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."