What a legend, the nonagenarian scientist James Lovelock. Incredible inventor (microwave oven) and leading thinker (“Gaia”, the earth as self-regulating organism). I caught an as ever fascinating interview with him on Radio 4’s The Life Scientific from 8 May 2012.
Two elements emerged that piqued my Sales antennae. First, his daughter Chris praised his phrase that exhorted him to leave a cushy job. A number he could have carried perfectly comfortably on with, right until his decent pension, for another twenty years. He feared;
tramlines to the grave
Just when everything appeared to be what conformists would describe as “going well” career-wise, he felt the need to change tack. He realised he had plateaued. Only a new challenge, and a serious push beyond his ‘comfort zone’ would do.
So in 1961, he left what he considered the best science job in England and dived into the then three-year old NASA. Originally, it seems, his job was to confirm whether life existed on Venus or Mars.
On arrival, he reckoned he riled every other biologist. Which brings me to the second steer. All his best work appears to have come when practically banished by his fellow biology clan. Rather than hang around and interact all day, every day, with biologists, he was forced to work alongside other strains of science. The achievements of which he is most proud came in this time. He firmly believes that to get your best results, you need to work with those outside your natural peer, role and subject grouping.
So what does all this tell the aspiring Salesy CEO?
The first is probably the toughest. When you have reached a pinnacle, life is all so rosy. Quota busting an annual occurrence, your opinion actively sought, everybody knows your name. Yet this could well be precisely the time to discover a new direction, or at least tangent.
Where’s your next promotion going to be? The next product or sector you want to specialise in? How can you avoid locking on to the ‘tramlines to the grave’?
The second is more straightforward. I remember a while back hearing the Glaxo boss encouraging inter-disciplinary team working. You get more ideas and better results when exposed to and interacting with people from different arenas, went his theory.
I myself remember as a cub rep how my embryonic career started to show a rapid rise when I sat next a programmer, known throughout our customer base as simply ‘GRD’, the Great Rob Davies.
I had deliberately eschewed sitting in the sales pen. I didn’t like it. Although I liked most of the sales team, there were too many distracting chats, no real teamwork vibe, and smokers.
When my boss insisted we re-arrange the office (after many months of productive working the way it was) I was gutted. I wedged a golf club as a mast in my cubicle, flying as its flag a message about how I loved my desk. Time to move on.
I genuinely felt sitting among the techies had helped my selling. Who do you sit next to in your office? I bet most salespeople are all lumped together. Just about every sales environment I can think of walking around, it is that way. I wonder how many mix it up? I believe when you do, it’s one more step on the path to world-beating selling.