I like foreign languages for this precise reason: they may have one word to sum up something which you need a sentence to describe in another 🙂 “Otaku” is a person with obsessive interests. It could be interpreted as a negative description, but many people now use it to describe their attitude to their hobbies. The word started with manga and anime, but moved outside these interests quickly.
So what can you learn from otaku? Here’s a quick list to get you started.
1. “What’s the one thing people need to realize about X?”
Ask me about coffee, and I’ll tell you how to save hundreds of $s every year – whilst still making a cup that beats any Starbucks. Ask Jack Monroe about food – she’ll be able to show you how determined, positive, and (yes!) political good cooking can get.
You need that first question to start a conversation like that. And by doing this, you’re getting a unique perspective into something that others just judge, pigeonhole or label. That’s a good thing to learn.
2. “What are you personally most proud of when it comes to X?”
Bragging rights don’t come easy. You need to work, learn, struggle, make mistakes, before you succeed at something. The guys at Memrise took their company through lots of learning adventures, and remain connected to learners and teachers – if you ask them, you’ll hear how proud that makes them.
Ask this question every chance you get. The stories you’ll hear involve skills, efforts and commitment, and are usually good stories coming from passionate people. You need more of those!
3. “If you wanted to move on from X, where could you go?”
This is an interesting one – make sure to stress that you’re not trying to put the other person off their hobby!
The beauty of this question lies in helping both parties realize how connected hobbies are. You spent lots of time on your DVD collection, so you can probably work and blog for a record store – or start looking for review assignments. You tried to surf every day during the past four years – there are people you could probably teach, or competitions you can maybe enter – and there’s always sailing or windsurfing if you’re interested.
Ask this question and watch an otaku’s face light up as they realize what their hobbies allow them to do.
4. “What does it take to really enjoy X?”
Anyone can claim they’re into something. But there comes a time in almost any human activity where it stops being fun, and starts being hard. This is what “The Dip” describes so brilliantly.
Talking to an otaku means that you have access to people who made it through the hard part – or are making their mark on it as they conquer it now. So they can tell you about the grit, the skills, the resources, and how best to use them. This is not some generic, bland advice: some of these answers sound like war stories, and for many fans, that’s what they feel like.
5. “How did X change you and those around you?”
Beware: this can get a bit wishy-washy. I like that question, because otaku conversations are those rare moments when dots are already connected. Usually it’s hard to tell how a situation changes you. You’re still learning that language, so you don’t know the outcome yet. You’re halfway through that project – or in the early stages of a relationship – so it’s hard to tell whether the changes are good.
With otaku, there’s almost always history. And the histories are shared. Forum posts, communities, presentations, podcasts…these are all examples of stories that a group of passionate people shares. And that’s how dots connect.
So asking this question may be unreasonable in other circumstances, but not here. It takes one NaNoWriMo to help people realize the potential of a story. It takes one triathlon to be connected to hundreds of people who try to change their bodies. Speak to an otaku, and you may actually hear a good answer here.
Is there anything you could ask highly passionate people? Or would you volunteer to answer any of those? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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