Squirrel Spotting: Establishing a Habit of Learning

IndependentsOct 24, 2017

Squirrel Spotting: Establishing a Habit of Learning

While the industry provides plenty of formal learning opportunities, maintaining an educational culture that starts closer to home is an absolute must, Peter Smith says.

Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.

Gallup’s Marcus Buckingham wrote in “Now, Discover Your Strengths” that most organizations are built on two flawed assumptions: First, that people can be taught to do virtually anything, and secondly, that each person’s greatest learning opportunity is in their greatest weakness.

Accepting Buckingham’s premise can be discomforting, as doing so is to concede that there are certain people who cannot be taught to do aspects of the job that might be fundamental to good performance, no matter how much effort we put into training them.

The second premise is even more jarring, and that is that we should not focus on people’s weaknesses when training them. It is far better to focus on making them even better at what they are already good at. The best example of that is trying to change someone who is already great at selling, into a perfect all-around employee, instead of continuing to invest in developing their strengths.

We do a very creditable job as an industry in creating learning opportunities for our people. Brands such as Tacori, Hearts On Fire and Forevermark produce great educational forums. The Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Society (through Conclave) have long provided wonderful opportunities for learning and, of course, there are ample options at trade shows such as JCK Vegas, JA New York and the Atlanta Jewelry Show, among others.

I personally just participated in the 10th annual Portland Jewelry Symposium, and I am one of the many speakers who present at the AGS Global Guilds. I’ve also participated in some very fine educational experiences with some of the most credible jewelry stores in our industry, such as Day’s Jewelers in Maine and Hamilton Jewelers in Princeton.

Participating in the many educational opportunities throughout our industry is a privilege that many of us enjoy. They expose us to great speakers, interesting dilemmas and a range of ideas and discussion--points that can challenge our presumptions and expand our horizons, intellectually and emotionally.

“No matter how many structured or formal learning opportunities we have, there is simply no substitute for committing to a daily routine of reading to further our own understanding of consumer behavior.”
On many levels, it’s hard to argue that we could do a lot more as an industry and, yet, as I traverse the retail jewelry landscape throughout the country, I am frequently surprised at the lack of
awareness and engagement in ongoing self-development by sales professionals and store managers.

While there is ample evidence of industry credentials--with framed diplomas on the walls--there is precious little conversation about books that were recently read for self-development, industry columns being discussed, or TED Talks, podcasts or blogs that people found interesting.

Individually, we all have a responsibility to embrace continued professional development. No matter what level of formal education you attained, there are learning opportunities everywhere for those of us with an inclination to find them.

If we have enough people in our respective businesses who own that responsibility, there will emerge clear culture of learning that will feed on itself. The very best sales managers can help foster that culture by setting the example themselves, and by encouraging and facilitating interesting and varied discussions on relevant topics ongoing.

There is, quite frankly, nothing more energizing than hearing salespeople talk to each other and put into practice what they learned, what they read and what they heard.

In “Grounded” Bob Rosen wrote: “If you are continually curious, this strengthens your brain’s wiring and communication systems. The opposite is true, too. If you do not stretch your brain, certain regions atrophy. This is the principle behind the ‘use it or lose it’ mantra.”

No matter how many structured or formal learning opportunities we have, there is simply no substitute for committing to a daily routine of reading to further our own understanding of consumer behavior, or listening to a TED Talk on body language, or subscribing to a podcast on selling techniques.

I loved hearing from a few retail stores that they used my book, “Sell Something,” as their book club selection. Many of them chose a chapter to read before discussing the topic in question as a team.

Whether you use that book, or any book, or a given TED Talk or article, maintaining a vibrant educational culture is an absolute must. This culture of learning can and should be augmented by the various industry events and forums, but it starts much closer to home with each one of us owning it.

Aristotle is supposed to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at,, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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