Mayank Jain

Talk to Smart People and Figure Shit Out

Philosophy 3 min read October 20, 2019

Two of the top pieces of advice I’ve heard over and over again is to ask smart people for help when you’re stuck and that the ability to just figure shit out is super valuable.

These two things seem contradictory at first because asking for help and figuring stuff out by yourself are two opposite things. The key lies in knowing when to do each one.

Some of the biggest disruptions in the world have happened when someone used a good balance of the two to make things happen.

There’s this great video of Steve Job where he talks about himself as a kid and gives some valuable advice:

One of my favorite parts of the video is when he talks about the time when he was 12 and wanted to build a frequency counter. He called up Bill Hewlett, the founder of HP, and asked him for parts to built it.

The craziest part is that not only did Bill Hewlett say yes, he even gave Steve Jobs a job (<- small joke there) in an assembly line putting together frequency counters.

Steve Jobs had nothing to lose by asking for help. This is something that lots of people don’t realize. There is no downside in asking people for help. Literally the worst-case scenario is that they say no, in which case you have lost nothing.

And, this is what I mean by the balance between asking for help and figuring shit out. Steve Jobs didn’t ask Bill Hewlett how to build a frequency counter. He figured that out himself. He knew exactly what he wanted and asked him for something that he couldn’t get himself.

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Masayoshi Son has a similar story. He’s a billionaire and the CEO of Softbank.

He's got this great interview where like Steve Jobs, he talks about his childhood and life leading up to his major success:

When he was 16, he read a book by the CEO of McDonald's. He loved the book and was determined to meet and talk with him.

He called his secretary 100s of times hopping to meet the CEO. The secretaries would always tell him that the CEO wouldn’t want to meet with a student. Eventually, the long-distance calls were becoming expensive, that Masayoshi actually flew down to the McDonalds headquarters in Japan so that he could talk to the CEO in person.

He told the secretaries to tell the CEO that he just wanted to see his face for 3 minutes and that he wouldn’t waste any of his time. The CEO agreed and actually ended up spending 15 minutes talking to Masayoshi. When Masayoshi asked him what industry he should create a business in. The CEO said that at his age and at that time, he should go into computers.

Masayoshi took that advice. Years later, he figured out how to built an electronic dictionary, sold it for over a million dollars to Sharp and used that money to start the billion-dollar enterprise, Softbank.

Similar to Jobs, he asked a smart person for help and figured everything else out for himself. He had a little more risk involved by spending money on long-distance phone calls and plane tickets, but the cost of those was nothing in comparison to the potential benefit of that meeting. Masayoshi ended up getting a lot of value from the CEO. The cost of that plane ticket was nothing compared to the billions he made from getting into the tech industry, all because he just talked to a really smart person.

The key piece of advice from this post: Maximize the time you spend talking to smart people, don’t be scared of just asking, and have the ability to figure shit out.