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Sept. 8 2006 09:47 PM

 Summer is over, and our children are back in school. Whew! We all know how valuable learning is for our children, but how about you? Are you facing tremendous changes in your organization? Are you seeking solutions for new challenges? For all of us, learning is important; it is directly related to our ability to take action, implement change and produce results. This issue is being distributed during one of the greatest industry opportunities for learning The Parcel Shipping & Distribution Forum. Here are 10 tips to help you maximize your learning experience.

 1. My first suggestion is that you do some homework before you go to school. Pick up a blank journal or notebook and make a list of the issues that you need help with. For example, you might be interested in cutting your shipping costs, understanding the different accessorial fees, negotiating better rates with your carriers, selecting new technology, reducing errors or increasing productivity.

 2. Review the agenda for the forum and highlight the topics that may be of interest to you. Look for topics that address some of the concerns you listed in your journal. The organizers of the forum look for the leading experts in the field, so check out the speakers and their backgrounds to assess whether they may be a good resource for you.

 3. Look at the list of vendors that are going to be there and decide which ones you might want to make contact with. Research their Web sites for general information about what they offer so you can be prepared to ask them questions specific to your particular challenges.

 4. Before you attend, do some research so that you will be prepared to answer specific questions about your organizations shipping operation. For instance, you should know which carriers you are using and why; how much you spend for their services; what discounts you currently have in place; and how many packages you ship with them weekly, monthly or yearly. Find out what shipping system technology you currently use; what other systems it interfaces with, i.e., your accounting system; and what problems you are experiencing with it. If you are looking at the possibility of replacing your system, compile a list of minimum requirements, as if you were preparing a request for a quotation. This will help you to ask better questions, and it will make it easier to compare and contrast available options.

 5. Conferences are wonderful opportunities to network with other professionals. When you meet someone during a break or hear a person asking a question or giving knowledgeable advice, dont be shy; approach them, introduce yourself and initiate a conversation. Bring plenty of business cards to give out, and ask others for their cards. You might want to jot down a few notes on the back of the card so you can personalize the connection and remember specifics about the conversation.

 6. Take advantage of the professionals that will be there, including the speakers and the representatives and company executives from the carriers. Most of the seminar leaders are industry professionals or consultants who charge $100 to $200 an hour for consulting. Chances are excellent that they will be open to letting you ask them a few questions after their presentations or setting up a time to meet with them later when you can get some free consultation time.

 If you have a specific question for a carrier, be aggressive hunt them down and ask them. It is a rare opportunity to be able to interact directly with a company executive. If you have a question for a carrier representative you think would be of interest to other forum attendees, jot it down. There will be an opportunity to address the carrier executives in open question-and-answer sessions, and it is easier to prepare a question beforehand.

 7. As you are listening to presentations and speaking with people, you will experience moments of inspiration. I call these aha moments. Suddenly, you will see a new possibility or an action that you can take to resolve an issue. Make sure that you enter these revelations in your journal, and later, review your notes. Interaction at conferences can stimulate thought and present wonderful opportunities.

 8. One of the greatest obstacles to learning is that we dont want to admit that we dont know. Our culture rewards those who appear to be knowledgeable and makes us afraid to admit that we dont know something or pose a question we may have for fear that it may be considered dumb. Unfortunately, if we think we know, or pretend to know, or we dont even ask, we limit our ability to learn. When we admit, I dont know, we produce an opening for learning where one previously did not exist.

 9. Examine your assumptions. There really is no such thing as an open mind; it is a metaphor. What is possible is to be aware of our prejudices and put preconceived assumptions on hold so that we can truly listen to what others are saying with curiosity. It is only then that we open ourselves to the possibility of learning something new.

 10. Finally, evaluate your mood. Are you feeling confused? Bored? Studies have shown that our moods affect our ability to learn. Define your mood and then make adjustments so that you can maximize your learning. The moods of wonder and curiosity facilitate our learning the most.

 This forum is an opportunity to go back to school and increase our knowledge and, therefore, increase our professional competence. Take advantage of it! In the words of Eric Hoffer, In times of change, those who are prepared to learn will inherit the land, while those who think they already know will find themselves wonderfully equipped to face a world that no longer exists.

 Mark Taylor, MBA, DLP, is the President of TAYLOR Systems Engineering Corporation and the Chief Logistics Officer of RedRoller, Inc., the worlds first free Internet-based shopping service for shipping that compares the rates and delivery options of multiple carriers. He has been featured as an industry expert on ABC News and in the New York Times and is the author of Computerized Shipping Systems: Increasing Profit & Productivity Through Technology. Taylor has been named a Distinguished Logistics Professional (DLP) by the American Society of Transportation & Logistics in recognition of his career-long contributions to the field of logistics. He can be reached at