in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: March 16, 2022

Podcast #593: All You Have to Do Is Ask

Are you feeling overwhelmed at work? Trying to find a job, but can’t seem to get your foot in the door? Have you been knocking your head against a problem over and over again, but haven’t made any headway on it?

My guest today says you can solve most of these issues by simply asking for help. 

His name is Wayne Baker, he’s a sociologist, consultant, and the author of the book All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.

We begin our conversation discussing what the research says are the benefits of asking for help and why people are nevertheless so reluctant to do it. Wayne then provides insights on how to overcome those obstacles in asking for help, the best way to formulate an ask so that it actually gets a response, and how to handle rejection. We then turn to Wayne’s research on how organizations can benefit from creating a culture of help-seeking and what you can do within the organizations you belong to to foster such a culture.

If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.

Show Highlights

  • What is “generalized reciprocity”?
  • What keeps people from asking for help?
  • How to “earn” the privilege of asking 
  • The productivity benefits of asking for help
  • How overgenerous givers hurts themselves
  • 4 categories of givers/takers 
  • What’s the wrong way to ask for help?
  • The 5 criteria of a SMART request 
  • Tactics of an effective ask 
  • Utilizing your dormant network and weak ties
  • Why your requests should be specific 
  • Handing rejection 
  • How companies and organizations can develop a culture of help-seeking 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of "All You Have To do is" by Wayne Baker.

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Read the Transcript

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Are you feeling overwhelmed at work, trying to find a job but can’t seem to get your foot in the door, have you been knocking your head against a problem over and over again but haven’t made any headway on it? My guest today says you can solve most of those issues by simply asking for help. His name is Wayne Baker. He’s a sociologist, consultant, and the author of the book, All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. We begin our conversation discussing what the research says are the benefits of asking for help and why people are nevertheless so reluctant to do it. Wayne then provides insights in how to overcome those obstacles in asking for help, the best way to formulate an ask so it actually gets a response and how to handle rejection. We then turn to Wayne’s research on how organizations can benefit from creating a culture of help-seeking and what you can do within the organizations you belong to to foster such a culture. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at 

Alright, Wayne Baker, welcome to the show. 

Wayne Baker: Thank you, Brett, glad to be here.

Brett McKay: You’ve got a new book out, All You Have to Do Is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. So what got you thinking in writing about the benefits of asking for help in your career and life? 

Wayne Baker: Well, I have an origin story that goes back 21 years when Cheryl Baker and I created the reciprocity ring activity. It’s a group or team-level activity in which people can ask for and give help to one another. And back then, when we started using this activity, I thought that getting people to give, to help that that was gonna be the problem, and so I’d always start out with a little lecture on generosity and the importance of giving and helping. But I soon discovered that that was rarely if ever the problem. What I discovered is that the main barrier to generosity is not that people are unwilling or unable to help but that most people don’t ask for what they need, and people are really quite reluctant to do that. So I had to shift and I had to focus on, well, what are the reasons why it’s hard to ask? What is the benefit of asking and then what kind of tools can one use to ask?

Brett McKay: And what got you started with the whole reciprocity ring? What were you looking at that you thought that was needed?

Wayne Baker: Well, I am a sociologist by training and I teach in a business school, and my specialty is social networks, in particular network analysis. And I would teach my MBA students how to analyze their networks, how to interpret them, to think about the strengths and the weaknesses, but I didn’t really have a lot to tell them about what to do. In fact, I remember a pivotal conversation I had with Cheryl when she said, “You teach our students how to analyze their networks. What do you tell them to do?” And I said, “Well, I have a couple stories and some anecdotes and basically I’m waiting for the bell to ring and run out of time because I don’t have a lot.” And that started a conversation about social capital. You think about human capital as that’s what you know, your skills, your experiences, your knowledge. Social capital is your network, informal and formal, personal and professional. And I said, well, I teach people how to analyze their networks but that’s only half of social capital. The other is this principle that we call generalized reciprocity. What that means is I help you, you help me. That’s direct reciprocity and that’s great, we would want that to happen. But generalized reciprocity is bigger than that.

