We always hear that you don’t get unless you ask, so why is it so difficult to ask?
I don’t know the scientific answer to this, but I will take a guess. We like predictability; thus, we rather be satisfied knowing the outcome 100% of the time rather than knowing what the outcome will be 50% of the time. It is a wrong way of looking at this basic thing.
I recently took the initiative on the unpredictable side and lived to tell about it in this post.
I had seen this successful venture capitalist (VC) out of silicon valley who had given a presentation at Stanford University seminar more than a while ago that I viewed online about a subject in how he uses decision trees to help make an investment decision on a potential startup.
I wanted to again see this presentation so I could understand it better and help a relative with an investment decision he had to make with a startup. I was going to use the the decision tree method to help develop various probabilities of success so he knew what to expect before making the investment. To receive this presentation, I decided to send this VC a terse email as shown below:
Is it possible to share that presentation with me if it is not proprietary to your firm?
If not, can you provide any books or articles that would help me understand this approach better.
I am a one man consulting company that works with startups and potential investors who want to invest in startups and I found what you presented very interesting and useful.
Two days later, he sent me the following email:
Here is an article I wrote describing my approach: “Applying Decision Analysis to Venture Investing.”
<VC Name Withheld>
I don’t know this VC or ever met him. All I did was see him on the Stanford web site and just asked with a real genuine purpose and he sent the presentation to me with no questions asked.
Lesson from Keith Ferrazzi on Asking
In the book "Power" by Jeffrey Pfeffer, he gives an example on how Keith Ferazzi asked something at an interview that most of us are too afraid to ask. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Ferrazzi had offers from Mckinsey and Deloitte. Before accepting the offer he made a request to see the top executives that he referred to them as the "head guys." The CEO, Pat Loconto, former head of Deloitte Consulting agreed to see him. They met at an Italian restaurant and after few drinks, Ferrazzi said to him that he will accept the offer on one condition and that is that the "head guys" would have dinner with him once a year.
Ferazzi did three things that we can all learn from this ask. First, he asked something that most candidates never do; they are just happy to get to work. Second, Ferrazzi wanted access to the top executives without being obtrusive. Third. he knew that you can't get anything done adn advance in your career in a company unless you have executive level support. He got this executive support and went on to succeed.
Executive support is so critical to success in just about everything. One of the most important power broker, Robert Moses, "master builder" of mid-20th century, realized the importance of executive support for success very early in his career that I write about in the blog, "Do you have executive support to be a sales leader?" After getting the executive support he needed, he went on to become dominate New York City and New York State for close to 40 years.
Why people Don't Ask?
People don't like asking for several reasons according to Jeffrey Pfeffer:
1) In America people are brought up to be self-reliant and are just uncomfortable showing their vulnerability by asking.
2) Many simply don't ask because they fear rejection. To ask is going out of your comfort zone, and many prefer to stay in their comfort zone.
3) People assume that they answer is going to be no, so why even bother. They are predicting the answer without even trying.
Before you decide not to ask, you want to ask yourself this question, "What would you do if someone asked you what you are afraid to ask?" You will find that people usually give if done in a thoughtful manner and with a purpose.
How do you go about asking?
This is the same lesson that Sarah Kathleen Peck writes about in her comprehensive blog titled, "The art of asking: or, how to ask and get what you want." She provides the following valuable tips:
- First, know what you want.
- Ground yourself in why you're doing what you're doing.
- You have to actually ASK what you want.
- Be direct, clear, and specific about what you want.
- Be selective and targeted about who you ask.
- Use social proof by creating micro-groups and mini-masterminds.
- Make sure you ask in multiple ways and in multiple places—show up across multiple platforms customized for different individuals.
- Ask multiple times.
- Try asking EVERYONE.
- Practice over and over and over again.
- Follow up.
- Be audacious.
- Keep it simple.
- Pay attention to context and surrounding cues.
- Ask the right time: understand how (an when) people make decisions.
- Be confident in how you ask.
- Master the pause.
- Avoid terrible, generic, vague asks.
- Make people feel good about helping.
- Say thank you.
- Don't be afraid of hearing "no,"
A Good Example
All these are excellent tips, but here are some techniques that Jefrrey Pfeffer writes about of how Ishan Gupta was able to get famous entrepreneurs in India to send him advice about entrepreneurship that he could include in his book "Make the Move: Demystifying Entrepreneurship" that he later published. Here is how he did it:
1) Make people feel important to be part of a group that consisted of other prominent people.
2) Focus on why entrepreneurship is important to economic growth.
3) Inform people if there is something that is in common such as college, hobbies, etc.
4) Mention that without their help no one would take his book seriously and not learn any insights that he has to share that can help others.
5) Ask for a little so it is hard to turn you down.
As Robert Cialdini suggests in his book, "Influence," that people are flattered when you ask for help. But it has to be done in the right way by making the person important based on their accomplishments and also what you share in common with the person. It is much easier to succeed when others are helping you.
The lesson I learned from my asking is that it is better to ask since the odds are 50/50. And they go down each thereafter, so you can't give up. But you must ask with a purpose if you want to increase your odds. Instead of accepting the guaranteed 100% predictable outcome and not trying, why not do it with a purpose and make it closer to 100%. I like to say, stealing this from the movie "Risky Business," if you can't ask, you can't get.
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