The Magical Power Tim Ferriss Taught Me Over Cocktails
In order to design your life on your own terms, you're going to need help from others. And as part of this, you'll need to learn how to approach people who have done something similar to what you want to accomplish and ask them for guidance.
That is easier said than done, for sure, but it's not as difficult as you might imagine. A long time ago, I learned a very effective way to do this from none other than influential author and podcast host Tim Ferriss. We all know Ferriss as a master life-hacker, meaning he always finds the most efficient ways to learn new skills.
As it turns out, he’s also a pretty good teacher. Here's my story . . .
In 2001, I was in Sunnyvale, Calif., teaching a two-day class at a hotel on how to license your ideas in 10 steps. One attendee came in dressed entirely in black leather (he'd ridden his motorcycle there) and sat in the back of the room near the door. I imagine he chose that spot so he could slip out quietly if the content of my presentation was not up to snuff. But in fact he stayed. He remained quiet during my talk. And he looked like he was listening intently.
That would have required some effort because that first day, I spoke for a whopping eight hours. To my surprise, the gentleman in black leather still wanted more information! He approached me and asked if he could buy me a drink. And at that point, I really needed a gin and tonic, so I said, “Absolutely, no problem!” The bar was next door, after all.
My drink with Tim
Once settled in with cocktails, we continued conversing in that far more relaxed setting, and he told me he had a product he wanted to license, called BrainQUICKEN. He said he was tired of handling all that the business entailed and wanted to find someone else to do the heavy lifting so he could focus on other pursuits.
I was quickly clued in to the fact that he had done his homework. He was asking me questions no one had asked at any point during the two days of my presentation. That was a shame because I had some solid wisdom to offer: After all, I had figured out how to get companies to take my ideas to market for me. And I was paid a royalty on every unit sold -- passive income. In other words, I could decide what I wanted to do with my own time.
My drinking companion recognized the power in this and would later go on to coin the term "new rich" to describe people who have realized that time is the most important currency we possess. Time is also an important benefit of licensing. With licensing, you can continue being creative and taking on new projects and revenue sources.
Looking back, I’d say Ferriss displayed extraordinary skill when he approached me. The level of research he does is incredible. He uses it to dig deeper than anyone else, by asking very thoughtful questions, which is one reason why his podcast is so popular. His attention to detail that day made me feel that I was the center of attention. He was truly listening to what I was telling him. It wasn’t about "him" -- it was about me! And that made me really want to help him.
Do it the way Tim does it.
If, like Ferriss, you too are able to make people feel like the most important person at that particular moment in your life, you’re on to something.
Later, after our conversation, Ferriss helped me land an important speaking gig. I was on a panel with extremely successful individuals like Jack Canfield, the best-selling author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. And Ferriss asked for nothing in return. That's extremely rare nowadays. His intensity, his desire, his understanding, his level of focus and his willingness to reciprocate were all very authentic.
An approach like that takes work. You can't fake it. But the effort pays off. I know because I made use of it myself later, when I needed to reach out to people I had never met for book testimonials.
One of the individuals I sought out was Gary Dahl, creator of the Pet Rock. Remember the Pet Rock? You see, I was from Los Gatos, Calif., and everybody there knew the story of how Dahl came up with the million-dollar idea in a bar. A bar! With a bunch of buddies, talking about how a rock would be the least troublesome pet! His winning idea and its execution made a big impact on my own career, and I valued his opinion.
So I aproachedhis publisher for that testimonial from Dahl. The publisher was dubious. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that "Mr. Dahl" was not very friendly. Nonetheless, I was supplied with his number and told "good luck."
What would Ferriss do? He'd research his target. So that's what I did. In fact, I'd done quite a bit of research on Dahl, so I called him up. When he answered, I said, “My name is Stephen Key. You don't know me, but your success influenced my career, and now I'm actually writing a book about it for the publisher McGraw-Hill. Your product, the Pet Rock, changed my life. And I owe it all to you.”
The next thing out of his mouth? "Wow! Steve, tell me a little bit more about yourself, and how I can help you!”
So my careful, studied approach worked. We talked about the book, I sent him a chapter, and he wrote a wonderful testimonial.
Want to follow my example for some project of your own? Here are three main takeaways I can share:
1. Do your homework. It’s much easier today to do "your homework," thanks to the internet. This also means there is no excuse for not being well prepared. You should know about the things that are important to your interviewee. You should also find the holes, the things no one has asked. You will earn this person's respect, because he or she will know that you're truly interested. You've done the work.
2. Make the person feel important to you. This isn’t about accolades and egos. It’s about figuring out how that person has had an impact on your life. It’s about offering your undivided attention and letting the person know that you value what he or she has to say. It’s about appreciating the person's life and success. You have already shown the thoughtfulness of taking the time to research and ask important questions; now you build a connection, a real relationship. This is extremely powerful!
3. Give back or pay it forward. Ferriss sent me a signed copy of his book The 4-Hour Workweek with a note thanking me. He then took the time to give me such an extraordinary testimonial for my own book that I couldn't believe it. It still makes me feel great!
In sum, Ferriss is a very sincere person, and his sincerity comes through. Just look at his most recent books Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans. The list of people he has interviewed and gotten to know is unbelievable; there's no one he cannot reach. Those of us he has spent time with appreciate the questions he asks, and the fact that he uses those questions to provide us with tools we can use to improve ourselves.
Most people do not do what Ferriss does. They ask for things, but they don't really care, and they don't give back.
Looking back over the years, I think I might have played a small part in his career -- at least I hope so. The lesson he taught me in turn has helped lead to the successes I've had.
So, thank you, Tim Ferriss, for the valuable lesson you taught me.