It’s like you help me, I feel grateful, and I pay it forward and I help a third person, who helps a fourth person, and then eventually it all comes back around to us again. And so the reciprocity ring creates that form of generalized reciprocity. People get to make a request. In fact, that’s the ticket of admission, they have to make a request, but they spend most of their time helping other people. And what they discover is that the people they help are not the people that they receive help from. It’s that more indirect or generalized form of reciprocity.

Brett McKay: Well, before we get into the benefits of asking for help, can you talk about what… I thought the surprising thing from your reciprocity ring is that more people were willing to give as opposed to receive. So what keeps people from asking for help, whether it’s in their career or just life in general?

Wayne Baker: Well, there’s a lot of things that get in the way, a lot of obstacles or barriers. A common one is that people are concerned or they fear that they’ll appear to be incompetent or weak, ignorant, can’t do their job, not educated, whatever. They fear that they’ll be perceived to be simply incompetent. But here the research could be really helpful for updating that. What we’ve learned through research is that as long as you make a thoughtful request, people are more likely to think that you’re competent and less likely to think that you’re incompetent. It’s how you make the request, why you’re making the request, that’s what really matters. A thoughtful request will increase perceptions of your competence. So that’s one. Another common barrier is that we don’t ask because we assume that no one can help us, and the research here is helpful as well. There have been a number of interesting studies that have shown that, in fact, even strangers are very likely to help. In fact, most people wanna help and most people will help if they can. The problem is getting people to ask.

Brett McKay: And another sort of a block that keeps people from asking for help is sometimes people they don’t feel like they earned the privilege to ask for help. They feel like they gotta do something first before they can… Like there’s a score they have to meet before they can ask.

Wayne Baker: Yeah, that’s another common barrier. What I always prescribe is this, “Okay, well, then go out and help people. Earn the privilege of asking.” It’s important to do both. In fact, I think the best place to be as an individual, as a team or an organization, is what I call The giver-requester. That’s where you freely and generously help other people. You don’t keep track of who helps you. It’s not about tit for tat exchange and you ask for help when you need it. As long as you’re doing both, that’s the best place to be, both individually, as a team, and even as an entire organization.

Brett McKay: And one that you talk about, too, that keeps people, it’s psychological, but you highlight research, we just mentioned research that that’s not true, is that people feel like if they ask, they’re imposing on other people. They don’t wanna impose, they don’t wanna be a burden. It feels uncomfortable to say that they need something from somebody.

Wayne Baker: That’s right. In fact, it’s important to realize that most people do wanna help. It feels good to help. It creates kind of a warm glow, it creates positive emotions in us to help other people. I actually think that as humans we are hard-wired to give and get help from one another.

Brett McKay: So we talked about what keeps us from asking for help, but what are the benefits from help-seeking? What happens when we get over those blocks and start asking for help?

Wayne Baker: Well, oftentimes you could be much more productive, efficient, and creative by asking for input and resources from other people, and the research is very clear that you will perform at a higher level if you’re both asking for and giving help. So that’s one. If you look at it at the team level, we see the same thing, is that teams are much more effective, much more creative, perform at a higher level if people can freely ask for and give help to one another inside the team and they develop good external networks, where they can ask for help from resources outside the team.

Brett McKay: And are there any examples of anecdotes from your research and just from your experience with working with people where they hit a problem and they thought there was no solution to this, but they never thought to ask for help, and then when they finally did it was the thing that just instantaneously solved the problem?

Wayne Baker: What’s interesting, I just got an email from someone who had finished reading my book right before they had to go in to have a meeting with a client who was a president of a very, very large company, and they had to make a request about implementing a company-wide program, and because they used the method in the book and they thought through the criteria for making an effective request, they were able to have the meeting, make the request to get it responded to affirmatively, and they’re now working out all the next steps. But I bet that person before they read the book thought, “I don’t know if I should really ask for this,” but they were empowered to do so, and they also learned how to make a thoughtful request. That part’s really important as well.

Brett McKay: And besides just furthering your goals and advancing your career goals or your life goals, asking for help can also just alleviate a lot of stress. I mean, one thing you hear over and over again, people at work are feeling burned out. They’re feeling overstretched, stressed out and oftentimes if they just asked for help that could help with that.

