Richard Turen
Richard Turen

Yesterday I read something I want to share with you. It is not something I wrote, though I wish I had. It is an article that really revolves around one fact. But somehow I think it is important enough to write about.

The article was written by Charles Chu in the publication Better Humans. Chu publishes a newsletter called "The Open Circle" that deconstructs high-achievers, showing readers what makes them tick.

I wish there were more of that in our profession. I wish there was more sharing of ideas, more meetings where advisers could just sit back and kick around some of the things they do that have worked really well along with those ideas that fell flat.

Some of us, perhaps many of us, are willing to share. We tend not to use the term "competitor" terribly often. We all realize that we are in demand, and there are often more people who wish to use our services than we could possibly accommodate.

There is one thing we can count on. Attend any industry event and the major focal point of the vast majority of seminars will involve teaching us how to use social media. The travel industry gurus who get paid to help us are in a mad race to become the trainers of record when it comes to amassing new clients by spending time on social media. Even more time than we would normally spend.

How we waste our days

The average person in the U.S. is, employing one of the more conservative measures of usage, spending 116 minutes per day on social media, which translates to five years and four months in the average lifetime. Now that does not include what is referred to as "traditional media," or as we call it, TV. Television viewing occupies seven years and eight months of our lives.

These figures are changing as traditional media merges with social media, as new ways to receive visual information are changing things rapidly.

As travel advisers, most of us have a self-defined sphere of operations. And that sphere, all too often, includes the entire planet. Yes, we need to know enough about all of it to actually talk intelligently about virtually all of the cultures, cities, major sites, major beaches, hidden treasures, health and safety and dining, along with the better accommodations available. And we have to know the best way to book it all.

So where are we getting our information? Well, we know that 61% of all Americans now cite Facebook as their major source of news. Our private, and now our professional, lives are inexorably intertwined with the many forms of social media.

Six months ago, my firm launched a digital newsletter to keep in touch with our clients. In our case, clients are fairly well spread out through 48 states, highly educated and they tend to be affluent. As a result, they tend to be older.

As I pored over the analysis of our first newsletter online results, I was surprised to discover that 64% of my clients had opened it on their smartphone before looking at it later on a tablet or computer. There we were, mixed right in with social media results. In fact -- and I think this is extremely good news for the optometry profession -- we spend 60% of our social media time on a smartphone. That helped ad spending on social media top $36 billion in 2017.

The research is dazzling. YouTube takes up 40 minutes of the average person's day. So chalk up a year and 10 months of your life to YouTube. Facebook is just behind at 35 minutes a day, so you only lose a year and seven months of your life supporting Mr. Zuckerberg and his shareholders.

Meanwhile, while we are collecting "likes," trolling for new clients and adding our personal photo garbage to the billions of pounds of other people's photo garbage, how are we running our businesses? How are we, as the representatives of the belief that it is better to actually get up, pack a suitcase and see some of this planet, willing to pass on learning in favor of texting.

All of which brings me back to Charles Chu and his important fact. One day he found a quote from Warren Buffett, who was being interviewed in his home library. The interviewer asked Buffett for the secret to his success and Buffett turned in his chair and pointed to a never-ending stack of books.

"Read 500 pages like this every day," he said. "That's how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will."

And then a funny thing happened. Charles Chu decided to try to figure out what it would take for the average American, say the average travel professional, to read just 200 books per year. Think of what a travel professional could learn from books at that pace. Think of the marketing knowledge one could acquire, not to mention the destination expertise. Every travel professional could become an extremely well educated travel professional.

So here are some statistics: It takes the educated reader about a minute to read 400 words. (This column is about 1,200 words.) The average nonfiction book is 50,000 words, so 200 books would equal 10 million words. Divide it all out and you are left with the fact that it will take you 417 hours to read 200 books a year.

The problem is that while we all can see the value of reading, primarily nonfiction, as a way to significantly increase our understanding of the places we sell, how could any of us reasonably find the time to put together an extra 417 hours a year to read 200 books? We are barely getting enough sleep now.

We have to consider social media abstinence. We have to admit we are addicted, and we need to pull back. If we add in all social media and television viewing per year for the average American, we are looking at a staggering 2,250 hours a year.

Can we pull 417 hours out of that number and still not sacrifice our favorite Netflix series? I think we can.

Let me end with one case study I know fairly well.

I would never claim to read 200 books a year. I am searching as hard as I can for those 417 hours. But I am not addicted to social media.

Our company has absolutely no social media presence. In fact, we tell potential clients that and explain that most of it is untrustworthy nonsense. We've taken a fairly strong stance against all social media because most of it is, at its essence, antisocial. It limits real dialogue.

We have discovered a large portion of potential new clients want to work with us specifically because we think social media is silly, a waste of time designed for the amusement of those who enjoy being manipulated.

My goal is to reach the 417 saved hours per year mark. I can only imagine how much better a consultant I would be if I could devote those hours to reading 200 books each year about those places I have never been and about those people I have never met.

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