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You don't get shit you don't ask for (humbledmba.com)
387 points by jaf12duke on May 31, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

Great advice! Some people can be a bit shy about asking for things, so I suggest you practice.

For example, I was recently at a reception which included a fixed menu dinner. For the non-native speakers, a fixed menu means that you don't order your meal, they just bring it to you. A waiter was walking around to each of the many tables, quietly filling glasses of red wine. Red wine makes me sleepy, so I asked for a beer.

A few minutes later, someone at my table asked me "How did you get a beer?"

I said "Um, I ordered it..."

"Oh? We can do that?"

"We're at a restaurant, he's a waiter. I asked and he didn't say no. So, ugh, yeah. We can do that."

That tiny unfamiliarity of a fixed menu and an automatically filled wine glass undid a lifetime of training on how to order things at restaurants.

You've got to ask for things, even if it feels unnatural or uncomfortable!

In the US, there are enough of us vegetarians around (and other dietary restrictions) that they're going to expect some people to request alternatives.

I've waited a few tables before (in the US) too. People with food principles and allergies can be downright rude. Waiters are usually going to be so pleasantly surprised if you ask for something nicely and politely, that they will usually try to make you happy if they can.

Bartending is a completely different business however. :-)

Just after we sat down, they asked if anyone was a vegetarian, had any allergies, or other dietary restrictions. I think that's pretty standard practice for fixed menus.

This reminds me of the "Asker vs Guesser" culture comparison: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/may/08/change-li...

>> This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you're a Guess Culture person -- and you obviously are -- then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you're likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you're an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she's an Ask and you're a Guess. (I'm a Guess too. Let me tell you, it's great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people -- ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you'll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you'll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone. >> from http://ask.metafilter.com/55153/Whats-the-middle-ground-betw...

The article's bullet points are great, but I would emphasize one thing:

Don't be afraid to ask, but only AFTER YOU'VE DONE YOUR HOMEWORK. People can be surprisingly helpful, but especially if it's clear you're working hard to make each request count. They're much less likely to think you're wasting their time if it's clear you've been hustling and see their help as a catalyst for you working EVEN HARDER.

That reminds me a lot of ESR's "How to Ask Questions the Smart Way". Two variations of a general rule, I think: if you want someone's help, make it as easy and hassle-free as possible for them to provide it.


The comments on the article directly quickly go into specifically not abusing VCs, they are very busy etc but I think they are missing out on the larger picture here that I am taking away from this story. No one is looking out for my best interests and if I need something or want something the best opportunity I have to get that is to ask.

Excellent post, but I wouldn't have distilled quite the same catch phrase -- "You don't get shit you don't ask for" -- from that anecdote. It's more like, "When someone offers you help, take them up on it."

Except the general principle of "you don't get what you don't ask for" is true and encompasses your thoughts. Whether it is an introduction to a highly visible CEO or a conference you want to attend for work, if you don't ask, it isn't going to happen. I would argue that even if they didn't offer specifically to help (but didn't make it clear that they don't want to be annoyed by you :), if you think they can help, ask them.

This is a philosophy I've lived by for many years. The only time you need to worry is when the person you are asking is passive-aggressive. They may never give you an indication you are asking too much, while you are unknowingly destroying your relationship with them.

That risk certainly isn't just restricted to passive-aggressive people.

It's an issue with a lot of people from more polite cultures or higher context cultures than your own. They likely are giving indications of their discomfort. Unfortunately askers are usually oblivious to those indications and barrel on ahead anyway.

You bring up a good point. If you are crossing cultures, tread carefully. Cultural missteps can kill relationships.


Good read. I had been sitting on an email for a few weeks to a possible business partner because I didn't want to look like a moron that doesn't know how things work (I am said moron). I just pressed send.

Well done! I too sit on emails for far too long - making up plenty of reasons not to send.

You've inspired me to scour my inbox now

Yes and no. There are some people who make a living asking 100 people a day, and banking on the five people who say yes. Then others are fortunate enough to have customers, investors and interested parties knocking on their door -- simply because they've made something really interesting. These people often get things without asking. And if you are bad at asking -- it's better to be one of those people.