Wayne Baker: Absolutely. The most common type we see is what I call the overly generous giver. That’s a person who freely helps other people but doesn’t ask for what they need, and they often experience burnout. They might go so far as actually compromising their ability to follow through on their commitments. And my prescription there is, well, balance it. You wanna put up boundaries around your generosity, so you don’t burn out, you don’t over extend your resources and you need to ask for help. And when people do that, they find that work becomes less stressful as a result.

Brett McKay: So you developed this idea, just trying to figure out where you are in this asking-receiving continuum, so what you’re saying here, the giving and receiving are part of a continuum, it’s part of a cycle. It shouldn’t just be seen as either or, it’s something that’s going on all the time, right? 

Wayne Baker: Mm-hmm, yep, that’s right. Giving and receiving is a cycle. You can’t have giving without receiving, and you can’t have receiving without giving, and nothing happens until a request is made. The request is the driver or the catalyst of that process.

 Brett McKay: And you lay out in the chapter called The Law of Giving and Receiving that you can break down askers and givers into four categories. And you mentioned one, the overly generous giver. These are people who just give freely all the time. And I think, Adam Grant, in his book, Give and Take, he talks about those people, the most generous people are often the most successful, but they’re also the most unsuccessful in their career. And I think that the reason they’re unsuccessful is ’cause they overextend themselves.

Wayne Baker: They overextend themselves and they don’t ask for what they need. 

Brett McKay: Okay, you don’t wanna be an overly generous giver. What are the other types of givers and takers?

Wayne Baker: Well, the opposite of the overly generous giver is the selfish taker. So that’s the person who has no problem asking and makes requests all the time, but they’re not helpful. They don’t give, they don’t reciprocate. And what the research shows is that over time their performance declines because people see what they’re doing and they’re much less likely to respond to them. I had a friend who used to work at IBM Consulting and when I explained these categories or these types to him, he said, “Oh yeah, the selfish taker. We called them a sponge. They just sucked in everything and they never gave a drop back.” So that’s two, the overly generous giver and the opposite, the selfish taker. A third type is what I call the lone wolf or the isolate. Now, in some ways, that’s the most tragic position to be in because you’ve just got your head down, focusing on your work. You don’t give, you don’t ask. And it’s tragic because that person is just disconnected from the ongoing activity and network around them. 

The best place to be is the giver-requester, that’s the fourth type. And in our assessments, we found that about maybe 15% of people are giver-requesters. Most people fall in the category of the overly generous giver followed by the lone wolf, and we do see some selfish takers every now and then but often not in the extreme.

Brett McKay: And I guess to shift from the overly generous giver to a giver-requester, you have to get over those social or psychological blocks in your head that tells you it’s not okay to ask but just remind yourself about the research that, no, it’s okay for you to ask. It actually makes you look confident and people are ready and willing to help you.

Wayne Baker: Yes, and I think you can go even further and say it’s a requirement to ask is that without asking all the resources, all the answers are just sitting out there. So you can imagine in an organization where people don’t ask for what they need, just think of all the resources that are wasted, that are unused, that are just sitting out there dormant, the only way they get activated is when people make a request.

Brett McKay: No, and you can see that in your personal life, too, right? Oftentimes there’s a lot of problems interpersonally, no one ever actually says, “Hey, can you stop doing that?” Or hey, this… Because they’re afraid, but once they do that, that person says like, “Well, I didn’t know that was an issue. I’m glad you brought that up. Thank you for doing that.”

Wayne Baker: Yeah, that’s right. I think a team leader or an organizational leader has a responsibility there to recognize and even reward people who will stand up and ask for what they need, oftentimes, as systems are geared towards rewarding those who help and that’s important, you wanna do that, but I think you need to reward the other side as well, those who ask.

Brett McKay: And we’ll talk a little bit more about how you can incentivize for that, but let’s say someone’s overcome those psychological and social barriers for asking for help. So they’re gonna make the ask though, but how can people mess up asking for help, is there like a wrong way and right way to do this?

