CreativityEngaging Culture

Before You Ask to "Pick Somebody’s Brain" – Here’s a Few Tips

I get a lot of people calling to “pick my brain.” I don’t know what’s in there that they’re so interested in, but apparently there’s something. But after talking with a few friends who get the same requests, I’ve come up with a few things you need to be aware of before you ask:

1. We don’t think much of it, and we’re too casual about it.  But the truth is, it’s a real imposition on very busy people. Don’t necessarily stop trying, just realize that you’re asking someone to take a block of time and dedicate it to you. They have better things to do, so be grateful.

2. Come prepared. I’m amazed at the number of “pick your brain” people who show up unprepared. Don’t diddle away the time. Come with questions. If you’re not going to prepare, why should I waste my time?

3. Pick up the tab. I’m shocked at the number of people who ask me out to lunch or for coffee to “pick my brain,” and then expect me to pick up the tab. I’ve just spent an hour helping you with your career, and now I have to pay for it? Might as well stamp “Don’t Meet with Me Ever Again” on your forehead.

4. Stop talking. If you want to pick my brain, then listen dang it. You can’t find out what I think if you do all the talking. You may be nervous, but learn to shut up and listen. After all, that’s what you’re there for, isn’t it?

5. Finally, respect the situation. If I’m speaking at a conference, I have a lot on my mind, I’m stressed, and I’m focused on my talk. “Picking my brain” at that moment is a really bad idea. If you want results, make sure your target is relaxed, and can focus on your situation.

I don’t mean to sound crabby, and I love helping people achieve their dreams (that’s why I write my blog and books.) But so few really think about the situation, circumstances, and purpose, that they ruin a potentially great situation.

Think, before you ask….

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  1. A courageous post. And yes, you sound cranky, but you’re not wrong. However, I think there may be reason for this behavior: a lot of people want to “network” and don’t know how. They think any contact is good contact, just to “keep in touch”. Well, the truth is that if you don’t have specific questions related to your common pursuit or interest, then that person is probably not yet suited to being in your “network”, and you’re wasting everyone’s time. I’ve done this, and perhaps we all have (at least, I hope I’m not alone!): I’ll make contact with someone who is far above me in my business, and I’ll want very much to stay in touch with them, but really, I have no common ground. I just have to be satisfied to know that, perhaps years later, when we do meet on common ground, they’ll remember having enjoyed working with me, and then a relationship can build from there. I think perhaps these people who want to “pick you brain” are trying out their networking skills, and aren’t yet very good at it. That’s my experience. You don’t build a network by networking, you build it by doing and connecting to the people around you. Those connection are your network.

  2. Uh…I am absolutely appalled that there are people who can’t use common sense to practice remedial business etiquette; that someone would get the chance to sit down with you at lunch for consulting and wouldn’t pick up the tab…asanine! Or maybe my parents just taught me well. The Ivy on me?! (lol)

  3. I learned long ago that before getting into one of these sessions, if I ask the person to allow me to prepare for the chat (show me their direct response samples and/or reports). The serious ones are happy to do it. The ones that won’t — 99% of the time–they are looking to vent or impress.

    Like you, I love helping people. But if they won’t help me help them, sorry, no.

  4. I’d add another one Phil:

    Don’t disguise a “Pick your brain” session behind a casual conversation/coffee date.

    I often encounter this one. I meet with a friend or an aquaintance to build relationship and it turns into a consulting session. (At times it has even involved trying to rope me into their project!) Like Mary, I’m more than happy to share my creativity & expertise but giving some advance notice shows respect and honor.

  5. Dude! I totally told you that I am gonna pay for Monday’s Mexican food…add it to the invoice! 🙂 Ha! I hope I didn’t prompt this post. But, now that you mention it, I really need to pick your brain about…..

  6. I’d love to pick your brain for just a half hour Phil. 

    The fact is you don’t have the time and I couldn’t afford it if you did.

    I appreciate your blog, it’s the next best thing.

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