Expanding Intellectual Breadth

People frequently ask how I “planned” my practice so that it has reached it’s current size and scope. I reply that I didn’t. I’m not that smart, and I never envisioned that I’d be in the position I am today.

However, when they ask what traits I believe assisted me in the journey, I can readily respond: intellectual breadth and superb time management. Since I’ve written in prior issues on the latter, I’ll address the former here.

By “intellectual breadth” I don’t mean snobbery, academic elitism, or merely having diverse hobbies. I mean an awareness of the world around you sufficient to allow for conversancy in a wide range of topics. Think about it: To whom would you rather talk at a social event, someone who knows everything about manufacturing or fishing and little else, or someone who talk to you intelligently about your interests?

Intellectual breadth enables you to engage a prospect or client in conversation on the buyer’s terms so that the buyer can relax, enjoy the conversation, and begin to appreciate the relationship. While it’s true that some people prefer to get down to business rapidly, they nevertheless appreciate someone who understands the ramifications and consequences of their business and strategy.

It’s the difference between a buyer asking if you’ve ever worked in his or her industry, and you saying on the one hand, “No, I never have…” and on the other, “While I’ve never consulted in your specific market, what has always interested me is how your business has quickly become 50% export in just a few short years. Why is that?” The first response leads you nowhere, the second response sidesteps the implied inquiry about relevant experience and demonstrates that you know about the environment and you’ve invited the buyer to share some perspective.

Counterintuitively, perhaps, I don’t find that the roots of intellectual breadth are in continuing, formal education, though a great educational background surely helps. Yet about 80% of what we learn in undergraduate and graduate schools obsolesces in five years or less, so intellectual breadth requires consistent self-development Here are the sources which I think will make you a well-rounded, well-read, person of interest to others (and dazzling conversationalist).

  • Read the newspaper every single day.
    I’m astounded by the amount of consultants who tell me they “don’t have time.” That simply means they use the time on other things. If you can’t take an hour a day to read the local newspaper and The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times then you’ve lost control of your time. Pay particular attention to:

    • The stock market direction and trend.
    • Major international news.
    • News of any relevance to your clients and prospects.
    • Governmental and legal events.
    • New inventions, ideas, and/or application.
    • Corporate scandals and ethical issues.
    • The latest developments/reviews in the arts.
    • Major sports results.

    It’s often sufficient to read a headline and opening couple of paragraphs. I trick I often use is to read the first two and last two paragraphs, and then determine if it’s useful or important to read the rest.

  • Listen to the daily news on radio or television.
    This is much more recent than the newspaper, so keep abreast of contemporary events. Because of these programs’ limited air time, they try to present brief synopses in many major fields, so they are ideal for learning a lot in a short time, though not in great depth. But you’ll learn about the latest worldwide health crisis, international business events, changes in foreign government, the state of the economy, and any outstanding sports or arts achievements. 
  • Read any four of the books on both best-seller lists.
    Pick a major best-seller list from a publication and read any four of the books on the fiction and on the non-fiction lists. Keep your pace at four (or more) as the lists change. This should provide sufficient flexibility in your choice, but try to select works that aren’t “natural” for your preferences. Don’t buy condensed versions or simply skim the book. Read it to learn whatever you can. Quick formula: If you read just 20 pages a day, you’ll finish a 300-page book in about two weeks. 
  • Develop diverse acquaintances.
    We usually “hang out” with the same people, and the conversations are as predictable as a ham sandwich. In fact, the conversations are often repetitive as a means of comfort and continuation. You don’t have to replace a circle of friends, but you can develop somewhat more distant acquaintances who have different interests, experiences, and backgrounds. In do doing, you’ll be “forced” to learn and adapt in order to interact with such people.These have been just a few suggestions, but I’ve wanted to create a basic and simple plan. Improve your intellectual breadth and improve both your business prospects and your enjoyment of life. The good and bad news is that only you can take the actions necessary.