Wayne Baker: A wrong way would be to rush to a request and assume that you know who to ask. I think preparation is really the key to make a thoughtful request. So it begins with the goal. What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What are you trying to achieve? And then once you have that, you say, “Okay, what’s the resource that I need that will help me to achieve or at least make progress on achieving that goal and to think widely and broadly, so it could be advice, information, ideas, opportunities, a brainstorming session, a referral, a connection, financial resources, political sponsorship. The list goes on and on. But once you’ve got the goal, what you’re trying to accomplish and you think about what’s the resource that I need then the next step is to make what I call a SMART request. And the SMART request, there’s five criteria for SMART request but these are different from SMART goals. So the first, the S is specific. You wanna ask for something very specific and that has to do with the way in which the human memory works is that people are more likely to remember who they know and what they know, when they hear a specific request than a general one.

Oftentimes, people think it’s just the opposite. In fact, the most general request I ever heard was from an executive from the Netherlands who said my request is for information and that was it and so I said, “Well, can you elaborate?” And he said, “No, it’s confidential, can’t say anything more.” [chuckle] Well, yeah, so he got no help, right? How could anyone help with that request? He actually was quite generous. He helped other people but he didn’t get any help himself. So the M and this is different from the M for SMART goals, which is measurable and measurability is nice, but here M, is meaningful. It’s the why of the request. Why will this request help you to be better able to get your job done at work? How does it help your boss meet his or her goals? How does it align with the organization’s objectives? That’s very important, often left out but it’s important to explain the why, the meaningful part of the request. The A is for action. You’re asking for something to be done. The R is strategically realistic. Now, I always encourage people to make stretch requests, to make big requests but it has to be within the realm of possibility. And the T is time, a deadline, much more likely to get a response if you actually have a deadline for it. 

Brett McKay: No, I thought this… Oh, I thought the activity you have, you kind of lay out a sort of a worksheet for people to go through to figure out what exactly they need to ask for help with. I think that’s a big problem people have is they don’t even know what they need help with. And so they do what that business guy said and just says, “I need information,” which is you can’t do anything with that. And then after you figure out what you want, the SMART thing is really helpful. In my experience, whenever people have requested help from me, whenever they get very specific, I’m like, “I can do that.” Whenever they’d come to me with a vague issue, I find myself having to spend more time trying to help them figure out what their problem is and then I just don’t have the time for that. I’m just like, “I’m sorry, I don’t have time for this.”

Wayne Baker: That’s right, that’s right.

Brett McKay: Okay, so let’s say someone’s made their SMART request, they got that all laid out. I mean, I think a lot of times people, too, worry about is how like the tactics of it. How do you make the ask so that it’s effective? So, I’m talking about timing on when you should make the ask, make the request, things like that. What does the research say about that?

Wayne Baker: Well, I think figuring out who to ask is the last part of the process, and there are different ways of thinking about it. So, one is, maybe you know that you have to go to your boss and it’s that clear. And if that’s the case, then you would wanna be sensitive to the form of communication the boss wants. Some people prefer email, some like a text, some like a face-to-face meeting. I remember I used to work at a consulting firm and my boss was always too busy to meet, but I discovered that the best time to make a request was when he was leaving work and going down in the elevator, and I would watch for him to get into the elevator, and I would jump in at the same time and for the few minutes we had going down to the first floor, I had his undivided attention, so that’s what worked for him. I had to adapt to his particular style. It’s important to realize what is the person’s work hour? Are they under a really strict deadline? Are they working all kinds of late hours? Maybe you need to wait on the timing of your request. So, it’s the form of communication, it’s the timing, you need to be sensitive to that. But that’s kind of the category of what I call the usual suspects; your boss, a co-worker, family, friends, I think it’s important to realize that you can tap a much broader swath of your network.

So, one method that I advocate is called the two-step or the two-degree method, which is that I might not know who the expert is but I know who to ask who knows who the expert is. So, a colleague of mine who runs an innovatrium for innovators and entrepreneurs and he said that he keeps track of this. He said he used that two-step method 180 times in one year and had really remarkable success in doing that, and he said, “You know, we could figure out who to ask to get to the person we want.” So, that’s another way to think about it. A third is to think about your dormant connections. 

