I came across a new word the other day while reading Spin Selling by Neil Rackham.
Entelechy, the becoming actual of what was potential—turning something into practical usefulness as opposed to theoretical elegance.
There’s no easy way to convert theoretical models into practical skills. The fact that you read a book doesn’t mean that the knowledge you’re gaining from that book will automatically translate itself into improved selling abilities. For example, no book on selling will, in and of itself, improve your selling skills, any more than reading a book about swimming will teach you how to swim.
The challenge for both author and reader in any book/blog/article with pretensions to being practical is entelechy—turning theory into practical action.
The Four Golden Rules For Learning Any Skill
Why do people find it so difficult to learn skills? I don’t think it’s just because of hard work because we’re accustomed to putting in hours of hard work to learn new knowledge. The sad fact is that we usually work harder and more effectively to learn knowledge than to translate that knowledge into a practical skill that we can use.
Perhaps entelechy is such a rare word because it refers to something we so rarely do.
I believe that the main reason people have trouble learning new skills is that they’ve never thought about how to go about skill learning. The education system engrains in us how to acquire knowledge. But very little of the education we receive helps us turn that knowledge into practical and profitable skills.
Rule 1: Practice Only One Behavior at a Time
Most people when trying to work on a new skill try to do too much at once. They bite off more than they can chew. I know this one is especially hard for a go-getter mentality. When I’m trying to learn something new, I devour everything I can about that topic and try to instantly acquire the skill.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Start by picking just one behavior to practice. Don’t move on to the next until you’re confident you’ve got the new skill or behavior right.
Rule 2: Try the New Behavior at Least Three Times
When you buy a pair of new shoes, they’ve got to be broken in at first. I’m thinking of soccer cleats especially. Usually soccer cleats are purchased half a size smaller than your regular shoe size so your foot doesn’t slide while running. However, those first few times of wearing the new cleats are frustrating, painful, and downright uncomfortable.
By about the third wear, they start to become molded to your feet.
Never judge whether a new behavior is effective in your skillset until you’ve at least tried it three times.
Rule 3: Quantity Before Quality
Have you ever tried to learn a new language? Remember when you’re starting out, you try to say a few words, “No” says your teacher, “that’s the incorrect tense—you should be using a pluperfect.” You try again. “Wrong,” the teacher warns you, “you’ve got the tense right, but this is an irregular verb.” With some nervousness you make a third attempt. “No,” your teacher tells you, “this time the tense is right and the verb is right, but your pronunciation is terrible.”
Notice that every one of your teacher’s comments is about the quality of your skill.
I took Spanish in high school and could barely speak it at all. However, after visiting Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Costa Rica all on separate trips in college, I was able to hold a decent conversation and get around wherever I went, no problemo!
Why? It’s obvious at this point: because I was in those Spanish speaking nations. I had no choice but to speak Spanish, a lot of Spanish, all the time. And I picked it up in no time.
This applies directly to learning any skill. It’s not about the quality of your push-up form here, it’s about how many reps you can crank out (contrary to traditional exercise training).
When you’re practicing, concentrate on quantity over quality. Use your new sales technique, jogging form, language, whatever as many times as you can and the quality will begin to look after itself.
Rule 4: Practice In Safe Situations
I was once consulting with the lead salesman for a company. We were working on his talking points and sales script for a sales call. Toward the end of our practice sessions, he asked me an innocent-sounding question. “Tomorrow,” he explained, “I’ll be going into one of the biggest sales calls of my career—I’m selling the largest project we’ve ever had as a company. What lessons from our training should I concentrate on during the meeting?”
I think my answer shocked him. “Forget every single thing you’ve heard me say,” I told him; “otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting working with me.”
When you’re practicing a new skill, especially a skill like selling, you’ve got to practice in safe environments first. When gymnasts train for the rings, they aren’t immediately thrown on the rings and asked to do the Iron Cross. Not only would it be impossible, it would be severely dangerous to the gymnast (think dislocated shoulders).
Always try out new skills in safe situations until they feel comfortable. Don’t use important business meetings to practice new skills until your rep count is high and you have a few smaller successes with your new skill.
Now I pass it onto you. How can you use entelechy in your pursuits? What skill are you currently learning? Share you new skill below!
Oh, and don’t forget to share this on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else.
featured photo by Aeioux via Flickr