The Simple Secret to Getting Ahead

by Nov 13, 2013Interviews & Inspiration, Starting Your Own Business10 comments

I ‘ve been trying to decide who to give $7.5 million to.

The money is for a new synthetic biology project I’m managing as part of my Air Force reserve work. There are a lot of things that drive me crazy about continuing to work in the government, but I still love awarding big sums of money to innovative scientists trying to push the edge of our knowledge.

Programs like this attract the very best scientists in the country. Most grants are on the order of $1 million. Getting $7.5 million completely transforms your career and reputation.

As you might imagine, it’s not an easy decision. The chances of ultimately getting selected for funding are roughly 2.5%. In an extremely competitive field like this, the difference between success and failure often comes down to something small.

Leading this effort gave me a big picture view of competition and an objectivity I don’t always enjoy. All of a sudden I realized my own approach to getting help and getting ahead was less than stellar. I bet yours is too.

These lessons learned will be useful for anyone who thinks they have to tackle every big challenge alone (ummm, overachievers, I mean you).

But if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of starting your own business, either on the side or as a full-time replacement for a job you’re eager to escape, for goodness sake, don’t skip this post (or the webinar announcement at the end of it).

Most people are afraid to ask for help

When the call went out for white papers, everyone had the opportunity to contact me. Given the money at stake, you might think I got flooded with questions, but I didn’t. Probably fewer than 10% of those putting together a proposal asked a question.

This isn’t as surprising as it sounds. The more capable you are, the less you think you need help. The more talented you are, the more asking for help feels like exposing a weakness.

Overachievers are really good at denying this to themselves. Overachievers would rather be wrong or rejected than admit, to themselves and others, they don’t have it all figured out.

To deal with this, you have to identify and highlight the fear behind it. Are you afraid you’ll look stupid or something short of brilliant? Are you scared you’ll be annoying the person you’re asking for help?

Then force yourself to see it from the opposite perspective. If you’re afraid you’ll look less than brilliant by asking for help, instead think about all the ways asking good questions can help you.

Most people ask the wrong questions

One of the proposals I received was completely off topic. It had a zero percent chance of moving forward. I was surprised to see this was one of the groups who had contacted me with a question. Unfortunately, they asked me a detail question, which I answered. But this left them blind to the fact the larger context of their work wasn’t applicable.

Asking for help, even when you think you don’t need it, requires a lot of courage. It requires a vulnerability that makes many of us uncomfortable. But that courage won’t do you much good if you don’t get the answers you need.

This is a really  hard problem to solve. How do you know if you’re asking the right questions or the wrong ones?

In the beginning, you should ask broad questions whose answers scare you. The professor with the off topic proposal probably had an inkling that idea wasn’t going to work. So if there’s a question you are afraid to ask, that’s a great place to start.

Next, ask questions that might contradict whatever hypothesis or assumptions you’re working under. This means, of course, you’ll need to identify those assumptions first, which will be a great exercise in and of itself. These questions are great because one answer can often eliminate a lot of other questions.

Then, and only then, should you get to the detail questions.

This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what most people do.

Getting help to get ahead

The two steps I outlined above are hard to do on your own if you haven’t practiced them. If you’re attempting some low risk venture, where the cost of failure is low, then you can just experiment and play around. It’s the best way to learn.

But if you’re contemplating something bigger, something where the outcome matters to you a great deal, then you need to find someone who can not only answer your questions, but help you ask the right ones.

That’s why I offer low cost group coaching for clients who are weighing a career change. One of my superpowers is reframing problems, a process that forces you to ask some hard questions.

But if you’re thinking about starting an online business, either on the side or as a replacement for a full-time job, I highly recommend talking to Danny Iny. There are so many myths about the online business world, and nobody does a better job of knocking them down and setting you straight than Danny.

I’ve known Danny for a couple of years and he’s one of the most generous and helpful people I know. He’s also a kind of prodigy when it comes to business.

At 15 years old and without any programming experience, he called up the CEO of a video game company got himself hired to write a game. He grew his current business, Firepole Marketing, from nothing to multiple 6-figures in just a couple of years.

Here’s a few of things I asked him to talk about:

  • How to get more and better clients without scrounging around at networking events
  • How to sell exactly what people want without wasting years of your life stuck in creation mode
  • The counter-intuitive (but totally legit) way to achieve more by doing much less work
  • The two most significant metrics for anyone online to track (hint: neither of them is traffic)
  • How you can realistically replace a full-time income this year

I’m lucky. I know Danny and I get to ask him for help whenever I can get over my overachiever ego enough to ask for it.

You? You should attend this webinar on November 19 at 3 PM Eastern. It’s going to be phenomenal and it’s totally free.

***Disclaimer: I am an affiliate for Danny and if you ultimately decide to buy any of his products, I may receive a portion of the sale. I care about my audience deeply and I only recommend people/products that I know and trust.***