So, a dormant connection is a relationship that you had in the past, but your lives have gone in different directions. Now many times we would be very reluctant to try to reactivate a dormant connection when we need to make a request, but here, again, the research could be really helpful. It says that most of your dormant connections are delighted to hear from you, and they like that the connection has been reactivated and they’re willing to help and because their lives have gone in different directions, that means what they know and who they know is really different from what you know and who you know, so they could be even more valuable sources of help. And then, finally you could crowdsource. You could think about a group that you can broadcast a request to. Sometimes you could do that on LinkedIn or Facebook, maybe there’s a company intranet, there’s all sorts of messaging apps, many different platforms that you could use to broadcast a request to a group. 

Brett McKay: And take advantage of that six degrees of separation.

Wayne Baker: That’s right, that’s right. I’ve really found that… So, we developed a platform that’s called Givitas. Givitas is a combination of giving and civitas or community, and it’s a digital platform and it’s based on the principles in the book. And we have some very large communities, thousands of people, many of whom are strangers and I just see day after day, people make requests for some really difficult things and they get help from all over. In fact, I used Givitas when I was writing my book and I needed, say, a fresh example, a different way of thinking about something, I would post a request in some of these Givitas communities and I connected with so many wonderful people all around the country that I would not have ever connected with and got amazing help from them. In fact, I tried to acknowledge all those people in the acknowledgments for the book, and the first line of my acknowledgments is that I asked a lot of people for help with this book, and I have to say it’s a lot better because of the generosity of other people.

Brett McKay: Well, you gave an example of crowdsourcing help, one with your personal life, where you got you and your wife tickets to the Emeril Show, the cook show, a long time ago and you say, “Hey, can anyone help me out here?” And they helped out.

Wayne Baker: Yeah, that was absolutely amazing. That was a number of years ago. We were coming up on a milestone anniversary and I had occasion to use some of these asking-giving activities with all of our incoming MBA students. So, you can imagine about 450 students, and we have this orientation program, and we put up these big tents for the students, and the faculty will come in on jumbotrons, so you’re being broadcast to all of these different groups of students, and I made that request because my wife and I were really big fans of Emeril Lagasse, we always wanted to be on the show Emeril Live. That’s virtually impossible. We had tried to get tickets for years, we were never able to get on, and so I made that request, but it was because it was a SMART request, it wasn’t one of those, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to be on?” Those requests don’t get much help because they’re not really serious. They knew what a milestone anniversary was like.

They were either married themselves or they remember their parents’ important anniversaries. And I said, “This is a gift that my wife would really like and I’d like to surprise her with this.” And so I used the SMART criteria and I think that’s the reason why I got so much help. And I have to say, even now thinking about it, I was still amazed that six people came forward. Somebody knew somebody who was dating Emeril’s daughter? That’s true. It’s also true that that one didn’t work out ’cause they broke up. There was a connection that did work out and we were in New York City for a recording that turned out to be Valentine’s Day, so I didn’t know that before we were on the show, which couldn’t have been more perfect for an anniversary. 

Brett McKay: And I’m sure these people felt good that they were able to help you, and they wouldn’t have been able to feel good helping you unless you asked.

Wayne Baker: That’s right. They wouldn’t have known that I had that need unless I asked. We’re not mind readers, we’re not telepathic. And so the only way someone can help you is if you ask. 

Brett McKay: So, I think another thing that keeps people from asking is the fear of rejection. So let’s say, they do all the stuff, they get the SMART request, they think about the purpose, the meaning behind it and they make the ask, and then it’s no. How do you handle rejection?

Wayne Baker: It does happen from time to time. In fact, recently someone made a request of me on LinkedIn and I had to say no, but I explained why and gave some feedback as to why I said no. So hopefully, it was a learning opportunity and I think that’s the best way to take a no. A no is information, a no is not a rejection of you, it’s information about your request. Perhaps if you follow up with, “Okay, well why?” You might learn that the person actually would like to help but it’s bad timing, or they’re having a bad day, or they’re just not the right person to ask. You might get some information that will help you to refine a request, so that when you ask it again of someone else it’ll be a better, more thoughtful request. And it’s important to realize that a request is never a demand, requesting is a privilege and that you’re making a request and it might be rejected and not to be deterred by that rejection. Learn from the rejection. 

