I’ve been a huge fan of Tim Ferriss for the best part of a decade. His books and podcast have been a great inspiration to me (as they are to many people). Recently, I put aside the time to annotate his two most recent books Tools Of Titans and Tribe Of Mentors, both of which are about asking others for their advice. In Tribe Of Mentors he asked hundreds of peak performers in many fields the same eleven questions, and gave them the freedom to answer in whatever form they wanted. As a result, the book is fascinating: full of really interesting ideas, patterns of behaviour and thought among successful people.
Tim outlines why he embarked on the project in this LinkedIn post, which is a copy of the main introduction to Tribe Of Mentors. There’s a lot of really useful ideas here too – just generally, never mind for the viva! – but one line stood out to me in particular:
Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.
This resonated with me in thinking about viva preparation. Viva preparation does not have to be a solo project. I imagine most people will spend most of their time getting ready alone, but there are really valuable things you can get from others – your supervisor, your colleagues, your friends and family.
All you have to do is ask, but you will get more if you are specific and clear.
Don’t just ask for a mock viva: be clear about when you might need it, if there is someone you’d like for a second mock examiner and if there are topics you really want questions on for specific practice.
Don’t just ask friends for advice: tell them what you want to know, ask them specific questions about their vivas or ask them to read a chapter and then ask questions over coffee.
Don’t just ask for support from loved ones: tell them how they could best help you, then ask them to do it!
Don’t be vague, be specific. There is a lot of help and support available before the viva, but you need to ask clearly for what you need.