new things, it will be uncomfortable at first. Be ready for that and sharpen your saw anyway.
Lincoln’s quote suggests spending two thirds of your time in preparation and one third on actually doing. Those making millions of dollars in the world of sports probably spend up to ninety percent of their time in preparation and practice. We can learn from them if we want to earn like them.
Know Your Stuff. Get very good at what you do. If you want to be a top earner, you’ll need to become World Class at what you do. No one can snooze their way to the top in this business. Knowing your stuff takes a lot of study, a lot of hard work. It means a commitment. With as many problems that organizations have, why not pick one or two and become an expert in a narrow area of need? Be an inch wide and a mile deep.
Keep Learning. If good is good enough, ignore this advice. But if you want to be the best, if you want to aspire to greatness — develop an appetite for continuous learning. Learn to love learning because it never, ever ends. Just when you think you got it, it changes, it morphs, it moves. The only way to bring real, innovative ideas to your customers is to be continuously learning. That means going to trade shows early for the education. It means asking a lot of questions. It means taking or auditing classes. Take time for webinars. Sharpen your axe.
Learn from the Best. Imagine that you could bring your clubs to that PGA tournament and hang out with the pros as they practice their craft. Or you could hit batting practice with MLB's best hitters. Well, in your chosen profession, you can. When you volunteer at your regional association level or when you raise your hand at a PPAI event, or when you sit in a professional development session at an ASI Show or sit in on a webinar — when you do those things, you find yourself elbow to elbow with the best of the best. With million dollar producers, with the CEO’s of multi-million dollar companies, with industry Hall of Famers. You’ll find them exchanging business cards with you and generously sharing their success secrets.
Make this the year that you commit to sharpening your axe and only doing efficiently the important things to grow your value.
Paul Kiewiet MAS+ is an industry speaker, writer, consultant and coach. He serves as the executive director of MiPPA. Kiewiet was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame and the MiPPA Hall of Fame. He served as Chairman of PPAI in 2007. A former distributor, he founded Promotion Concepts, Inc in 1982 and worked with some of America’s most valuable brands including Coca-Cola, Kelloggs, and Whirlpool.