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Learn Something Old This Year

When is the last time you learned something old?

I had that experience just this morning as I was doing research for an article about the risks of asking too many sales questions. I came across an interesting fact: skilled clinical interviewers use reflecting statements about twice as often as they ask questions.

My initial thought was that that is an interesting insight which could make me a better questioner and make for smoother and more productive sales conversations.

But the real point of this story is that I had already known and forgotten that fact—because it came from an article that I wrote about seven years ago!

That reminded me of an incident a couple of years ago when I was on a sales call with a CEO, and I asked him whether he still asked his subordinates to pre-send their presentations to him before meetings, as he had talked about in an interview a few years prior to our call. He responded that he had gotten away from that habit since coming to his new company, but thanked me for reminding him and said he would reinstitute the practice.

How many times has something like this happened to you? You knew something but forgot it; you had a skill but you lost it; you practiced a good habit but drifted away from it… Think about it: what have you lost by forgetting something old?

I’m not sure why this happens, but I can think of two plausible explanations. First, it seems to me that sometimes we’re in such a rush to learn the next big thing and keep ahead of the competition, that we discard useful ideas to make room for the new—like throwing out a perfectly good pair of shoes just to keep up with the latest style. Second, it’s possible that sometimes we’re not yet ready to fully appreciate a lesson, like watching a favorite childhood movie and discovering how much “adult” meaning you had missed back then. Seven years after learning that insight about reflecting skills, I have much more personal experience and book learning to relate it to and make sense of it.

What I do know is that some of the best lessons I’ve learned come from re-reading books that I’ve read before, or from periodically going back and refreshing myself on the basics of a particular topic. Book publishers probably won’t appreciate this advice, but I would recommend that you buy fewer new books this year and re-read some of your old favorites; you may be astounded by how much you can pick up the second or third time around.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I don’t know about that, but I can attest from personal experience that an old dog can learn old tricks!

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