A consultant goes into a company and gets an assignment to improve sales.
He talks to various people in sales, and asks who the best salespeople in the company are.
There's pretty consistent agreement -- the best salespeople are Mary, Joe, and Matt.
Eventually the consultant goes to present to entire sales force. He asks, "Do you all know who the best salespeople in the company are?"
Everyone knows -- it's Mary, Joe, and Matt.
So the consultant asks, "How many of you have taken the time to ask Mary, Joe, or Matt what their process is, and why they're doing so well?"
And no hands go up.
There seems to be around three reasons why people don't ask others who are further along than them for feedback --
(1) Not realizing it's important, not thinking of it, just not realizing it's an option.
(2) Worrying about bothering the other person and wasting their time.
(3) Being afraid of looking stupid or amateurish.
The only possibly good reason is #1, not realizing how important it is to ask others for feedback. That's forgivable if it had never occurred to you that it's possible to do, and it hadn't occurred to you that it's worth a tremendous amount.
But, now you know better. One of the fastest ways to improve in life is to ask anyone who is good at anything you care about what their process is like.
Something like, "You seem to write a lot of great stuff. I was wondering how you started doing that?"
Or, "I noticed you seem to be good at dealing with difficult negotiations without losing your cool. I lose my cool sometimes... were you always cool like that? Any thoughts on why you've got that, and most people don't?"
These go a long way, are easy to do, and are powerful.
But what about bothering people?
This is important -- high performers often don't carefully deconstruct their own thinking very often, and it's very, very, very valuable for them to do so.
I've asked a lot of, "You're better than me at X, I've tried X, but I don't get it like you get it..." type questions over the years, and do you know how many people were aggravated or thought it a waste of time?
Close to zero. Heck, maybe zero. I can't think of one.
People like to think through their thought process. Getting asked these questions is one of the fastest ways for them to improve. Plus it's flattering and cool. And if anyone teaches you anything cool, go out of their way to get them a small gift later.
Really, it's no hassle and a very big gain for people.
Which brings us to #3, which is the most insidious of them all.
Most people are worried about looking stupid and amateurish.
There's this feeling that you should know everything already, right? Of course, it sounds silly when it's put like that, but that's how most people seem to operate. They're afraid of seeming dumb.
The two-part answer here is that, first, asking questions makes you look smart most of the time. Being dedicated to learning and focused on getting better is always a positive.
But, truthfully, you do look amateurish and stupid sometimes. But that's okay, because your goal shouldn't be to look competent; it should be to be competent.
Look, if you don't know, you need to start knowing. If you're not exceptional, you want to get there ASAP. Looking stupid for a minute -- which rarely happens, even -- is far better than staying ignorant for a lifetime.
Wake up to the idea that asking people who are good at what they do -- good students, good teachers, good levels of physical fitness, good at your career, people with good family lives, good social lives, people who are good with money, good investors, and so on -- asking these people about their way is incredibly valuable.
Don't worry about wasting their time. Be gracious. But recognize it's very valuable for them too.
And then stop worrying about looking stupid. The best way to look good to be exceptional at what you do.
Now, stop and identify someone you could ask about something they're doing well. Do that in the next three days. Let us know how it goes.
Oh, man, that deconstruction is ridiculously useful. I recently had to give a presentation to my mastermind group deconstructing the last quarter. It took me 12 hours to make up the report (and it will take me many more to implement every thing that was brought to my attention by the report), but taking the time to reflect was so damn useful that I'm looking at building in monthly or possibly even weekly reports into my workflow. I already do weekly reviews, but this weekly debrief is just as useful.
The way I see it, is, I've already done about 85% of the work: I did the work, refined it, came to conclusions about why it works. But if I take the time to write a report, really take down the information about how it works, why it works (maybe a few minor experiments to test my conclusions) in such a way that others can understand it, I can squeeze every drop of utility out of my work. (As random mentioned, it takes a lot of work to explain the things you know to other people in a way that makes sense)
I'll admit, I've attempted it before. But it was always hard to write the reports without having a specific person in mind to share with-- otherwise I kept taking shortcuts because "I knew what I meant". But I'm hoping that having to debrief my group will keep me on the wagon and honest, because jesus christ, is it ever useful.
It's a prisoner's dilemma. No one wants to be the first to look amateurish.
Besides, I've tried this... and many high performers are not able to explain their process, they don't have the necessary metacognition to map it into words. It would be more useful to shadow their work, ie follow them around.
Tim Ferris sort of discusses this in his latest book. He says world class level performer have all the shit internalized, so they can explain how they do what they do. He recommends you go after someone who was supposed to be bad, but it's really good at that. Like, someone born with a growth problem and is good at basketball or something.
When I was a bit younger, I used to think stupid people were a problem.
I don't know how I'd define stupid exactly, but you know roughly what I mean. I thought, "Stupid people cause problems."
Now I'm starting to change my mind.
However you define "stupid," I don't think it's stupid people causing problems. There's lots of things I'm unskilled, uneducated, or unsophisticated about, but I tend to know I'm unskilled, uneducated, and unsophisticated about it. If I got into a metalworking shop, I'd quickly ask someone there what I'm supposed to do to stay safe, and then I'd stay the hell out of the way.
You see, I'm stupid about metalworking and metalworking safety, but that's okay. I'm rarely in a metalworking shop, I'd ask for guidance/instructions if I was, and I'd be careful and stay out of the way.
Let's face it, we all have to be salespeople in some aspect of life - most of us just don't like it.
There are some people - myself included - who do like selling.
A great salesperson is just about 180 degrees opposite from a used-car salesman. A great salesperson is a trusted partner in business. And if that statement sounds as strange to you as it does to most people, you'll realize how un-great most salespeople are.
First, let me tell you about my background. I was selling sodas to construction workers in my neighborhood when I was 8 years old. I sold candy bars on my school bus in high school. I paid for college by licensing the University of Virginia's "V" logo and producing Frisbees with the logo, which I sold in the school bookstores (my self-portrait, at left, with my Frisbees in the window of one of the bookstores, dated 1996).
I spent 4 summers at GE while in college, working as an intern in the telesales department, where I beat the sales numbers of some full-time salespeople, selling Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) solutions to banks in Brazil. Since then I've been an Entrepreneur full-time; I've gotten massive amounts of press, including a cover in the Marketplace section of the Wall Street Journal, CNN, CNBC, Forbes, TLC, Discovery Channel, CBS News & many, many others.