Inside the Box

The practice of systematic creativity

Will You Help Me?

Give yourself a creativity boost by asking others for help.

Asking for help may be the most powerful yet underutilized resource available for innovators. Researchers Francis Flynn and Vanessa Bohns1 found that people grossly underestimate the rate that others are willing to help when asked. As a result, we more often fail to ask for help when the likelihood was very high the other person would have said ‘yes.’ Consider this study they conducted at Columbia University:

"Participants in the study were positioned in the middle of the campus and instructed to approach random strangers for an escort to the university gym, which is located at the edge of campus (the Columbia University gym is subterranean and therefore difficult to find). Before completing the task, participants were asked to estimate how many they would have to approach in order to get one to say “yes.” On average, people estimated they would have to ask 7.2 people to get just one to agree. In fact, they needed to approach just 2.3 strangers, on average. While people presumed that about 6 out of 7 of the individuals they approached would refuse to assist them, the reality was that approximately every other person was willing to agree to their request. Why are we reluctant to ask for help? The researchers suggest we focus too much on the other person’s cost of saying “yes” (in the form of their time and resources expended to comply with the request) versus their heavier social costs of saying “no.” They also suggest we may be letting a time when someone said “no” weigh too heavily in our memory. The fear of rejection looms large, keeping us from risking another bad experience."

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We also tend to overestimate how harshly others will judge us if we ask for help. We fear asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness. The other person has power over you in that awkward moment when they can say yes or no to your request. However, taking another view of the situation turns the tables. When we view power and strength as the capacity to influence others to access their resources, help-seeking is not weak, but rather a “powerful act.”

Asking for help has many benefits as the researches point out. First and foremost is you are highly likely to get the help you seek. Second, you are giving the other person a “gift” in the form of an opportunity to feel helpful and valued. Third, you will likely strengthen the relationship with the other person. Finally, you avoid the life-long feeling of regret of not asking help. Research suggests, in the long run, we regret more not asking for help than having a request rejected.

Successful innovation practitioners need help in many forms, including:

  • Advice and direction: Where are the fertile areas for innovation?
  • Participation in innovation programs and workshops
  • Evaluation of ideas and feedback about results
  • Support with both tangible and intangible resources

Need to innovate? Ask for help!

 

1Kenrick, Douglas T., Noah J. Goldstein, and Sanford L. Braver. Six Degrees of Social Influence: Science, Application, and the Psychology of Robert Cialdini. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. p14-26..

 

Copyright 2013 Drew Boyd

Drew Boyd is a professor of marketing and innovation at the University of Cincinnati.

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