Just Ask

I’ve had a bit of a Damascene moment recently, which I wanted to share… plus it has also prompted me to run an experiment to see how many people I can help in 50 days (more on this here).

I have a moderately good network and take great pleasure connecting people, meaning I absolutely love introducing people who can be of mutual benefit. Yet I’m also a busy person who wants to get shit done, so I’ve tended towards helping people with an expectation – when there’s obviously or potentially something in it for me. It sounds selfish put like that, but like most businessmen, I’ve wanted to be rewarded for my time. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I’ve traded favours.

My Damascene moment has been to realise that by unshackling myself from an expectation of return, I can be way, way more helpful and that – perhaps ironically – means I’m better rewarded.

The realisation is certainly not my own – I’ve been prompted by articles such as this, and much wiser, more experienced people like Reid Hoffman, Adam Rifkin and Naval Ravikant, to name but a few.

There is no Machiavellian hidden agenda. This is not pure altruism, but instead a realisation that there is a beautiful symbiotic benefit in being as helpful as possible. I still want to get things done, but this approach of helping without expectation actually helps me get more done and is distinctly more pleasurable. I’d rather not try to calculate whether this or that introduction has a certain value but instead just maximise my ability to help (knowing that it was valuable to both parties involved, of course).

Perhaps years in a boarding school initiated my tit-for-tat survival strategy, because whilst this is a painfully simple idea, it’s actually been remarkably difficult to execute. There’s a fine balance that’s hard to strike. Some people excel at this, but most, myself included, do not. Too often when someone has come to me for help and I’ve slipped back into my old mindset of feeling time-poor, or unwilling because I can’t see the value. Like a meditation practice, I’ve had to keep bringing myself back.

The second issue preventing my help campaign is that people don’t just ask. In hundreds of chats, I’ve learned that people are reluctant to ask for favours because it feels awkward, they don’t want to be needy, or they don’t know who to ask either based on their knowledge or who will help. They ask close contacts because of that discomfort and because it’s easier to ask those they feel comfortable. This in turn means that it’s actually quite hard to help people at scale, because it’s hard to figure out who needs help with what. I’ve scoured Facebook, LinkedIn and groups that I’m part of to try to find what people need – yet people don’t ask that often. Or when they do on a public forum, it’s desperate, or a request of a certain kind that can be dealt with publicly. This makes it it tricky to be helpful.

So with a view to helping out more often, I’ve begun an experiment. Starting on the 8th May, I want to try to help as many people as I can in the next 50 days. More on that here in a separate post. Please don’t hesitate to ask me for help by email (tom at you know the rest).

Please do JUST ASK… Here’s how I see it working – if you’ve a professional problem you have that could be solved, or helped by one person in my network, I would love to know about it. It doesn’t matter you and I know each other and I certainly don’t want anything in return, except to learn and maximise my ability to help. Because, as I’ve learned, it is the process of helping and bringing people together who can benefit each other that is most fulfilling, the rest is a bonus.