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Evolution Book Shelf: Steve Jobs Says Be Willing to Fail & Ask for Advice (Interview Commentary)

Occasionally, I have the good fortune to speak to young people about entrepreneurship, opening the idea of self-employment as a career alternative. For the last few years, Denea Jackson (Evolution’s office manager) has facilitated the opportunity to present this message to the fourth-grade class at the local Fernway Elementary School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Shortly before I met with the class, I ran across this video interview with Steve Jobs.

Although the entire video is only 1 minute and 42 seconds, it is packed with some of the best advice for any young person – no matter the intended career path. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help, fail or take action. It sounds so simple, but very few people actually do it.

I’ve watched this short clip 40-50 times, at a minimum. Each time, I remember a different time in my life where I’ve reached out for advice or help, whether to an author, entrepreneur or expert in a specific field. They are almost always receptive and, many times, the action has ended up with a positive result, an answer or a new relationship. I have never regretted the decision to simply pick up the phone. As Mr. Jobs mentions in this video, most people never say no and, after all, what is the worst thing that could happen if they do?

I know this can be intimidating, but here are a few of my keys for taking action:

1. Just Ask

Most people are receptive to someone asking for assistance or the opportunity to help a good cause, so make sure you ask for help. Mr. Jobs simply said, “I am a student in high school, and I am looking to…”

2. Research

Before you pick up the phone, be knowledgeable of the passions and interests of the person you are contacting. Google, books, blogs and other information sources can help you gather background. Your request for help should overlap with these interests.

3. Know the Subject

Make sure you are calling the right person. Mr. Jobs called the founder of a company that made frequency counters, the exact thing he was looking to build. As a high school student, I’m guessing Mr. Hewlett was thrilled someone that young took an interest in his product.

4. Be Brief

These people are busy and you will likely only have a few minutes to grab their attention, so make sure you get to the point.

5. Be Specific

Tell the person exactly how they can help you! Mr. Jobs wanted spare parts to build a frequency counter, so he made sure to make that request.

6. Listen and Follow up

Listen to the advice and action items the person may give you. It’s important to act on their recommendations and follow up to let them know of your progress.

Mr. Job’s closing comments to the video says it all: 

“Most people never pick up the phone and call, most people never ask, and that’s what separates sometimes the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You have to act and you have to be willing to fail, to crash and burn. With people on the phone… with starting a company… with whatever. If you are afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

Posted by: Brendan Anderson

A co-founder and managing partner at Evolution, Brendan has spent the past 20 years as an investor and manager of businesses ranging from manufacturing to financial services. @Brendan_Andersn

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