Process over Product

Christina Xu and Gary Chou’s Entrepreneurial Design class has been a bit of a paradigm shift for me in how I think of asking people for help.

My presumption five months ago coming into the class was you need to perfect a product and convince people of the perfection of your product to get them to want to give you money or help you. In addition to this not being a good approach to asking for help, it also made asking for help seem scary and intimidating. I would wait to ask for help till I felt the product was in a “perfect” state and oftentimes in the end not ask for help.

The approach we learned in this class and that I found effective in applying to my own project flipped my initial presumptions. Instead of convincing people how great you are or how great the thing you have created is. It can be more effective to invite them into a process. It is a subtle change in emphasis, but one I found to be very significant.

People want to feel valuable and want to feel like they are contributing. It is a little counter intuitive but people will prefer to help you out in ways that affirm their skills and value even if that’s more work for them than just giving you some money or retweeting you. It is more affirming and emotionally rewarding to help you find a venue or figure out the tech setup needed for streaming than to just retweet or give money to a perfect project one had nothing to do with.

If Christina and Gary had simply told us these things I don’t think I would have believed it. The way in which we had to apply and learn as we built real projects really drove these lessons home.

I learned to try to reach out to people in a sincere, open and unprideful way. In practice it looked something like this: “Hey, I love your work. I love the field you’re working in. I’m trying to do this to contribute to it and would be so excited if you could get involved in this way. I’d love to hear any feedback you have on the idea.”

I would reach out emphasizing them, the field and what they can do to help over me and why I am good. This also extended to how I viewed the project itself, not as something I own just cause I put the wheels in motion. I tried to be very unprideful, excited to receive feedback from collaborators and excited to iterate and change it as more people got involved.

I feel this has been a super valuable takeaway for me that I’m excited to apply elsewhere: invite people into a process rather than sell them on a finished product. It is often a much more effective way to get help and develop a network of collaborators.