Brett McKay: So the rest of the book and then you talk about setting the SMART request. Thinking about how you’re asking, not only in all things, but not just asking, but also being an asker-giver, so you’re giving as well. But in the rest of the book, you talk about how businesses or organizations can create a culture of help-seeking and we mentioned some things earlier, but let’s dig deeper into that. What happens to an organization when they develop a culture of help-seeking community? I’m sure in your work, you’ve gone to organizations where there was none of that. They’re probably all lone wolves, but then they started implementing some of the things that you researched about, what happens to those organizations?

Wayne Baker: What happens is that the teams in the organization itself become much more efficient, more creative, profitability increases, performance increases. I’ll give you an example, so one of the many tools I write about is called the daily stand-up. The daily stand-up is very common in IT and software development firms and I think it has widespread application and it’s very simple. Everyone stands in a circle at the same time, say 10:00 AM every morning, stands in a circle and every person has to address three things. Here’s what I worked on yesterday, here’s what I’m working on today and here’s the help that I need. And then it goes to the next person. And so the help is given after the stand-up is done, but you can imagine doing that, it becomes psychologically safer when you know that everyone’s in the same boat, everyone’s gonna make a request. It’s a lot easier when you know that everyone is gonna make a request and it’s not just you. In fact, it becomes a norm, it makes it routine expected to make a request. In fact, not doing so is letting the group down. I recently spoke with the leadership staff at the Wharton School and they said that after reading about the daily stand-up, that they had started that practice themselves, but they added a fourth item which I think was just brilliant which was, what have I learned? 

And it could be something you learned about work, something you learned listening to the radio on the way to work, whatever it might be. Because they wanna be a learning organization, I thought that was a brilliant extension of that idea. They were adapting it to their particular needs and their situation, but that’s just one of many. But you can imagine if people are doing that is that it really starts to connect the need with the resources, so it becomes much more efficient that you get the answer, you get the resources that you need. So let’s say you’ve got a big organization, it is divided into silos, that just seems to be part of human nature. But here, there are tools that can help as well. Some are low-tech, some are hi-tech. So a low-tech is one that I learned from the Senior Director at one of the large automakers who was in charge of two different divisions; one was racing and the other was advanced engineering. So if you think about that racing, they’re trying to fix the car week to week to get it back into the next race. So very short time horizon, extreme pressure. The other group, advanced engineering, they’re thinking of technologies that may not see the light of day for five or 10 years. So very, very different time horizons. 

But he said, “You know, I think these two groups could learn from one another”. And so he created something called across collaboration workshop, and I talk about this in the book where he got the engineers from both groups to get together. It was like for two or three hours, let the engineers set the agenda, what they wanted to talk about but they started sharing. Here’s what we’re working on here are the problems we’re running into. And you know the advanced engineer group got a little bit faster, more efficient because they learned some techniques from the racing group and the racing group got some new ideas to think about how they could make that race car a little bit faster. So that’s low-tech. A high-tech would be to use any of the digital platforms that are available. I already mentioned Givitas has one which we’ve seen just naturally breaks down the silos because you’re broadcasting your request to people in many silos, sometimes all around the world. And you never know where the help is going to be, but it is out there somewhere, but you have to ask. 

Brett McKay: And so part of this creating the norm of asking, you’d referenced earlier that some organizations actually incentivize help-seeking, what does that look like?

Wayne Baker: Yeah, if you want people to do something, you wanna recognize it and you wanna reward it. So it could be informal or formal. So an informal might be the team leader or the boss, the CEO will acknowledge people who made a request. It could be as simple as, “Thank you for asking, that was really important. And you’re gonna get a resource, you’re gonna get some help here and we’ll learn from that.” What this basically do is saying is that asking is important to do and we’re going to recognize that informally. You could also recognize it formally by making it part of someone’s performance feedback and evaluation. Oftentimes, helping is a part of it but the other should be included as well which is the asking part, people who are making requests, because we know that both of those are really important. And there’s a variety of ways you can do it but it’s like thinking about it both formally and informally. 

