By Shawn Jack
Associate VP of Sales, Advantech North America
“ONCE YOU STOP LEARNING, YOU START DYING” – Albert Einstein
As a child, staying with my Grandparents at their small horse farm in Southeast Ohio, my Grandmother, Jaunita, would have a full spread for breakfast; eggs, sausage, hash browns, homemade milk biscuits, orange juice, and coffee. My grandfather Jim would be there enjoying the morning newspaper with a cup of coffee. I remember him looking at the comics with my Grandmother looking over his shoulder while he sat at the table, my grandmother reading the comics aloud with us all laughing.
Later in life, I learned that my grandfather had dyslexia and never learned to read. That is why my grandmother would read the morning newspaper to him. You see, my grandfather, Jim Norman, was born in 1932 during the Great Depression. By age eight, his father, Enoch, died from complications resulting from World War II. He lived a life where he had to grow up fast and provide for his family. Unfortunately, my grandfather was never able to sit down and enjoy reading a book by himself.
As a child, I never liked to read. I found that I struggled to read, particularly reading aloud. I just couldn’t hit the right cadence and felt like my eyes were having difficulty focusing on words. It wasn’t until second grade when teachers recognized that I needed some additional help, and eye strengthening exercises eased my shortcomings. And although my reading capabilities increased, it wasn’t until I read ‘Lord of the Flies’ in sixth grade that I thoroughly enjoyed a book. Up until that point in time, reading was difficult. It was a chore. But reading Lord of the Flies, it was like a movie – I could see the story jump off the page and come to life; it was gripping.
Just because I found books I could enjoy didn’t mean that reading was easy for me. For instance, in 1994, when I decided I wanted to be an engineer at the University of Cincinnati, one of my biggest obstacles was the ACT entrance exam. A portion of the ACT is reading comprehension—a timed test where you have to read passages and answer dozens of questions. Talk about anxiety and sweaty palms! My grand illusion of being accepted into the engineering school at Cincinnati seemed like an impossible endeavor. Thankfully, I performed well (enough) on the ACT and got into the engineering school at the University of Cincinnati in 1995.
When I graduated in 2000, I foolishly told myself that I never wanted to read another book. I felt like there was nothing left in life to learn. Wow, was that incredibly short-sighted? But, I was 23 and climbed my ‘Mount Everest’ and was happy to be done with school. I remember people asking me if I read, and I would always respond – “Yes, I read email and the Internet, and occasionally I’ll read a comic.” For years, I purposely didn’t read books.
In 2013, while working here at Advantech, I was asked to move from an individual sales contributor role to managing a small sales team. I remember asking myself, “I know sales, but I don’t know anything about management. What do I do?” It was through this career transition that I forced myself to learn and attack this journey. I began to look outside my network to grow. And I found the best way to build my personal and professional knowledge base was through reading.
Over the years, I have found great inspiration in reading. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Friedman, Tim Ferriss, Brendon Burchard, Tony Robbins, Ben Horowitz, and many more inspired me to be better. I’ve learned how to have a purpose-driven life, which has helped me be a better father, husband, son, brother, and friend. By gaining an external focus, I’ve found more joy, which has helped me be a better leader.
In the summer of 2016, we had invested in the IMPAX sales process. I decided that it was time to push reading onto our team to help ensure that we retained the IMPAX process from our training and, more importantly, start to integrate it into our job. That September, I hosted our first Book Club at Advantech. We began diving into the book ‘Beyond Selling Value,’ authored by the masterminds behind IMPAX. The Book Club was unique as we assigned each chapter of the book to two salespeople, where they would buddy up and present their findings. The Book Club brought greater collaboration and learning across the team. It also ensured that we didn’t forget the IMPAX process.
In 2020, the Book Club is still running. We vote on the book and, over the quarter, tackle the material as a team. It has kept us connected during these challenging times. And we have continued to use the buddy system, where two teammates present their findings together. I firmly believe by bettering ourselves; we have brought more value to our customers, partners, loved ones, and friends.
Maybe Malcolm Gladwell is right? It takes 10,000 hours to be incredibly good at something? And while I may not be great at reading to this day, I have learned to appreciate that I can read. It is beautiful to know that we have the power of learning at our fingertips. That’s why I find I’m always digging into a book, trying to learn something new. And I hope this article encourages you too. Don’t be discouraged if reading doesn’t come easy; keep trying. I believe you will one day find a book that will inspire you to do great things.