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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Selling Education

No matter how many years of experience I have enjoyed as an educational leader, I always strive to look around corners and over horizons to learn something new. Someone once suggested that if the leader of an organization doesn't grow, or learn, then the organization will not prosper either. As part of feeding an appetite for personal and professional growth, I have recently re-read best selling author Daniel H. Pink's book, To Sell is Human

The main premise of the text explains that rather than confine perceptions of sales to those people officially titled as salespeople, one must expand the notion of sales to include people who engage with others in conceptual transactions. For a better explanation, I have included an excerpt form the book:

"If you look outside the category of 'sales worker' you will discover the many people who 'persuade, influence, and convince others (selling ideas and concepts). For example, physicians sell patients on a remedy, lawyers sell juries on a verdict, teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class... We now go online to sell ourselves - on Facebook pages, Twitter and Linkedin accounts, or profiles."

I might add, people even Blog in an effort to persuade, influence, and convince others!

When you examine his proposition from that perspective, many of us are salespeople at one time or another, as we try to influence others. Pink references a study that revealed that people spend approximately 40% of their time at work involved with non-sales selling in ways (influencing, persuading, convincing) that do not include purchases. Furthermore, those surveyed consider this skill ( he labels it "moving others," as in transforming their view, opinion or interests) to be critical to their responsibilities. This is interesting because there is a considerable amount of data that shows that people tend to have a less than positive view on the sales process and salespeople in general. 

Pink contends that the basis of this less than positive opinion is rooted in the typical sales process. He discusses "information asymmetry," in which the seller has more information than the buyer, thus putting the buyer in an imbalanced and weaker position. For example, think about buying a car. The dealer has much more information than the buyer regarding actual costs, capacity, performance, technical details,... 

Let's take a look at his reference to teachers, or educators for that matter, as salespeople. For many years, the dynamic in the teaching and learning equation was information asymmetry. that is, the teacher's authority was often predicated on their command of knowledge content that the learners had not yet acquired, and needed in order to achieve desired outcomes (good grade, course credit, graduation,...)

However, with the rise of technology and increased access to information (Google searches, Yelp, 4Square,...) the sales exchange has approached parity and a more level playing field for participants in the sales process. Returning to that car purchase scenario, the buyer has ready access through multiple data and opinion sources to nearly match the knowledge of the dealer.

This democratization of knowledge, borne of expanding storage, access, and retrieval of information, also impacts the sales process within schools. No longer is the teacher the sole gatekeeper of content. This is particularly true when one considers the exponential growth of information in the last decade. Learners are now capable of casually accessing information at a greater breadth and depth of reach than what they receive in the classroom - instantly via the ubiquitous hand held devices, like cell phones. This signals a shift from a passive receptacle of knowledge and skills delivered by the teacher, to an engaging interaction with countless resources that can be converted to into information, and subsequently skills and application.

Teachers are confronted with a daunting task of attracting the attention of learners in a stimuli-rich environment to curate knowledge and cultivate opportunities to apply what is learned. In other words, in order for the teacher to "move" (influence, persuade, convince) learners, the teacher must transform from a leader based on the authority of knowledge/content, to a facilitator and coordinator of empowered class members. 

Here's how Daniel H. Pink describes it:

"Today’s education and health care professionals can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them. When the balance tilts in the opposite direction, what they do, and how they do it must change. When simple transactional tasks can be automated, and when information parity displaces information asymmetry, moving people depends on more sophisticated skills and requires as much intellect and creativity as designing a house, reading a CT scan, or, say, writing a book."

The three vital attributes necessary to be an effective "mover" are:

Attunement = Empathy, the ability to understand the perspective and context of others. Use your head and your heart.

Bouyancy = The ability to keep your head up amid a world of rejection or disbelievers of those not willing or ready to accept or accommodate what you are selling.

Clarity = This skill relies less on problem solving and more on problem finding to assist others in recognizing different perspectives and solutions.

In summary, I have read over one hundred different business/leadership books like Pink's in an effort to discover new ideas and fresh vantage points. I have a compendium of excerpted highlights from each of the books that form a valuable reservoir of knowledge that informs my decision-making and direction as a school leader. I though I'd share this reference as a means of reflecting on our role as educators charged with selling/moving people in a vast and competitive marketplace.