How to: ask for a cold call

The basic principles for asking for a cold call:

  1. The process has 3 stages – preparation (including the ask), the call, follow up
  2. Be courteous throughout the process and make sure the person feels thanked
  3. Showcase thoughtfulness where possible

Here’s how to think about each of these 3 stages.

Preparation:

  1. Be clear as to why you are asking for a call. Make sure you have a clear overall objective because calls are expensive in terms of the time it takes to do them. The worst kind of objective is “networking” where you do these calls to check some arbitrary box.
  2. If it is a quick question, would you consider doing it via email? Better still, are you open to sharing your question upfront? That way, you can allow the person you’re asking to decide if they’d like to do the call
  3. If you’ve decided to ask, ask really nicely. Let it be a request. “Could I please request a 30 minute call” works much better than “It’d be great to connect.”
  4. Make sure you get their name right. I’ve 2 instances in the past 3 weeks where people have addressed me by my last name despite having addressed me by first name when they first wrote in. Show that you care enough to get their name right.
  5. Make scheduling really easy once they say “yes.” Just give them all possible times in a 2 week period and allow them to choose. Make allowances for their schedule and don’t ask them to reschedule more than twice. Remember: they’re doing you a favor.
  6. Finally, there are always opportunity to showcase thoughtfulness. Add a note to tell people how you heard of them or, if you’ve come across their work, if it had an impact on you. If genuine, these notes add a lot.

During the call:

  1. Share your questions upfront so you can allow the person on the other side to sort them in an order that works for them.
  2. While you have them, ask for their perspective on broader topics. For example, if you are speaking to an alumni from your school who works at Google, don’t just ask for advice to get into Google. Ask them for their perspective on how to do a job search right. This moves the call away from a “I am speaking to you to get a job in your company” to “I’d like your advice.”
  3. Avoid being very pushy about getting referrals and asking for a favor. It may be the only option if you are desperate. But, most folks will willingly suggest a referral if they think you are a good fit or feel a connection. You don’t have to force it out of them.
  4. Summarize/synthesize what they said, share next steps and thank them.

After the call:

  1. Follow up with a thank you email with what you took away from the call.
  2. If you did promise to “keep them posted” about the results of whatever you are doing, do follow up and keep them posted. Almost no one does this and it is a big wasted opportunity to build a relationship.

A call is a wonderful opportunity to make a connection. I’ve done a fair share of requesting for them and have made a ton of mistakes. I’ve also been fortunate to learn from folks who do a fantastic job with this process.

I hope you find it useful.

Technology and Humanity

I have an essay on our duty to connect Technology and Humanity over on Medium and LinkedIn.

I am still reflecting on some of the recent news showcasing the rampant sexism in the industry. My sense is that this has a lot to do around a “moral code” of sorts that has encouraged blind faith in money (via valuations and exits), disruption and technology.

But, technology won’t solve our problems and help us be better humans.

Only we can do that.

What great educators do

Great educators…

  1. …inspire us to be students for the rest of our lives. They do this by encouraging our curiosity, filling us with a love for learning and demonstrating that approaching life as a student can be very fulfilling. This is why the saying “Nine tenths of education is encouragement” is both wise and true.
  2. …equip us with tools that enable us to make sense of the world. We walk away with the ability to think about problems critically, to empathize with the people in it and to work with each other to create a better world.

We all play the role of educators when we advocate for our products and ideas.

What if we consistently behaved like great educators?

Omitting privilege

Last week, I shared a post on how intention, effort and luck combine to create successful projects. I realize now that I missed something important – privilege.

Privilege accumulated over the years determines the opportunities that are open to us. Once you are born into a family with means or are born in a place with lots of opportunity or are fortunate to get a good education or work experience at a top tier firm or two, you see opportunities that others never will. Privilege also shapes our intention, effort and the component of luck whose probability increases with thoughtful preparation.

This is easy to ignore and forget because you take this sort of privilege for granted.

I clearly did when I wrote about what makes projects successful last week. My updated sketch would look like the one below with privilege being the platform on which most success is built.

With privilege should come humility and responsibility. And, a first step to both is being aware of the presence of privilege in the first place.

Picking watermelons – a lesson in choices

If you were picking watermelons for the first time, it makes sense that you’d pick one that looks like this.

The color is beautiful, the lines look great and it looks unblemished.

But, it turns out such watermelons aren’t the watermelons you should look for.

The best watermelons have ugly-looking bald spots. These tell us that the watermelon was picked after it ripened as watermelons don’t ripen once picked. White bald spots are good, yellow spots are better and orange spots are the best.


This is counter intuitive as the appearance could easily lead us to conclude that the watermelon is spoilt.

As humans, we rely on appearances to make quick judgments about objects and people. Our lizard brain uses these judgments to choose a fight, flight or freeze response.

However, these responses were designed for when we lived in forests as hunter gatherers. There was danger lurking all around and these quick responses increased our chances of staying alive.

That isn’t true anymore. Thanks to our pre-frontal cortex, we have the time to seek to understand, deliberate and make better decisions. We can override our lizard brain if we choose to and get over impulses that instinctively bucket things based on their first appearances. In Daniel Kahneman’s words, we have the opportunity to use our more logical “system 2″ to make better decisions.

And, of course, this applies as much to how we judge and pick people as it does to watermelons.

Writing about the same things

I was reflecting about yesterday’s post on the “Don’t Do” list. While that is a new experiment whose results, by definition, are uncertain, I wondered why I didn’t try it in earnest when I first wrote about it five years ago.

I realized it is because I haven’t written about it enough.

Ideas I really care about appear on this blog many times over the years. A search for “Circle of influence”  or “Focus on process” shows many posts over the years that explore the topic from various angles. I’m still not an expert in either. But, I certainly am much better by virtue of thinking about them often, experimenting, failing and changing my approach.

This idea is the key to any kind of personal change. We need to obsess about the change, commit to it, keep trying various approaches, and keep re-committing to it.

And, writing about it many times over is an obvious signal that I care enough to obsess over it.

Here’s to writing more about the same things.

Don’t do list

I first wrote about Don’t Do Lists 5 years ago when I was contemplating trying it out. But, somehow, the idea just didn’t stick. I think I was still trying to do “To do” lists well.

As of yesterday, however, I’ve decided to give a “Don’t Do” list a shot. I generally tend to have an improvement project or two in flight and I would love for a way to keep them top of mind. And, a list on my phone’s notes app felt like a good place to start.

The Don’t Do list on my phone currently reads –

1. Stop using filler words
2. Stop mindlessly checking email when you get downtime

I’ve attempted reducing filler words at least once every year in the past 3 years and failed each time. Looking forward to seeing if this strategy works better.