One reply, or ongoing learning?

As a college freshman, Alex Banayan set out to interview some of the most successful people in the world to learn how they’d managed to launch and thrive in their careers. He not only successfully interviewed Bill Gates, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Larry King, Jessica Alba, Quincy Jones and a long list of others, but he also details the experience in his book released this year, The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers. So how did an 18-year-old secure these interviews simply by sending cold emails that began from his dorm room? Alex shares his secret (which he acknowledges he borrowed from author Tim Ferriss) in this two-minute video.

The technique is a great one because it asks only one question, and it gives the reader an easy out. But I’d caution high school students from employing it too broadly with a similarly famous audience. Instead, use it to connect with not-so-famous but still knowledgeable people. Why? Because they’re more likely to be willing and able to do more than just answer one question.

Instead of cold emailing Steven Spielberg and hoping to get your one filmmaking question answered, why not email the head of a local media company, or an instructor at a film school, or a producer at a local TV station? You can and probably should still ask just one question. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll get even more advice or an offer to work semi-regularly together.

Are you more likely to improve your ability to read defenses by emailing Tom Brady, or a local high school assistant coach who played QB in college?

The chef at the small local restaurant is a lot more likely to need prep help this summer than Gordon Ramsay or Cat Cora or Thomas Keller is.

Famous makes for a potentially great story. But open, accessible, and helpful makes for potentially great ongoing learning.