• Tom Boyd

Good advice to ask for advice

I was struck by a quote someone posted from rocket ship-flying business mogul Sir Richard Branson.

His advice: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes–then learn how to do it later!”

I like it. Why pass up a career- or life-changing opportunity if you lack the knowledge to carry it through to fruition? Experience is but a tiny, insignificant detail, right?

“Yes!” says the rookie start-up founder who’s never launched a business before but is learning from experience.

“Yes!” says the rookie adventurer who’ll attempt a class-five whitewater rafting trip this Labor Day weekend, despite having no experience.

For me, Sir Branson’s advice–if taken with a grain of salt–is actually worth heeding. After all, whether you’re starting a new job or a new company, or even trying a new hobby outside of your comfort zone, chances are you still have much to learn beyond your core competencies.

Plus, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can always ask your peers for help.

Groan …

No, really–you should ask for help. According to a new Harvard Business School study, asking others for advice could make you look like the perfect candidate for whatever amazing opportunity you just took on.

The study suggests that asking for advice makes you look more capable, not less, overriding the stigma that seeking help somehow implies incompetence. Asking people for guidance validates their intelligence, making them feel good about themselves–and, in turn, making them think highly of you.

In one experiment, the Harvard research team asked participants to complete a brain teaser and then send it to an unseen partner with whom they could only interact via instant messaging. Next, the study participants received one of two messages from their unseen partner: “I hope it (the brain teaser) went well,” or “I hope it went well. Do you have any advice?”

Afterward, participants rated the unseen partners who requested advice as more competent than those who didn’t. Moreover, the more difficult the brain teaser was, the smarter the advice- seeking partners appeared.

Moral of the story: If you’re feeling overwhelmed at a job you just started, peek over your cubicle and consult your colleague. If you’re intimidated by the prospect of switching career fields, seek the sage advice of a mentor who’s made the jump.

John D. Natale Staff Writer Wells Fargo Daily Advantage 8/28/14

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