Teachers and salesmanship

A great salesperson is always aware of the fact that buyers have one question in mind – “why should I bother?” His expertise in answering this question is what set Steve Jobs apart. Jobs didn’t just answer the question with “what” made Apple’s products special, he explained the “why” behind them and explained why you should care.

The challenges that teachers face aren’t different from those in sales. As teachers, students sitting in front of them ask the same question – “why should I bother?” There are many competing pursuits that a student would rather divert his/her attention towards. And, this is where schools, organizations and teachers slip. When attempting to hire great teachers, they screen for passion and expertise. Yes, passion and expertise are critical. If a car salesman didn’t look like an expert on cars or simply didn’t care, there is no way we’d want to engage. Why should we bother when he clearly doesn’t?

Passion and expertise only make for a good teacher, however. That’s because people with a lot passion and expertise often make the wrong assumption that everyone cares about their subject as much as they do. And, that is exactly what great teachers do differently – they don’t make that assumption simply because they are always aware that the person in front of them doesn’t actually care as much. In fact, they’re making the decision as to whether or not to care as they speak. So, great teachers sell like professionals. They sell the “why,” they sell the dream of a better life, and they sell hope.

We all play the role of teachers at various points in our lives. We teach as parents, as colleagues, as managers, as trainers, and as mentors and coaches. And, to really have an impact on those at the other end, it is critical we remember that transferring knowledge and expertise is just one half of the job. The other half is demonstrating why it matters, selling the importance of commitment, and answering that important question – “why should I bother?”

Kings of Podcasting

This was back in 2006. At Odeo, a podcasting company, times were tough. Evan Williams and his team were working hard at making the concept work but were finding motivation hard to come by.

One evening, at dinner, his close friend and co-worker Biz Stone asked Evan a question – “If we continued down this path, we’d be the “kings of podcasting.” But, do we want to become the “kings of podcasting?”

Biz had lots of experience with “why” questions. He had just left Google a year or so back to join Evan at Odeo despite having a large sum of money in stock options that would vest in 2 years. Biz had decided he cared more about working on inspiring ideas a lot more than on becoming rich.

Evan realized that moment that they were chasing the wrong thing. They decided to wind Odeo up and look for the next thing. That next thing turned out to be Twitter.

(From ‘Things a Little Bird Told Me’ by Biz Stone)


It is indeed so easy to get lost in the pursuit of something that, after a while, we forget why we went after it in the first place.

So, as we move into the new year and begin thinking about the things we plan to do (and maybe achieve) during the year, I hope we’ll take a few moments and ask ourselves ‘why?’

I can’t guarantee the result will be Twitter. I can guarantee it’ll help. 🙂

What is the goal

If you are working hard (and I hope you are), we assume a large part of that is devoted to productive work.

Productive work is work that enables us to make progress towards a goal. Hence, many hours of watching YouTube video is considered unproductive when you have a report to be finished. A short video break might aid productivity but it still wouldn’t be productivity.

So, if productivity doesn’t exist without a goal, defining a goal becomes all important. What is the goal you normally work towards when you don’t have fires to fight? Is there even a goal?

It is hard to set goals in every aspect of our lives. We struggle with just exercise goals and expecting more than that is wishful thinking. However, we could easily make a case for the importance of productive work in the case of our personal relationships, a.k.a. quality time, and productive work in case of our hobbies. So, how do we go about doing that?

My suggestion would be to consider defining your personal “why.” My personal why, for example, is ‘to build active relationships with family and friends, learn, and have a positive impact on the world.’ Once I have this defined, it becomes very clear as to which activities move me towards this goal and which don’t. This “why” has been a work-in-progress for 2 years now (so get started now!) and I consider this a near-finished article. It makes for an excellent measuring stick.

Take time to define your why and your goals. Productivity doesn’t exist without goals. And, now that you are here and taking up some space, why not be productive? 🙂

Hat tip to Messrs Eliyahu Goldratt for the insight