How to Stay Current in Your Craft

tree growing from book A big open book

by Luke Thomas.

There’s a misconception surrounding education. In today’s workforce, we’ve drawn a line between learning and working. Once you’re handed a diploma, it’s time to enter the real world and get to work – or so we’re told. In truth, the formal education we receive in college does little to prepare us for a lifelong career. With information traveling faster than ever, it’s all the more important to stay current with the latest techniques, advances, and trends in your field.

Why Studying Never Stops

The big difference between college learning and career learning is this: one you’re forced to do, and the other you must elect to do. But both are equally as vital.

Dennis Johnson has been in the automotive advertising industry for decades. Even more, he’s been with SAM founder Mike Strong since the beginning. It goes without saying that he has become a master at staying on top of, and sometimes ahead of, the industry’s trends.

“Business lives and dies by the adage ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way,’ and it is especially true in automotive merchandising,” Johnson said. “The ‘latest and greatest’ has always been the shiniest stone. With access to so much information today, if you walk into a meeting and are not abreast of what’s going on, you cannot command respect.”

Can you imagine if a technology or fashion firm continued producing the same product without ever updating or setting new trends? It would be defunct in a matter of years. The same is true in advertising. Even in your own niche, it is important to understand that the world is always evolving, so you must too.

Always Evolving

When it comes to staying current in your field, Johnson maintains that it is more of a mindset than a method. He councils that it requires both an open mind and eyes wide open.

Over the years, even the methods by which Johnson has stayed up-to-date have evolved.

“Our standard for commercial greatness years ago was limited to network television, and that was three networks,” Johnson said. “We would tape primetime shows and sporting events focusing on the commercials – the graphics, the music tracks, word count – and apply those in our production.”

He continued with an anecdote on Mike Strong’s always-keen mindset.

“In the late 80s, Mike Strong returned from a Colorado skiing trip with a half-dozen jackets all designed with neon colors. He said, ‘These colors are the future, everybody’s wearing them, put them in our color palette today.’ Everything we are exposed to in our world, when processed through a filter of how can I use this and do so more effectively, is the foundation for expanding skill sets.”

Tips for Staying Up-to-Date

While much of staying current in your craft requires the right mindset, Johnson did have a few practical tips to share.

  • Keep a journal to write down ideas stimulated by experiences – they go as fast as they come.
  • Relentlessly mine available resources, search for emerging resources, and expand both lists.
  • Never underestimate how much you can learn by listening.
  • Keep your mind and your eyes open to the world around you, it’s your market.
  • Clearly understand that those who only know how will always work for those who know why.


Along with Johnson’s time-tested tips, there are a multitude of methods like subscribing to online industry newsletters and following industry-specific LinkedIn groups. Whatever method you choose, the most important – as Johnson has demonstrated – is to never grow complacent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *