The Audacity of a Ninth Grader
I know a lot of people who are stuck. Stuck in a job or a position. Or they want to start a business, but never seem to get past the vague idea. They want a promotion, but are too scared to ask.
I launched a new product a couple weeks ago called Draft to help people write better. A ninth grader was the first person to email me after news about Draft was published.
It was a simple proposition: Can he interview me over Skype or email for his blog. It would just be 5 questions. And he seemed to already have used my product: “Just used Draft. It is the coolest thing in the whole world. No more Google Docs for school projects. :)”
Flattery works. But I am insanely impressed that a ninth grade kid has the audacity to email people he doesn’t know to get their help improving the asset he’s created. That’s just not something most people do.
I was at a crowded concert this last weekend (Frightened Rabbit). Walking out of the concert hall after the show, we were in your typical cattle formation. Tons and tons of people trying to get outside. Being civil. Barely. And everyone is trying to squeeze past these 4 open doors to get outside.
What struck me as odd is the exit of the concert hall actually has something like 10 doors. Why is everyone crowding through these 4? So I avoided the crowded line, walked with my 2 friends to one of the other doors, and pushed. It wasn’t locked. We were out. The security guards, looking over all of us, didn’t care.
When I got my first job after college, I felt stuck. I used to be a Chemical Engineer who had fallen in love with making things on computers. And I was lucky enough to get a chance to work for a technology consulting company, Accenture. But I didn’t get put into a position to make things on computers. I got put into a role where I was constantly taking meeting minutes and documenting requirements and test cases.
So I started sending emails to random people in the company. Not random people exactly. Random important people. I emailed partners. I’d email them new ideas I had that I thought Accenture could make money from. As I look back, they were crazy, half-baked ideas, poorly thought out, and articulated even worse. But I got emails and phones calls back from these partners.
No one ever told me to stop.
Instead, I got a promotion to a team at Accenture that would let me make software. I didn’t have to document requirements anymore. The door was unlocked.
Matt, a friend from an acting class I took last year, shared this story.
His major in college was acting. When he showed up to school, he met classmates just like him. Everyone had been in high school plays or performing in some community theater. The teacher on the first day of class asked everyone why they were there.
Most students had variations of the same answer: “I want to be an actor.”
One student though had a different answer, and it’s something that’s always motivated Matt.
The other student replied: “I am an actor, and I want to get better.”
I’ve continued to send emails to people who are complete strangers to me.
I’ve sent emails to Mark Cuban and Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. Had conversations with both of them. Benioff even setup a meeting with me and his staff. An email sent to the CEO of Starbucks led to a meeting too.
These emails rarely turn into much. But sometimes they do.
When I started Inkling, one of the first things I did was email another entrepreneur also doing things with The Wisdom of Crowds. That email quickly turned into the first revenue making deal Inkling did for $30,000.
A year ago, I emailed Dustin Curtis to see if I could be a member of SVBTLE, the blog network you are reading this post on, before SVBTLE even had an invite form. I really didn’t think he’d invite me. I didn’t know him. I had dropped the ball on blogging awhile ago. And I had 200 Twitter followers to his 40,000. But what the hell, I emailed anyways. I got an invite.
A couple months ago, I emailed someone I’ve admired for a long time for some mentorship. He’s going to say no, right? He’s too frickin busy. Now he’s personally advising me on Draft.
There are so many things that we want to and can accomplish but a lot of us are sitting around waiting for permission. Permission that seems to never come. The kid in the ninth grade isn’t waiting for it. The acting student has already decided he’s an actor without anyone telling him he could be.
I’m sure they get told no. I’m sure the acting student wasn’t very good yet. But what’s the worst thing that could happen in most of these cases. People ignore you? People tell you no? You look a little silly trying to push a door that is actually locked?
But how often does the worst thing even happen, and how much better is the best thing that could happen?
So what are you waiting on permission for?
Open the other door already. I don’t think it’s locked.
P.S. It would be awesome to meet you on Twitter.
Also, here’s the interview I did with ninth grader David Silverman.