The Power of Observation

I think I was in the hall way somewhere between the "Dodos, Trilobites, and Meteroites" and the "Hall of Arthropods: Creatures that Rule" in the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge when I saw it.

My daughter was on a school field trip, a sort of scavenger hunt through the museum. We’d started with the arthropods, and passed through to the Hall of Mammals, absorbing what we could of the African animals and Holarctic animals, at each spot being asked to study and wonder about the structures of the specimens

There was a small plaque on the wall, dedicated to the museum’s founder, Louis Agassiz, the  19th Century Swiss naturalist. Agassiz championed the need for extensive comparative collections for teaching and research.   On the plaque was Agassiz’ response to the question, “What do you regard as your greatest work?” He replied, “I have taught men to observe.”

Frequently, our sales managers urge us to hurry, to move faster, creating a sense of urgency  that sometimes clouds our thinking and observing. Think how our effectiveness as sales people and advisors might increase if we applied the lessons described here to one or more of our clients instead of to zoological specimens.  [I’m going to test your patience here for a moment…. Read on!]

“Observation and comparison being … indispensable to the naturalist, [Agassiz’s]  first lesson was one in looking. He gave no assistance; he simply left his student with the specimen, telling him to use his eyes diligently, and report upon what he saw. He returned from time to time to inquire after the beginner’s progress, but he never asked him a leading question, never pointed out a single feature of the structure, never prompted an inference or a conclusion. This process lasted sometimes for days, the professor requiring the pupil not only to distinguish the various parts of the animal, but to detect also the relation of these details to more general typical features. His students still retain amusing reminiscences of their despair when thus confronted with their single specimen; no aid to be had from outside until they had wrung from it the secret of its structure.” (1)

How would you like to have him for a sales manager? Sure, we’d all be going nuts with the dead fish or whatever he’d given us, yet….. our ability to advise our clients, our ability to compete for business,  depends on our ability to observe, whether we have three minutes or thirty. To look at the details. To distinguish structure and patterns. To compare one “specimen” with others and offer observations, rather than making a drive-by sales call, then hurrying on to the next.

“We cannot afford to hurry, because we have no time to lose.” (2) Our competitors and our clients are breathing down our necks.  Look closely. Think effectiveness and impact, not activity volume.

(1)    Quoted from the e-book, Louis Agassiz, Illustrative Extracts on His Method of Instruction with An Introductory Note, by Lane Cooper.

(2)    “We Cannot Afford to Hurry”  Lessons Within Industry Applied to Nursing, Sister Mary Brigh, R.N.   The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Mar., 1944), pp. 223-226

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