When you hear hoofbeats behind you…

A zebra.

Image via Wikipedia

 

…don’t expect to see a zebra.   

That bit of advice comes from medicine, but, even though the practitioners of my noble profession might not swear by Apollo, this could be valuable advice to a salesman.   

I just came back from a walk around the lake in my neighborhood and started to think about my day and the mistakes I made.  While I walk around the lake I listen for the joggers coming up behind me.  I have made it a habit to guess the gender, age, size, and even race of the person about to over take me and…you’d be surprised…but I am getting rather good at it.   

But there are two things to consider.  One is practical and probably can be explained by practical assessment.  The other is intuitive and says something about getting in tune with intangible things that might not have a clear and practical observation.  First the practical…   

I am guessing that I likely bias my guess based on previous experience.  So, here in Minnesota, for example, it is still more likely than otherwise that a person coming up behind me will be caucasian and I’m guessing the majority of my guesses anticipate a caucasian runner.  Likewise the majority of runners will tend to be younger than me (I guess older/younger with myself as the benchmark) so that’s a safe guess that I likely repeat over and over.  Weight, sex…well, there is more art in that.  You can hear the heavy flop, flop, flop of a heavy heaving runner struggling to stay on the path and discern that from the light quick steps of someone built more like a gazelle than a bear.    

Even if these guesses are somewhat trained by experience, there is reason to take notice and think of these things when out trying make sales.  Experience becomes engrained and applicable almost as if it were instinct.  If out meeting clients you encounter a pattern or situation that feels familiar, don’t fight it.  I’m convinced you’ll be much more efficient if you let yourself learn.   

The second more intuitive way of predicting the runner really applies to the more indiscernible qualities of things like sex and gender.  (I haven’t yet thought to guess religion, but then how would one detect a Lutheran from a Catholic, for example?  I suppose the Lutheran would wear fewer pastels or something, I haven’t any idea.)  It is fun to guess the gender or race, but I have no idea what it is that makes me guess one way or the other.  I suppose if I hear lighter steps I guess female and if I hear heavy steps male, but what about gender?  Again, I likely guess more often than not caucasian and more often than not come ahead…and that’s the point, isn’t it?   

Still, deep down I don’t think much about my choice.  I hear the footsteps behind me and make my quick assessment — you don’t have much time, really — and I like to think I am getting more accurate with practice.  Without being aware of it and without having a complete set of tangible objective indicators to guide me I seem to get better.  There’s something Obi-Wan about it…you know, “Use the force, Luke.”  Whether true or not, it feels true and sometimes that is good enough.  I think that is called instinct.   

But let’s stay on Earth and stay in the present century.  We apply experience to many things and let experience guide us.  Sometimes it is important to remember this when out trying to make the most of your career, any career.  I’ll write more about today later; for now let’s just say I was expecting a lot of zebras to cross my path and was a bit disappointed.   

More later.   

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