Ask for advice, win a rocket ship?

Shares fell as Ukraine’s president accused Russia of invading Kiev, trumping positive economic news in the U.S. The Dow dropped 42 points, with 21 of its 30 components declining; the S&P 500 Index fell 3 points; and the Nasdaq lost 11 points. Decliners led advancers by five to four on the NYSE and by five to three on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures gained $7 to close at $1,290.40 an ounce, and the price of crude oil rose 67 cents to settle at $94.55 a barrel.

In Earnings News:

  • Driven largely by cost-cutting, Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s second-quarter net income rose to $12.9 million, or 17 cents per share, from $11.4 million, or 14 cents per share, a year earlier. While the retailer’s bottom line beat expectations, its sales did not, with revenue falling 6% to $890.6 million. The company’s shares (ANF) fell 4.84% after reporting its 10th-consecutive decline in same-store sales.
  • Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s second-quarter results fell in line with analysts’ expectations, as earnings increased 4.9% to $50.7 million on revenue of $1.08 billion, up 5.8%. However, the kitchenware retailer’s shares (WSM) fell 11.96% after forecasting weaker-than-expected third-quarter earnings of $1.10 billion to $1.13 billion, or 58 cents to 63 cents per share.

In Other Business News:

  • Jobless claims last week fell 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000, remaining near an eight-year low, according to the Department of Labor. The four-week moving average dropped 1,250 to 299,750.
  • The U.S. economy continued its path to recovery in the second quarter, as gross domestic product grew at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 4.2%, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The economy’s rebound from a 2.1% contraction in the first quarter was stronger than economists’ prior estimate of 4%, driven by an 8.4% jump in business spending.
  • July’s pending home sales rose 3.3%, rebounding from June’s 1.1% drop, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index, a measure of signed contracts for existing homes. While July’s index was 2.1% lower year over year, current conditions for homebuyers are more favorable, marked by lower mortgage rates and higher inventory. The Northeast, South, and West showed gains, while the Midwest posted declines.

*****

Hark! Someone finally published an interesting post in my LinkedIn news feed.

No—not another article titled “What (event that happened in the news) Can Teach Us About (attribute that indicates professional success).” Rather, I was struck by a quote someone posted from rocket ship–flying business mogul Sir Richard Branson.

His advice: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!”

I like it. Why pass up a career- or life-changing opportunity if you lack the knowledge to carry it through to fruition? Experience is but a tiny, insignificant detail, right?

“Yes!” says the rookie start-up founder who’s never launched a business before but is learning from experience.

“No!” says the rookie adventurer who’ll attempt a class-five whitewater rafting trip this Labor Day weekend, despite having no experience.

For me, Sir Branson’s advice—if taken with a grain of salt—is actually worth heeding. After all, whether you’re starting a new job or a new company, or even trying a new hobby outside of your comfort zone, chances are you still have much to learn beyond your core competencies.

Plus, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can always ask your peers for help.

Groan …

No, really—you should ask for help. According to a new Harvard Business School study, asking others for advice could make you look like the perfect candidate for whatever amazing opportunity you just took on.

The study suggests that asking for advice makes you look more capable, not less, overriding the stigma that seeking help somehow implies incompetence. Asking people for guidance validates their intelligence, making them feel good about themselves—and, in turn, making them think highly of you.

In one experiment, the Harvard research team asked participants to complete a brain teaser and then send it to an unseen partner with whom they could only interact via instant messaging. Next, the study participants received one of two messages from their unseen partner: “I hope it (the brain teaser) went well,” or “I hope it went well. Do you have any advice?”

Afterward, participants rated the unseen partners who requested advice as more competent than those who didn’t. Moreover, the more difficult the brain teaser was, the smarter the advice-seeking partners appeared.

Moral of the story: If you’re feeling overwhelmed at a job you just started, peek over your cubicle and consult your colleague. If you’re intimidated by the prospect of switching career fields, seek the sage advice of a mentor who’s made the jump.

And if you happen to accept an opportunity from none other than Sir Richard Branson, you should absolutely ask him for advice. He might be so impressed that he gives you a million dollars—or at least one of his cool rocket ships.

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