welcome to big think on the go

today’s topic is mine for mental gold

how to start conversations with the

people you admire

presented by tim ferriss let’s say you

find yourself in an airplane and you are

seated next to elon musk

on southwest who knew or wherever it

might be you

find yourself in a situation at a dinner

party in an elevator next to someone

who you realize has gold in their head

and to mine that you need pickaxes and

those are

questions so how are you going to manage

that situation are you equipped to make

the most of those five minutes

or ten minutes well i can tell you

a few things that i’ve learned

number one is do not ask the most

obvious question at all because there

are going to be 10 or 15 questions

they’ve been asked thousands of times

you could say something or you could ask

them a question

that is totally out of left field this

is actually a bit of advice

that was echoed by mike berbiglia who’s

one of the most successful

comedians in the world and he uses all

the time and one of the examples was hey

if you bump into jimmy fallon on the


don’t say hey jimmy love the show don’t

do that because he hears that a thousand

times a day

you should say hey jimmy do you like


that was his example and he’ll be so

thrown off by it’ll be like

yeah how can he not say yeah i love kiwi


a jimmy’s going to remember that b

that will open the door to a short

conversation then you have that as mike

would say

for the rest of your life mike has this

fantastic story about

meeting president obama for the first

time and getting a longer conversation


his wife was pregnant at the time that’s

mike’s wife and nobody knew

and they said to president obama when

they met him

and they said um it’s really nice to

meet you mr president

and uh don’t tell anyone but my wife’s


and he’s so thrown off by he goes am i

the first to know they’re like yeah

you’re the first to know it’s turned

into a much longer conversation

so a do not go with the usual suspects

you’re going to get nowhere with that

edward norton when i was interviewing

edward we were on the malibu pier

and looking out at the surf lineup and i

knew that edward surfed

so i’m not going to start with acting

everybody starts with acting everyone

starts with movies i’m going to start

with surfing


one piece of advice that i was given by

cal fussman

who is a name you might not know but i

interviewed him

for the tim ferris show my podcast and

i’ve done a lot with him since he wrote

or was one of the primary writers for

the what i learned column in esquire

where he interviewed

everybody from ali to gorbachev to de

niro to you go down the list everybody

what cal said to me he noticed for


in some of my interviews if the

interviewee seems stumped

i would jump in and try to cover for

them so if there was a

five second pause i would jump in and

change the question to try to make it

easier and he said no no don’t do that

let the silence do the work so that’s

another tip that is very unnatural

or counterintuitive for people let the

silence do the work do not fill the

space automatically so at least have


as one arrow in your quiver


i actually hired a researcher from

inside the actors studio

he helped me think about follow-up

questions so here are some easy

follow-up questions

you ask a question don’t move on to your

next primary question right away


what did you learn from that here’s a

really good one for

famous people or well-known folks who

are used to getting all the same


how did that make you feel that’s a

really good one

one i like to ask a lot what was your

self-talk when that was happening or

right before that happened what was your


i’ve asked that of say sean white right

before you go

down a slope for your gold medal run

you’re behind the gate what are you

saying to yourself


if you have the space so let’s say

you’re talking to someone

it doesn’t have to be an interview

asking questions for 10 to 15 minutes

don’t jump right into the 20 questions

all right don’t immediately start going

for the money shot

you should provide them with some time

to get comfortable

so if you were doing a formal interview

i’ll just give some recommendations part

of the reason that i’m able to get

such raw honest and detailed interviews

is that before every interview i say

a this isn’t live b you get final cut

which by the way they do for inside the

actors studio

anything you want to cut out will cut

out so you’re safe this is a friendly

next i’ll ask is there anything you

don’t want to talk about because i’ll

just avoid it this is intended to get

actionable tactics for my listeners we

can have fun if you

drop an f-bomb we can edit it out from

long island might happen myself

don’t worry about it be yourself and

then what i say is it’s better to be a

little too raw

and then have to take something out then

to get to the end

and not have any of that really juicy

emotional and tactical stuff we can

always take things out we can’t put it

back in later

and generally what i’ll do this is a tip

i got from neil strauss who is not only

an eight time

new york times bestselling author but

has done tons of interviews

for rolling stone new york times so

every celebrity especially in music you

can imagine

and one of the recommendations he made

was be vulnerable

first if you want someone to be

vulnerable be vulnerable

first and that creates this sort of


balance if someone is a little cagey and

they’re worried about being misquoted or

something like that

or maybe they’re just used to sticking

to their sound bites just because

they’re always on stage like in elon

so that they don’t step on a landmine or

get have their language cherry picked in

some way that makes them look silly

i will talk about maybe a time that i

was misquoted or a time that i was


how terrible it was and to make it

really clear i know how it feels

maybe on a very micro level but to open

the door for them to reciprocate with

their own vulnerability

and that works incredibly well at the

end of the interview

doing the same thing so if someone has

been really vulnerable

reiterating the promise you give them in

the beginning asking them if there’s

anything they’d like to take out and so

on and so forth

and i always look at my interviews and

they’re different styles this isn’t


what i do i might ask hard questions but

ultimately it’s in service of

my audience and in service of the person

i’m interviewing

i am always interviewing to

get a second interview and that means

you need to take all these factors into

account as another guest would say

and i’ll close with this tony robbins he

says the quality of your life is

determined by the quality of your


so guess what if you get better at

asking questions of other people

you would get better at asking questions

of yourself

and that means you will get better at

thinking if you get better thinking

you’ll be more successful in all things

to summarize don’t open with the obvious

notable people get asked the same

questions all the time

to catch their attention ask or say

something out of left field

an unusual question is more likely to be

remembered and to open the door to a

longer conversation

let the silence do the work if the other

person seems stumped by your question

don’t jump in to cover for them allow

for empty space

a pause creates opportunity

think about follow-ups before moving on

to your next

primary question ask a follow-up


what did you learn from that how did

that make you feel

what was your self-talk in that moment

make the person comfortable if you have

enough time

don’t jump straight into your big

questions ease into the conversation

if you’re doing formal interviews start

by making guests feel

safe remind them that the conversation

isn’t live

if that’s the case consider giving them

final cut

ask them if there’s anything they don’t

want to talk about

ask them to be themselves be vulnerable


share a story about a time when you were

misunderstood embarrassed

or emotionally harmed in some other way

open the door for the other person to

reciprocate with their own vulnerability

make the interaction a positive

experience so that the other person

might consider speaking with you again

the quality of your life can be

determined by the quality of your


if you get better at asking questions of

others you’ll get better at asking


of yourself


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