Ask for Help
Got an important cause? Learn from Susan Cain
Why should causes and individuals addressing big challenges ask for help? Because collective efforts often yield more innovative solutions, broader impact, and a greater capacity to address complex issues effectively.
Communities work because we help each other. Too often seen as a weakness, asking for help—as much as being willing to help when asked—is necessary to do great things.
In the acknowledgements section of her best-selling book Quiet, Susan Cain thanks more than two hundred people by name. Along the way, she had asked them to help her share contacts, read some pages, be a sounding board, do an interview. A self-described introvert, Cain reached out to friends and strangers to accomplish her goal.
Why is asking so hard? Over the years, I have watched a friend help hundreds of people. No one is more giving. Yet… “Asking for help is one of the things I find very difficult,” she told me. “There have been times when I felt totally wiped out, discouraged, depressed, or overwhelmed. Usually, instead of asking for help, I end up having a good cry and making some kind of new plan to deal with issues myself. It is easier to give help than to ask for it.”
It is uncomfortable. Deep in the American psyche are the pioneers surviving heroically in isolation on the open prairie. In a culture that reveres self-sufficiency, seeking help is admitting that we depend on others. We’re afraid we’ll be seen as weak, unable, or incompetent. There are so many reasons we don’t ask.
Ask for help for a cause
Does it make it any easier when you’re asking for a cause? “For me this is not just a book; it’s a mission,” Susan Cain told journalist Jeff Glor for CBS News:
I was fueled by the same mix of passion and indignation that I imagine inspired Betty Friedan to publish The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time—second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.
Many of those who helped Cain resonated with her cause: to improve life for the half of our population who are introverts. But first, she had to explain her mission, her book—and ask each one for help! We’re much more likely to accomplish something significant when we get beyond ourselves.
This is especially true when it comes to growing support for our cause. In asking for help, we invite others to be part of something important.
Amanda Palmer—musician, actor and one-time eight-foot bride—shares her experience in connecting with people, trust, crowd-sourcing, couch surfing and asking for help. 13 min.
Heidi Grant offers three keys to getting help: be specific, make it personal, describe the impact. 5 min.
Wayne Baker emphasizes the power of asking for help, outlines asking-giving styles, and offers practical tools. 42 min.
Wikipedia: the power of asking for help
Through the explosion of crowdfunding, nonprofits and others have created new ways to ask for help. An alternative to traditional financing, crowdfunding allows you to raise money for a new venture or project from many people in a short time. And some crowd support takes the form of volunteering.
To see how far volunteer supporters can take a cause, look at the world of knowledge. The Encyclopedia Britannica was first published around 1770. Not long ago it had a staff of about a hundred editors along with four thousand paid contributors. But it recently quit its print operation. Why? Largely because of crowd-sourced Wikipedia has exponentially more information: At the time of this writing, it’s equal to 2,955 volumes of EB and is rapidly growing. It’s more up to date and, with real-time peer review, is just as accurate.
A Wiki (the Hawaiian word for fast) is a collaborative software, like the one Wikipedia is built on. The goal of founders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales was to provide a free encyclopedia to every person on the planet because, well, knowledge is power. A nonprofit with a staff of 450, Wikipedia is the fifth largest website in the world, with millions of articles in dozens of languages.
How is this possible? Wikipedia asks for and depends on roughly 120 thousand active volunteers to contribute content and editing.
Of course, the Wiki community didn’t stop there. Wikibooks is focused on creating free textbooks, Wikimedia Commons is a repository for free images and other media, Wiktionary is a dictionary and thesaurus, Wikiversity is a collection of learning tools, Wikispecies is a dictionary of forms of life, just to name a few. This sharing of time and information has transformed our access to knowledge—all because people ask for help.
The Art of Asking
By Amanda Palmer:
“The art of asking can be learned, studied, perfected. The masters of asking, like the masters of painting and music, know that the field of asking is fundamentally improvisational. It thrives not in the creation of rules and etiquette but in the smashing of that etiquette.
Which is to say: there are no rules.
Or, rather, there are plenty of rules, but they ask, on bended knees, to be broken.”
All You Have to Do is Ask
How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success
By Wayne Baker
Reinforcements — How to get people to help you
By Heidi Grant
Grant explores the psychology of asking for help: Why asking for help is difficult, how to ask for help effectively, and creating a culture of helpfulness.
Throughout, Grant provides statistics and examples. She underscores the value of asking for help, not as a sign of weakness but as a means to strengthen bonds and achieve shared goals.