Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So It Begins

When I first began dating my wife, she called me the perfect cocktail party date (now she mostly tells me my toenails are too long and that I need to flush the toilet).

As we were new to each other, we would often be introducing each other to groups of people we didn't know. In those early days she got to witness my magic act up close and personal a lot - this ability to talk to people I didn't know and pull questions out of nowhere!

The usual throw away line in a social setting where you don't know people is: What do you do for a living? It's a throw away line for sure. The person asking it usually doesn't care and is only asking so that they can kill enough time before someone comes over they know and rescue them from an awkward conversation.

I hate asking this question personally because it's way too cliche and if someone's really smart...they've figured out that I am just killing time.

Having said all that, one of the first times my wife (then girlfriend) came to work with me was to a music festival my radio station was sponsoring. I had to take a few hours manning the radio station booth and people would come up and want to meet me because I hosted the morning show.

People would come up and introduce themselves and say what they liked about the show..... and then there would be this awkward silence! It was as if they got off their chest what they wanted to tell me. They got to see the person they had only ever listened to....and after that, they didn't know what to do. I used to call it, "I finally got to meet you and my gift is this awkward silence."

One quick and easy question to break the ice was always, "are you gonna start stalking me now?" If they laughed the right way, everything was cool. If they grinned a little too much and wanted multiple hugs...we had a problem. My second go to question was always, "what do you do for a living?"

It's actually a great question for a radio person to ask because most people are listening in their car on the way to work. But I'll never forget one guy who said he was in the Navy and that he worked on an aircraft carrier.

This blew me away. The world just stopped. I'd never met anybody who worked on an aircraft carrier and I had a thousand questions running through my head. Did you ever get lost on the ship? Did anyone every fall overboard? What happened if they did? Did you get sea sick? How did you sleep? How did you shower?

I completely forgot that I had brought a date with me to the event and after like 35 minutes of peppering this dude with questions she came over and reminded me that she was still there.

After the event, she sincerely asked why I cared so much about the guy who worked in the Navy. I was flabbergasted. Didn't everyone want to know what it's like to live on a aircraft carrier?

Normally you ask someone what they do for a living and as a general answer it's something like, 'I sell insurance.' I can't think of a subject more boring than insurance (it's certainly not the Navy). But if you have a living breathing insurance agent right in front of you and they are not trying to sell you anything...that means you get to ask him or her all the questions you wanted to ask your own agent, but were too embarrassed to ask?

Can GEICO really save me 15 minutes? Is my agent swindling me by selling me fire insurance? Does my rate for car insurance seem high? Do you ever dump clients for asking too many questions?

The question What do you do for a living? is awesome if you really want the answer.And because it's the person's profession, they're probably good at it and might have answers to anything you want to know.

But most people in a social setting don't want that. They either want to kill time or talk about themselves, meanwhile a grand opportunity to learn about the life of sailor on board an aircraft carrier is lost.

So that is the grand question you have to ask yourself: are you just killing time before something better comes along; are you just waiting for moments when you can talk about yourself; or do you want to learn about what is right in front of you...even if its from an insurance salesman?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Who The Hell Am I?

Let me just sum up who I am in the this brief statement: Larry Olson is a 5'10' white-guy from the suburbs with essentially no real discernible skills.

I say this to people all the time and they just laugh. I never know if people are laughing because they think I'm being funny or because that truth is just so funny.

I am as average as they come. Don't throw a pity party for me, lots of amazing things have happened in my life because of my "averageness".

I have friends that are artists. I have friends that can sell. There are people in my life that can think analytically. There are lots of people that just flat out work harder than me. And to be honest, there are folks that are a whole lot luckier than me.

I want people to fully understand my averageness, to be able to highlight my one actual proficiency: Asking Questions.

Because I am not really good at anything......I have learned to become a good question "askerer". Here's why my averageness is so important. If I can learn to become a good asker of questions, anybody can.

I am walking proof that it doesn't take a whole lot to be a quality questioner. In fact all you have to do is wake up every morning believing this:

It's better to ask more questions than you answer.
The world will be a better place when people listen more than they talk. Think about how much better your friendships would be? Your marriage? Your job? The political system? 

That's it.. I've proven it's not a hard skill to learn. Do not let my averageness scare you. The Question Academy is for all.