One of the worst things a leader can do would be to criticize someone who made a request. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that a couple of times where there are teams and organizations using these tools making great strides. And then for some reason a leader says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have made that request, you should have figured that out on your own.” And even if that were true, you wouldn’t wanna say that because it will just stifle the whole activity and that happens from time to time. So the leader plays a really important role in being willing to acknowledge and recognize and even reward the people who request. 

Brett McKay: You even give example from your own personal experience of a leader disincentivizing and someone asking, I guess, there was a… You had a question about statistics and you went to this guy, a professor, and he’s really condescending towards you. He’s like, “Well anyone should know this and here’s this book.” And you basically stopped going to him and then you found another professor that was actually more helpful. 

Wayne Baker: Yeah, that’s right. That was early on in my career when I was an assistant professor. And every now and then I would run into a data analysis problem that I didn’t know how to solve, maybe with some new statistical routine or procedure that I didn’t really know. And I know a fair amount of statistics, but I’m not a world-class expert. And so maybe naively, I looked up the expert on a particular type of analysis, and I approached that person, and it was just what you described, the person was very condescending. He looked at me and said, “You know, I thought everyone learned that in graduate school.” So, he’s dissing my graduate education and he said, “Well, here’s the answer.” And what happened is that I got the answer, but I was so de-energized that I really couldn’t work on the project for a couple of days. I was really deflated by the whole experience. But maybe I thought… Okay, maybe he was just having a bad day. So the next time I had a question I went to him again. 

It was the same thing and this time he actually pulled a big statistics book off of his bookshelf, tossed it to me and he said, “Well, everyone knows it’s in this book, so you’ll find it, it’s in there.” After that I said, “Okay, I’m not going to that person again.” But there are a lot of experts at the university. And so I just found someone else, and his approach no matter what I said was just the opposite. It was so positive. He said, “Well, that’s a very interesting question and here’s why.” And it wasn’t interesting to him but it was… He said… He approached it that way. He said, “Here’s why that’s an interesting question and here’s how we can solve it.” And so I went back to this person a couple of times, and it was always the same. We actually developed a relationship. At one point I proposed a collaboration, research collaboration and we ended up co-authoring an academic publication in one of the top journals. And it all can be traced back to me being willing to ask and someone being receptive to the asking.

Brett McKay: It all goes back to that law of giving and receiving.

Wayne Baker: Exactly. 

Brett McKay: Well, let’s say, we’ve been talking about what organizations can do. Let’s say you’re a freelancer or you’re a small business owner, and you work by yourself, and you’re not embedded in an organization like that. How can you use these ideas to help with your business?

Wayne Baker: Well, I think it’s very important for the freelancer or someone in the gig economy to join groups. And they could be digital groups or they could be face-to-face groups. So, I know here in Ann Arbor, there’s a meetup every month of people who are interested in positive organizations. And that’s an ideal place to go because it’s people from all different companies, all different industries, many small business owners or entrepreneurs that are working alone, and here they have a community of like-minded people, and they feel safe to ask for and to give help to one another. So you can look for a… Maybe it’s your local incubator, maybe if there’s a university nearby, sometimes there are these groups that you can join. I would say that… I have a three-part mantra that says, “Join. Give. Ask.” Find a group and join it, find an opportunity to give and to help and then make a request when you need it. Now that’s true for a face-to-face community like the meetup group I just described, also true for a digital community, and these days there is a digital community for anything. And you just have to find your group, maybe it’s a LinkedIn group or something else and to become a member of that really, really expands your network. 

Brett McKay: Well, Wayne, this has been a great conversation. Where could people go to learn more about the book and your work? 

Wayne Baker: Well, I’ve enjoyed this conversation, Brett, thank you. You can learn more about the book by going to the book website and it’s the book title dot com, so 

Brett McKay: And that’s all from Wayne Baker. Thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Wayne Baker: Oh, thank you, Brett. I’ve enjoyed it. 

Brett McKay: My guest today was Wayne Baker. He’s the author of the book, All You Have To Do Is Ask. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about the book at his website, allyouhavetodoisask. Also, check out our show notes at where you’ll find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. 

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