I'm a pretty shy person. You won't generally see me striking up conversation with strangers at a party, it takes me quite a long time to feel comfortable around new friends and I don't much like being the centre of attention. However, I am terribly curious! If there's something I'm interested in, I have to find out every little detail about it (a typical SCANNER trait). I used to spend a lot of time getting books out at the library and/ or browsing the internet for more information, until my grandfather said something brilliant one day,
"If you're interested in something, go and find the person whose work you admire the most or is the best in their field and contact them. Everybody, no matter how big or small, loves to talk about themselves!".
That was a real light-bulb moment for me. For once my curiosity overwhelmed my shyness and I haven't held back since.
I would hunt down the email address (which in this day and age takes about 5 minutes on the internet) of whoever I was curious about, write to them introducing myself and letting them know that I admired their work, and then I simply ask if they would be interested in meeting up for a coffee and a chat. Sounds like asking a stranger out on an awkward date doesn't it! People are generally so flattered that you are taking an interest in them and their work that they almost always say yes. As a result I have had the the opportunity to meet stylists, writers, interior decorators, museum curators, shop owners and all sorts of other crazy professionals. What better way to find out more about a particular industry and career than to go straight to the source! I have ended up with many job opportunities this way, have made further contacts and even had some friendships spring from these meetings. On the other hand it as also been a good way to figure out which jobs are not for me, and it didn't take me years of studying to realise it!
The thing is that these people have nothing to loose by taking half an hour out of their day to have a chat with you. You aren't asking them for a job, you don't want money or product from them, you're really just asking that they share a bit of their knowledge. In my experience it is also best to start with the people who are at the top of their game and then work your way down from there. Those that are still trying to make it themselves (a) don't necessarily know as much yet, and (b) may see you as competition and are much more guarded about their work. It's also a good idea to have some questions already prepared (even if it's just mentally) so that you're not wasting their precious time with awkward silences! And lastly, hold onto their details! I don't know about the rest of the world but here it's all about who you know. As sad as it is, being able to name drop or fall back on this person for further contacts can be invaluable.
So now I'm curious about you, have you contacted people before just because you thought they seemed interesting?