One time I got to hear business guru Seth Godin speak at a lunch.
There were about 15 of us in a small room in a conference center.
Godin spoke for about 30 minutes, and then opened up the floor for questions.
Here was one of the most successful marketing minds in the last 20 years.
Here was someone who has sold millions of books.
Here was a keynote speaker who gets paid tens of thousands of dollars, asking 15 strangers at lunch if they had any questions. And do you know what happened?
It was deathly quiet.
Nobody asked a question at first.
Why? Because we were all afraid to look foolish in front of each other.
Even though we were strangers, we didn’t want to say the wrong thing. We didn’t want to look dumb or embarrass ourselves in front of Seth Godin.
We all wanted to look cool.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any more and asked a question. Not because I’m brave or incredibly self-confident. I’m actually pretty insecure, but I did some simple math in my head. I added up the number of opportunities I’d have to ask Seth Godin a question in the future. The total was 0.
I then added up the number of moments I would be able to try to look cool later. I added that up to the number of conversations where I could try to impress somebody. The total was around 1 million.
The math made my decision pretty simple. I’d never get to ask Seth a question later, I’d have lots of chances to try to look cool later.
So I decided to look cool later and run the risk of looking silly right now.
I asked Seth a question. And then another one. And then another one.
I’d pause after each one to give someone else a turn. But, for the most part, only one other guy jumped in. (Mark Batterson.)
Together the two of us fired as many questions at Seth Godin as the 30 minutes would hold. It was awesome. I learned a ton that day.
But the biggest thing I learned is that trying to look cool in front of people is a waste of time. A waste of energy. And often a waste of a rare opportunity.