I find that those who've made something really interesting usually asked a lot of people for help along the way.

> There are some people who make a living asking 100 people a day, and banking on the five people who say yes.

Yeah, I never give those guys any change.

Persistence is one of the major things PG looks for in founders, it is foolish to mock it as a things only beggars do.

When leading my sales team, I always asked them to do two things clearly.

1. State clearly why they were there

2. State clearly what they needed.

Jason's note had two statements that did exactly that.

ONE >>Right now, we're preparing for the PhoCusRight conference next week, the travel industry's largest get together. We're trying to make some connections with people at the conference.

TWO >>Can you help us connect with leaders in the Business Travel divisions of Expedia or Orbitz? Or any other introduction that you feel would help us?

Remember without those two simple points, you are wasting yours and other peoples time. And then they wonder (very LA indeed) "And you are wasting my time because?" - which is the last thing anyone should be thinking.

Good article, but it's "root" and "rooting" not "rout" and "routing." Somewhat hilarious reversal of meaning via that typo.

Australians would think it hilarious with the correct spelling.

"rooting" for me? Uh, thanks, mate. But keep that sort of information to yourself next time, eh?

yeah, I just learned about the meaning of that in Australia.

There's a clothing company in Canada called Roots. Their logo is a beaver. They sell shirts that say "Roots" next to their logo.

Makes for a hilarious gift for your beer drinking Australian chums.


thanks! fixed...

So nobody else is offended by the title? I don't take advice from people who talk dumb shit.

"You should never ask anyone for anything. Never- and especially from those who are more powerful than yourself."

— Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita)

This quote needs context.

Wolland goes on to say 'they will make the offer and they will give of their own accord,' and then, once he's made the offer, he encourages Margarita to ask for whatever her heart desires.

In other words, when someone offers to help, take them up on it. Which is what FlightCaster did.

Reminds me of "All you have to do is ask" by James Altucher: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/05/all-you-have-to-do-is-a...

It's true. Ask for what you want in this world, it will usually not be offered.

I've had to get over my own personal shyness to help promote and market our startup (http://infostripe.com) and at times it's been difficult to just ask for help, opinion and testers. But when I do it's always quite rewarding.

Ask, speak your mind, be reasonable and the things you want are obtainable.

Wow. Perfect timing on this. I've been struggling to develop a mindset like this when looking for a job. It's difficult, but you must not underestimate the value of a connection, regardless of the initial interaction (i.e. it's better to receive a "no" and be recognized than not known at all).

Inaccurate. I frequently get things that I don't ask for. Also, asking for things inappropriately is a great way to annoy people.

This is good advice. On a first date, after introductions, I present a brief presentation slideshow to the prospective mate where I lay out a dating schedule in Gantt format denoting dates, first kisses, sex and falling in love, including sexual position diagrams. For a personal touch, copy-and-paste both your Facebook profile photos onto the people in the diagrams.


I think this is the result of an A/B testing article which showed higher follow rates for "You should follow me" than "If you feel like following me" and other less imperative wordings.

I believe this is the article you're referring to? http://www.dustincurtis.com/you_should_follow_me_on_twitter....

Yup. So, anyone who cares more about manipulating their readers into being more likely to follow them on Twitter than about not being rude should totally do that.

(Is it really rude? I dunno; it doesn't offend me when I see it, though it does grate a little. But when someone says "X is rude" it seems pretty weird to respond by saying "There is some evidence that X achieves something the person doing it wants", as if that were actually responsive to the complaint.)

Incidentally, I can't help suspecting that with more people using the "You should ..." form, its effectiveness relative to other ways of asking to be followed might be less these days.

I don't mind the phrasing, per se. I do mind when people who aren't Dustin Curtis use it.

Why? Is the phrase "copyrighted"?

Maybe more like "trademarked". For me anyway, it immediately brings to mind Dustin's article on the subject rather than allowing itself to be taken at face value.

Wrong. If you have something people want, they'll force money on you. Make something people want. People are so naive, like they've never seen "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld.

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