How to Follow a Lead

When you’re learning about a new topic or engaging in the “scavenger hunt” that leads to new knowledge, you will never complete the journey in one step. You will have to iterate multiple times, moving closer to your goal in an often zig-zagging series of incomplete steps.

Since people would often rather complete a goal in a single (even very difficult) step than many smaller ones – especially if those smaller ones are uncertain in their efficacy – people have a tendency to be bad at recognizing this process for what it is. They get frustrated. And this leads to the inability to follow leads effectively.

For instance, let’s say you’ve moved to a new city, and you’re trying to find a new job in your line of work as a chef. Your new roommate says: “my sister is a hostess at an upscale restaurant downtown, you can go talk to her.” This is a lead.

What most people do with this lead is waste it. They go to the restaurant, sure. They talk to the roommate’s sister, sure. And they try to solve the problem in one single step by asking: “are you hiring chefs?” The roommate’s sister says sorry, they’re not right now. They say “okay, thanks anyway,” and then they go home. They go back to where they started, as if they hit a dead end. They keep looking, but they look from square one, asking people they know or looking in the want ads, etc.

Here’s how to follow a lead in an effective way!

  1. Recognize that all new information gives you a new starting point. Untether yourself from your starting position – the goal is always movement. There’s no such thing as a dead end, because all information is connected to more information.
  2. Adopt two personality traits during your search: Radical Honesty and Pleasant Gratitude. Be extremely candid about why you’re asking, give enough information for others to spark creative ways to help you, and be extremely grateful for every second of someone else’s time. Even if you’re not terribly creative yourself, this will often drive you along the path of knowledge. When the hostess says they’re not hiring, say: “Oh, thanks so much for letting me know! I’m new in town and I was a chef back where I’m from, so I’m looking for work again now that I’m here. I don’t really know the local restaurant scene like I did back home and don’t have many connections out here yet. It’s great to meet you!”
  3. Use your new starting point to find out anything you didn’t know before. You might think you’re looking for a specific piece of new information (like, “where is my next job”), but you don’t know enough yet to figure out which rock that information is under. So don’t be picky about rocks! And the best source of information is people. Ask who else to speak to, remembering the personality traits from #2. “Hey, before I go, do you think it would be okay to meet the chefs on your team? Like I said, I don’t know anyone at all out here and it would be great to have some connections.”
  4. Follow the other threads (that aren’t people) later. If you meet those chefs, ask each one where they worked before this. Ask them where they like to eat. Ask them anything. Many of those potential sources of new information won’t be people, but all sources of information are connected to people in some way. The restaurant where one of the chefs used to work isn’t a person you can question, but it has people that work there.
  5. Repeat & iterate. Go through it again. Look at all the new leads you’ve generated. There are no dead ends.

If you treat every question that doesn’t give you your ultimate answer as a failure, then you’ll forever be asking only the first question, over and over. You have to let your search develop down the path. Do that, and you’ll never run out of ideas.

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