The Power of a Simple Question

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Decouvertes

After hearing a news report about the Beatles phenomenon in England, 15-year-old Marsha Albert wrote to her local Washington, D.C. radio station and asked, “Why can’t we have music like that here in America?”

Inspired by Marsha’s question, disk jockey Carroll James managed to get a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from a British flight attendant and introduced the song to his WWDC radio audience on December 17, 1963.

Within minutes, requests for the record flooded the station. Within days, radio stations all across the United States were playing the song. And Capital Records was forced to release it on December 26, three weeks earlier than scheduled.

According to Bruce Spizer, author of The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth of Beatlemania in America, when the band appeared on Ed Sullivan’s TV show on February 9, 1964, 73 million people – an unprecedented 40 percent of the U.S. population at the time – watched.

“There’s no doubt whatsoever that the Beatles would have conquered America anyway,” Beatles historian Martin Lewis told USA Today. “But the speed and magnitude of that stratospheric kick-off could not have happened without Marsha Albert. If the record had been released on January 13th, as planned, kids wouldn’t have heard it 20 times a day, as they did during the school break. It would never have sold 1 million copies in three weeks. There wouldn’t have been 10,000 kids at JFK to greet the Beatles. Marsha didn’t start Beatlemania. She jump-started it.”

That’s what a single, simple question can do.

Think about the couples who might never have met and gotten married had it not been for that old, reliable question: “Is someone sitting here?”

Think about the chances you might have missed in your own life by failing to ask “Can I?” Or “Would you?” Or “Is he?”

In 1982, I was working at a dead-end journalism job for a small Washington, D.C. publishing house. I knew it was time to get a move on if I didn’t want to end up bored silly and making a meager living for the rest of my life. But I wasn’t sure what to do.

As it happened, K had planned a week’s vacation for us in Key Largo, where her brother worked for a Jet Ski rental business. Since we were going to be in Florida anyway, I figured I’d schedule a few job interviews. Not because I was hopeful of finding a good job there, but because I wanted to write off the travel expenses as a tax deduction.

I had two possible leads. One was a colleague, a high-ranking editor at the Washington Post who, I figured, might know someone in Florida. The other was the name and address of a publisher in Boca Raton, FL who had been sending me promotions for his newsletters.

But to pursue these leads, I would have to ask questions – which is something I’ve always been reluctant to do, especially if the answer could be something I didn’t want to hear.
But I did it.

I asked the Washington Post editor, “Do you know anybody in Florida who might give me a job interview?” And I wrote to the Boca Raton publisher and asked, “Do you have a place in your organization for a person like me?”

As a result, by the time K and I left for our vacation, I had three job interviews lined up. One was with the editor-in-chief of The St. Petersburg Times. Another was with a news editor for the Miami Herald. And the third one was with JSN, the newsletter publisher in Boca Raton.

I met with each one of these guys en route. And by the time we reached Key Largo, I had three job offers. Getting three offers out of three interviews was an astonishing thing. And it left me with a dilemma.

Should I take the high road that might lead to a Pulitzer Prize and everlasting fame as a respected journalist? Or the low road – journalistic obscurity but with the implied promise of a Big Bag of Gold for my efforts?

Which one should I choose?

The only person who could really answer that question was me. But that didn’t stop me from soliciting opinions from even the most unlikely sources, including a 17-year-old pothead whose job in life was to refill the Jet Skis with gasoline.

After I told him my long story, he paused, took a toke on his joint, and said, “Go Boca.”

Turns out that, after much soul-searching, I came to the same conclusion. And that decision was the trigger for all of the good things I have since accomplished.

But it all started when I forced myself to ask a few influential people the right questions at the right time.

[Ed. Note: Get Michael Masterson’s insights into becoming successful in your business and personal life, achieving financial independence, and accomplishing all your goals on his new website. You’ll find updates on all of Michael’s books, news on upcoming ETR events, Michael’s blog, and room to send in your comments and questions. Check it out today.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]