The hidden superpower

Early in my advertising career I remember hearing the saying that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but as a life-long runner I thought to myself, “great, I will go alone. I like going fast.”

I was recently reminded of how wrong it was to take this solo approach to work when I stumbled upon a 1994 interview with Steve Jobs in which he talked about the benefits of asking for help. He started doing this at the age of 12 when he called Bill Hewlett, the legendary computer frontiersman and founder of Hewlett Packard, and asked for some spare parts to build a frequency counter. Jobs said it was pretty easy to contact Mr. Hewlett because his home phone number was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. Well, the story goes that Hewlett was so impressed with this young man that he actually sent him those spare parts. This generous gesture was indirectly responsible for launching one of the greatest careers in tech history (ironically, it contributed to declining HP computer sales along the way).

Interestingly, Jobs didn’t stop asking for help at the age of 12. He continued to ask for advice from competitors, mentors and people he had vague associations with throughout his career. He was sort of amazed that most people didn’t leverage the power of others’ insights, because they simply never asked.

It struck me that my attitude of going at it alone made me miss out on years of advice from so many talented people who had such a big influence on my work and life. I regret the times that I was burdened with massive stress and self-doubt when I could have easily picked up the phone or sent an email to these colleagues.

When we decided to launch Shiny six years ago, my business partner Katy Thorbahn set up a meeting with Brad Aronson, our former and long-time boss who launched an unbelievably successful digital agency in the late 90s. In her infinite wisdom, Katy set up this meeting to simply ask for help and advice. Brad is not only our old boss, he is my best friend and a person that I vacation with annually. Yet, it never once crossed my mind to ask him for help when we were setting up this new venture (old habits die hard).

Following that unbelievably instructive meeting with Brad, I finally grasped the enormous power of asking for help. I changed my attitude completely and began reaching out to former coworkers, clients and friends from competing agencies to set up lunches and phone calls. It is amazing how much these conversations have enriched my life and improved my approach to business.

Digital marketing is a very tough business. And the people who succeed need to be tough-minded individuals. However, they don’t need to do it alone. Getting advice from others is a superpower that we all have. But this superpower only works when you actually ask for help. Give it a try —you will be surprised how many people say “yes.”