“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”Dale Carnegie
One of the first professional books that I read after graduating from college was a text by Dr. Howard Gardner called Frames of Mind. This is the book that popularized the concept of multiple intelligences, the theory that people are not defined by a single IQ or intelligence quotient. Rather, it is more accurate to recognize that we each have multiple intelligences: musical, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (added later). This is a theory that gained traction and attention in the 1990s and persists even today.
It is an intriguing and important theory, and a personally influential book, but I’m not actually telling you about this because of the contents of the book. This books also represents a first experience for me. It was the first time that I ever reached out to the author of a book that I was reading.
In 1994, I’d only had an email address for a couple of years, and I was just beginning to discover the power, possibility, and connectivity of the Internet. While reading Frames of Mind, I highlighted ideas that intrigued me and wrote questions and notes in the margins. One day, reading the book and grappling to understand a part of it, a simple notion occurred to me for the first time in my life. I wondered if I could actually ask Howard Gardner a question about his book via email? I moved over to my computer, searched for him by name, and located his profile as a faculty member on the Harvard University website. His email was readily available, so I copied it, pasted it into a new email message, crafted a few comments and my question, and sent it off. It felt like putting message in a bottle and throwing it into the sea.
Is there any chance that he would actually reply? He did, via an assistant, and within two days! In that instant, reading a book turned into a two-way conversation with the author. I felt this sense of pride and accomplishment. I was honored to be acknowledged and deemed worthy of a response. Not only that, the author of every book after this became more real and accessible to me. I imagined each author at a desk, writing, thinking, and maybe pausing to address an email message from a reader like me.
When I started creating life experiments for myself years later, I recalled this early experience and the positive emotion that it created, so I decided to turn it into a formal experiment. Below is not the exact one that I used, but it is pretty close, and I encourage you to give it a try.
- Create a list of at least 7 interesting things that you’ve read lately or hope to read in the future. For the sake of this experiment, pick short books, articles, essays, or something that will not take you days or weeks to read. Also, in preparation, find the email address or contact information for the author of each text that you selected.
- Now block off time on you calendar to read each of the articles or items…one each day.
- On day one of the experiment, read the first item in your list, highlighting interesting ideas and recording questions or thoughts that come to mind as you read. Imagine that you will be going to coffee with the author in a couple hours, so you want to be well-prepared. Read with curiosity.
- Once you are finished reading, it is time to send a message to the author, expressing thanks for what they wrote, but also engaging the author with a question or comment. Keep it short, sincere, and civil.
- Repeat this each day for 7 days.
- At the end, as always, take time to reflect on the experience. How many people replied to you? What did you think and feel? How did this experiment influence how you think about reading, how you think about writing? What next?
- Don’t argue with the author. This is an experiment about connecting with people in a new way. You don’t have to agree with what the author wrote, but you can use this as a chance to learn and understand a different perspective.
- Don’t take it personally if you never hear from the person, or if it is a short and underwhelming reply. People are busy, and some get lots of emails. You will likely get follow up from some assistants or others depending upon the person. Yet, some of those replies are sent after consulting with the author.
- Keep in mind that you have no existing relationship with this person, so choose a tone, content, and a writing style that is appropriate .
- Speaking as an author of 7 books, I love to hear from readers. While this might feel like you are imposing, you are not. You are being human and connecting.
- Consider what you can learn from this experiment. Personally, this experiment opened me up to reaching out to people far more often, and I can’t begin to share the myriad of stories about where this led: new relationships, new insights, a sense of gratitude and satisfaction, a humanizing and personalizing of the author, job offers, even trips to other parts of the country in some cases. Apart from all of that, it continues to ground me in this beautiful reality of meaningful connections with different people in the digital age.