The Best Way to Learn Sales is Through Action

There is only one way to learn, it is through action.

I’ve always had an unjustified fear of open water.  Aside from the obligatory youth swimming lessons, I didn’t spend a lot of time near the water as a kid so I never became comfortable in it.

This past year, I wanted to hit my fear head-on, so I signed up for scuba diving lessons.  I figured seeing the ocean from a different perspective might help, and the exposure therapy definitely would.

I signed up for an introductory lesson in Greece, and asked (begged) a slightly more scuba-advanced friend (Taylor) to come with me for emotional support.

We drove to class, met our instructors at their boat, exchanged pleasantries with the other more experienced divers, and to my surprise started suiting up.  

“This is fine, we’re just getting into our gear before they get into the lesson,” I said to myself.

Before I knew it, I was in a dive suit, on the boat, speeding toward our dive destination.

“Cool, we’ll do the lessons on the ocean,” I thought.

Over the sound of the wind and waves, and in broken English, our instructor shouted to us that when he made the universal “okay” signal underwater - joining his thumb and index finger in a circle - we were to respond with two thumbs up if, in fact, everything was okay.

“Wait,” I said, “What about if everything isn’t okay?”  

“Right!” He said.  “Give. Thumb. Down.”

And with that we were invited to jump into the water.  The instructor came over, turned my tank on, and fiddled with my gear, and suddenly I started to sink.

I looked over at Taylor as I descended 30 feet, slowing my breathing, as he quickly fluttered over to me to see how I was doing.  I gave the universal “ok” sign, and off we went, eight of us in total on our scuba “lesson”.

It wasn’t until after we surfaced, some 45 minutes later that Taylor told me that was most definitely not how an introductory dive lesson was supposed to go.  

It was the literal embodiment of “being thrown into the deep end”.

Me, trying to be "okay".

We laughed hysterically in the car on our drive back into town, as we debriefed on just how strange, terrifying, and frankly dangerous the “lesson” was:  There was no explanation of how the equipment worked, what to expect, or how to troubleshoot.  There was no progression from land, to shallow water, to progressively deeper water.  There were no questions, or coaching.

There was just the dive itself.

And while I wouldn’t advocate everyone learn how to scuba dive this way, as a teacher and coach I learned a lot from this experience.

Often I teach new concepts like this in a safe classroom environment: examining best practices for how to cold call, talking about doing it, hearing from others who have done it, showing off some relevant research.  Sometimes I even do it live, or have someone else do it in front of students.  The furthest I get is to push students to do it themselves in a low-stakes environment.

But how often do we just jump in and start doing it right away?  Almost never.

And yet, it can be the best way to learn if you incorporate a few additional elements:

Do it with others.

Doing a new thing alone is intimidating, but in the company of friends it can be fun.  Having a friend, or peer who is “one chapter ahead” of you is ideal because they have more relevant advice.  They remember what it’s like to be a beginner, and offer useful tactics, not platitudes or something they read on a bumper sticker.

Debrief afterwards.

Rarely do you nail it on the first try.  It’s weird, and uncomfortable, and foreign.  Spending some time talking about what you learned, and how you got better is how you learn.  I love asking:  What was harder than thought it was going to be, and what was easier than you thought it was going to be?  Debriefing a challenging experience as a group often makes you realize your feelings, fears, and apprehensions aren’t unique.  It turns a solo experience into a shared experience.

Have an expert nearby.

Having an expert nearby, either guiding the experience or available for questions during or after is especially helpful.  Someone who has been doing “the thing” for years, and has seen people move from beginner to novice, to expert is ideal.  They can point out common pitfalls, and mistakes, and offer best practices or words of wisdom.

Build in thinking time.

Make the time to document key lessons learned, and how they’ll apply going forward. Often you’ll come up with your own algorithms, or reminders as you continue you learning journey on the topic.  This “learn by doing” method doesn’t “feel” like learning is being done to you, but if you take the time to document the lessons, you’ll see that you learned more on your own than you would have through hoping to remember parts of a lecture.

As I continue to teach and coach, this experience was a good reminder to push students to experience “the thing” before they get a chance to overthink it.

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