Want to move your business forward? Take time out to learn new things, even in areas outside travel.
“Those people who remain open to learning all kinds of new things are the ones who end up stumbling on great ideas,” said Art Markman, author of Smart Thinking (Perigee Books) scheduled to be published in January.
Of course, finding time for learning is a big challenge for busy travel agents. So travel sellers need to give themselves permission to do so. They also need to develop habits that will allow them to make the most of learning opportunities.
Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke with Travel Market Report about how travel agents can maximize learning on a daily basis.
Here are his suggestions.
Give yourself permission to learn
While taking a few moments to read an article may mean letting 20 new messages accumulate in your inbox, chances are there’s nothing that can’t wait for a half-hour.
“Those emails will wait, but the knowledge you pick up you’ll carry around with you for a very long time,” Markman said.
Look beyond the travel industry
Great new business ideas can come from learning about things other than just travel. Resist the impulse to typecast yourself.
“Despite the fact that we have a particular expertise doesn’t mean we can’t also develop important pockets of knowledge in other places.”
Learning about something other than travel pays off in a greater understanding of the world. It also can bring recognition about parallels between what you’ve learned and your own work.
“You might see something on a TV show about the way people are doing business in an area that seems quite different from your own, until you realize there’s a way to apply what they’re doing in your own business.”
Carry reading material with you
Learning and studying doesn’t have to mean taking an hour or two out of the day to read. “Even if you only have five or 10 minutes here and there, you can learn,” Markman said.
One way to do this is to use those moments you tend to fritter away checking email or playing games on smartphones.
“Keep things with you, so that when you have a little bit of time you develop the habit of reading rather than checking your email yet again.”
When you’re waiting for a meeting to begin or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, you can pull out a newspaper or magazine or read something on your tablet computer.
Follow up to learn more
If you read an article in a magazine or see a news item that intrigues you, follow up on it. Take 10 minutes out of your lunch hour to research the subject on the Internet.
Don’t be only ‘half there’
Don’t derail your learning by multitasking. If you’ve taken the time to go somewhere to learn something, give it your full attention, whether you’re at an industry conference, sitting in on a webinar or meeting with a supplier.
“If you’re looking at an email while in a meeting, at the point you’re concentrating on the email, you have no idea what’s going on in the meeting,” Markman said.
“Don’t play this game of only being half there.”
Summarize what you’ve learned
One way to maximize what you learn during conference presentations is to summarize what you’ve just heard. Rather than rushing off to the next event, take a moment to reflect on three key points that stood out during the presentation.
“The act of summarizing helps solidify it rather than leaving your memory of the whole experience up to chance, which is usually what happens when you rush off to the next thing.”
Summarize out loud, Markman advised. If you’re afraid you’ll feel self-conscious talking to yourself, speak into a hand-held recorder – even if you never listen to the recording again.
Don’t be afraid to fill in your knowledge gaps by asking questions after a presentation.
“If there are things you don’t understand, then that knowledge is not going to be useful for you in the future,” Markman said.
Chances are if you’ve got a question, others do as well, but they’re afraid to ask.
“So asking questions has the advantage of not only making you a little bit smarter, it actually makes everybody else in the room smarter too. And from an industry standpoint, the smarter everyone is, the better off the industry is.”