There are right and wrong ways to attempt to interact with someone far more important than you—however you define that in the context. I’ve some experience with it myself.
- I’ve been the scrambling 20-something sending too much to someone I respect, which was ignored.
- I’ve learned how to send that mail properly, and had meaningful interactions with people way above my level.
- And I’ve also been the recipient of thousands of these emails—good and bad—as someone moderately well known online (it’s all relative).
So here are some basic guidelines to follow when reaching out above your level.
- Important people are busy people, meaning they often don’t have time to read long emails.
- You need to get to your point extremely quickly, and provide some sort of value.
[ NOTE: In my 20’s I used to write people these massively detailed emails, not realizing that they just didn’t have the time to read them. I was basically giving them work! ]
- Don’t act like a peasant worshipping a queen or king; you both have brains and anuses, and while they might be more famous or accomplished you will only be ignored or disregarded if you act like a groveling worm.
- Don’t ask things that they’ve talked about a million places all over their website or books or their talks. It means you’re wasting their time by not doing your research, and you’re virtually guaranteed to get no response.
[ NOTE: I get asked all the time what someone should do to start a career in infosec. I still do respond when I have time, but it’s always to point them to my “How to Start a Career in InfoSec” article, which ranks first when you type “InfoSec Career” into Google. I then explain to them that Google is their best weapon in infosec and everything else. ]
- If you give respect, give it in a specific form, such as saying you liked her point on Regressive Left politics from a recent blog post.
- If you ask something, ask it in the most specific way possible. The more you ask them to produce for you as a response, the less likely they will reply.
- Get right to what you think you can add to the conversation, where you think they were wrong about something, or where you think you see an additional point.
- The correspondence should be no more than 3-5 lines and around 100 words.
This is how you get responses.
It’s not about tricking them into replying; it’s about empathizing and providing value. They are busy, and they’re not going to respond to something that doesn’t resonate quickly in some sort of useful way.
I love your stuff, and had a question about a particular point you made in “Analyzing Incentives”. You mentioned that people should map incentives based on their most central goals, but what’s the best method for learning what those are?
I think using a methodology like GQM might help flesh that out. Would you agree?
You don’t have to play hard to get. You don’t have to pretend you’re not a fan. Just be direct. Treat them like you’re an equal (because you ultimately are), and get to the point quickly and specifically. Make it easy for them.
- There are right and wrong ways to interact with people who are more well-known than you
- Don’t waste their time
- Don’t grovel
- Be specific
- Add value
- Be concise
I hope this helps someone.
- A key concept here is that great points and ideas are independent of origin. Smart and successive people can identify good content very quickly, and are likely to interact with anyone who brings it.
- Exceptions exist, of course, such as people with advanced degrees in philosophy who tend to believe that good ideas only come from credentials and a deep knowledge of $500PlusYearOldPhilosopher. This isn’t true for all professional philosophers of course, but I imagine there are many such fields where this type of authority and/or tradition fetishizing is an issue. Those people are harder to interact with, and it might be better to ask if you should be trying at all.
- These are just guidelines. Some people respond to all mail, even if it’s bad. And others respond to basically none, even if it’s excellent.
- If you ever become a person who receives this kind of bad email, don’t forget that you used to be the one sending it.