How to Be a Student Of Your Industry

Gary Goff, my first manager out of college, advised me to always remain “a student of the industry” to stay current and valuable to my field.  He would point out the dinosaurs in our office who had not had an interesting contribution to the company in a decade and said the reason was they did not challenge themselves to keep learning.  Gary gave me a lot of great advice, and this is one thing I have focused on throughout my 25+ year career.

Here is how to remain a Student of the Industry – no matter which industry you enter:

  1. Read the industry rags – Every industry has printed or digital journals.  I get ones on retailing, marketing, social media – – and beekeeping!  It’s one way I stay current.  And over the years, I’ll be darned if I don’t actually see profiles of people I know in those journals!
  2. Stretch into areas that are new – Once I started to feel confident in my area of expertise, I started to stretch into adjacent areas to learn more about them.  It is how I stretched from Category Management to Space Management to Marketing to E-Commerce to Sustainability and on and on.  Even topics I think may be distant from my core have proved helpful as I have attended RFID seminars, Canadian business forecasting sessions and mobile app building training.
  3. Speak up – Asking questions about other people is key to getting real insight.  Instead of talking about what YOU do, ask other people what THEY do.  Be curious.  Ask Questions.  Sure, it feel uncomfortable at first.  But show some interest and you will learn the fundamental truth about all people: they love to talk about themselves.
  4. LISTEN – This is the really critical component to item #3.  Not many people do it well.  Strive to be among the best listeners in a group and you are likely to become one of the most learned person in the group as well.
  5. Use Social Media – create a twitter group of industry thought leaders and check in now and then to see what they are talking about and what they find interesting.  Join industry-related LinkedIn groups.  Participate in their discussions.  Or at least read them.
  6. Use your DVR – program your DVR to record any programming with your industry name as a keyword in the program description.  Also include the names of the big industry companies in the DVR tag.  You will be surprised how many times even the most obscure industries are reviewed on business news shows.

I always look for people who are students of their industry.  Some of the best are over 50 years old.  Do you have another way you keep on top of your industry?  Let me know!  Comment here.

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