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Best Books to Buy: “To Sell Is Human” by Daniel Pink -

This month’s book is To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink.

I don’t sell minivans in a car dealership or bound from office to office pressing cholesterol drugs on physicians. But leave aside sleep, exercise, and hygiene, and it turns out that I spend a significant portion of my days trying to coax others to part with resources.

About the Book:

To Sell IS Human by Daniel Pink - GoLeanSixSigma.comDaniel Pink’s most famous book is Drive, which delves into human motivation. The premise of this book, To Sell is Human, is that human beings spend a lot of time “selling” whether they know it or not. He broadens the topic of selling to include teaching, coaching, instructing, persuading and convincing. “Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. Entrepreneurs woo funders, writers sweet talk producers, coaches cajole players.” It’s a solid premise and the examples and methods he provides are instructions on how to better influence other people. It’s a useful book since yes, we all need to do that at some point in our jobs and our lives.

Lucky for us, Daniel Pink writes well. As business books go, his are very palatable. I found lots of useful methods that I could relate to the problem-solving arena of Lean Six Sigma since implementing change into people’s worlds is often met with resistance. Influence skills are as key as process mapping when it comes to building a problem solving culture.

Influence skills are as key as process mapping when it comes to building a problem solving culture.

He spends some time detailing the ways in which we all “sell” and follows that with proof that we don’t think much of the act of “selling.” He’s got some interesting word maps based on how often people connect certain words with the act of selling – “pushy” “yuk” and “used car salesmen” were front and center. Much of this is driven by the real manipulation that takes place in a lot of influence situations. There’s a reason people find selling distasteful. But the methods Mr. Pink explores are not from the “cheesy” side of the aisle, and I found a number of them helpful.

He’s a fan of the 5 Whys which shows he’s got good judgement. He permanently changed the way I craft the subject line for emails – way more useful. He’s got great examples of how brevity leads to clarity. It reminded me of the famous Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Think about that and then reflect on some of the emails you get (or send…). It takes effort to cut out the fat, but you’ll get better results.

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

He also spent time in an improv class which interested me since I performed for years with ImprovBoston (ages ago) and I use what I learned there every single day. He focuses on the act of listening (a woefully neglected art, see the review of Ask More) and highlights the key improv structure, “Yes, and…” That one might be familiar since there’s a book of the same title by a pair of improvisers. It’s basically the opposite of “No, but…” which we’re much more adept at. If you’re going to expand on what someone has just said to you, then you’ve got to listen to what they’re actually saying!

I detailed a few of his techniques in a past blog, if you’re interested. There’s lots of good, useable stuff in this book. He provides an extensive list of his sources and the index is really helpful. He sold me!

About the Author:

Daniel Pink is based in Washington, DC and he’s written a number of best-selling books about work, management and behavioral science. He was an aid to Secretary of Labor Robert Reich for a few years and he was a speechwriter for Al Gore. Lucky for us he decided not to use his law degree to practice law.

Practical Tools and Concepts Covered:

Who Should Read To Sell Is Human?

  • People in influence positions
  • Green Belts, Black Belts and Team Leads
  • Change Management professionals
  • Anyone who wants people to respond to their emails

From the Page:

“At every opportunity you have to move someone – from traditional sales, like convincing a prospect to buy a new computer system, to non-sales selling, like persuading your daughter to do her homework – be sure you can answer the two questions at the core of genuine service.

  1. If the person you’re selling to it agrees to buy, will his or her life improve?
  2. When your interaction is over, will the world be a better place than when you began?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, you’re doing something wrong.”

Check out our Amazingly Awesome List for more book reviews as well as a comprehensive list of Lean Six Sigma and process improvement books!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

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