Entrepreneurs

A vintage letter from Amelia Earhart to The New York Times proves asking for what you want works

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In June 1932, Amelia Earhart tried to get The New York Times to stop calling her by her husband's last name — and succeeded. The Times resurfaced her letter to the paper's then publisher Thursday in its "Looking Back" section.

The note may be 85 years old, but the lesson is timeless: Always ask for what you want.

"Despite the mild expression of my wishes, ... I am constantly referred to as 'Mrs. Putnam' when the Times mentions me in its columns," Earhart wrote. "However, it is for many reasons more convenient for both of us to be simply 'Amelia Earhart.'"

The day she wrote the letter, a headline in the paper had referred to her as "Mrs. Putnam," the surname of her husband, George P. Putnam, according to the story. But by July, the paper was using "Miss Earhart."

Many successful business leaders have talked about the importance of simply asking, because as the saying goes, "you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

Steve Jobs learned the lesson as a 12-year-old, when he picked up the phone and called the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, William Hewlett. Jobs asked for spare parts so that he could build a frequency counter, he tells the Silicon Valley Historical Association in 1994 in an interview.

"He lived in Palo Alto, his number was still in the phone book," said Jobs.

Hewlett answered the call, and gave him a job that summer.

"Most people never pick up the phone and call," said Jobs. "Most people never ask, and that is what separates sometimes the people who do things from the people who just dream about them. You've got to act."

Billionaire and Virgin founder Richard Branson ranks asking for help as one of his top five pieces of advice for young entrepreneurs.

"I reached out to people who possessed the skills I lacked and asked them for help," he writes on his blog.

And 26-year-old self-made millionaire and founder of mobile advertising firm Kiip, Brian Wong, tells CNBC asking doesn't have much of a downside. Even if you get a no, you're simply back to where you started, he says. But if you get a yes, "Your life just changed! It's amazing how much asking can bring to you ... it's phenomenal."

Says Wong: It's "the magic wand for business and even in life."

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