No. You Can’t Pick My Brain.

I was reminded of this post, which has sat in a word doc on my desktop for two months, while reading “Can I Pick your Brain,” by Kevin Dugan. Thanks, Kevin, for inspiring me to finally get it posted.

I’m not sure where to start with this topic since I feel like it might offend many people who know me who have asked the very thing. For close personal friends I can make an exception but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

Several years ago I had upgraded myself to first class on a flight from LA to NYC, where I was living at the time. As the plane was boarding I was flipping through the current issue of Wired. Highlighted in the magazine was a book called “Ambitchous” (has since been changed.) It was, ultimately, about how the female psyche can hold one back in business. How we can under-value and under-appreciate what we contribute, and our desire to not push too hard or ask for too much because we don’t want to be “the Bitch.” The author interviewed hundreds of women and is a career psychologist of sorts as well as having a strong background in business.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was my travel partner handing me a note. I opened it and it said: “Turn to page 76. That’s my book.”

It was the author, Debra Condren (@debracondren) of Ambitchous, seated directly across the aisle from me. The author of the book I just dog-eared a magazine page for to remind myself to buy.

I immediately got up and went to her and engaged in conversation which continued some during the flight and finally in the baggage terminal at JFK. She gave me a galley copy of the book, which I found a huge honor. I devoured it. There were so many eye-opening examples that simulated behaviors and ways of thinking that I’d found myself trapped in. One chapter hit me the most. I like to call it Pay Me.

I would cite it but I loaned the book out ages ago to other powerful females I know but my takeaway was this: Time is valuable and creative thought is even more so. Don’t undervalue either. As women (and compassionate people everywhere) we like to help and can get trapped in giving our time and ideas away for free because we’re afraid to ask for compensation. Or, just don’t realize it’s within our right to do so.

When you are a creative individual who is a “popcorn machine,” as my mom says, that spits out ideas on a continual basis, doling out advice is no big thing. It’s easy to have coffee with someone whose company I enjoy, most who will ultimately take my ideas and somehow help it benefit their business. Whatevs.

I used to do this a lot more than I do now because here’s the thing I finally came to terms with that helped me start standing my ground: My popcorn machine has value.

Creative ideas and connections are the real currency in this digital economy. We are bomarded with fragmented channels to communicate with, audiences to communicate to and many masters to serve on the business side. Having someone who can view this entire eco-system, understand your market and then advise you on what is wisest for your company to build brand and business is an invaluable resource. But those advisors are typically under appreciated and under monetized.

I am asked on a weekly basis to meet with people for coffee, or lunch or cocktails. Requests range from if I know someone for a position to resources for an interest to the need for creative advice and consult to helping to promote an event. There are a lot of needs in LA (and beyond) and it shows this industry is raring to go and bursting with ambition. But, I can’t help everyone.

I do have my own work schedule and my “life balance” that I attempt and it leaves me little free time to “donate” to others. I appreciate that I am seen as a resource for the community but some of the requests have shown me a repeated trend – people need ideas. A lot of them.

Strategic and creative counsel is one of the most under-monetized aspects of being in the communications and marketing business. Would you ask a lawyer to coffee to “pick his brain?” Do you think a profession as ruthless as they are known, and whose services are enlisted regularly and paid well for, would dole out a hour advice to you for $3.50? Unless he’s your dear friend, what’s in it for him?

I see this as an increasing problem in LA, and I’m sure in every city across the country. It’s especially rampant with start-ups. Let’s call it the “Pick Your Brain (PYB) syndrome.”

You meet a nice smart person at an event and you have coffee and then they start to PYB. And take notes, because what you say makes sense. You are pumping out advice and ideas. And it ain’t no thing to you because you’re a popcorn machine, right? Pop, pop, pop. And they soak it up and then, off they go, and you’re left holding an empty drink.

I got into a recent twitter back and forth with someone about the value of releasing ideas into the world. Someone cited @jason to me, that you can give ideas but it doesn’t matter if they can’t execute (I’m paraphrasing,) but I wholly disagree. When you present an idea to someone and they recognize it as good, they will take it with them and they will eventually make money off of that idea. But you will not.

So this is what I started doing, especially for people that I do not know well: I tell them I am happy to meet, I am flattered they asked and that because my time is valuable I don’t do these PYB sessions for free. Most the time I’ve said this, they’ve understood and honored it. The ones that got a little ruffled, are the ones who will suck you dry and likely leave you paying for your own coffee. And theirs.

Run. Fast.

How often are you asked to have your brain picked? Got any words of advice or examples to share?

This article also appeared on BlogHer.


6 thoughts on “No. You Can’t Pick My Brain.

  1. hi Nicole, (I think) I totally get what you’re saying here.

    People want me to work on their big $ project but aren’t willing to pay for experienced/seasoned advice and help.

    I think there’s a distinction between “big picture” ideas/advice and “get it done” tactical advice. I think the big picture ideas or advice are relatively easy to give and usually don’t have to rack my brain figuring something out. To me, good ideas are a dime dozen in LA – everyone has great ideas or can give you good advice.

    There’s what I call the secret sauce which is “good” tactical advice on steps or choosing the right tools. I’ve had multiple potential clients ask before committing to my quote/invoice, “what do you think of a certain WordPress theme?” Or I end up asking enough questions about the project that they actually figure out what they need to do next (because a lot of them have no clue).

    I honestly don’t mind giving them this indirect help as long as they’re not someone shopping around for the lowest $ hired gun but a lot of people are. End of rant ;-)

  2. I am a popcorn machine, too (tell mom I love that)!! My lightbulb moment about no one wanting to buy the popcorn machine when the popcorn is free…

    I interviewed for a job managing all the real estate transactions for a new team in town. We got into an exciting conversation about various marketing strategies and social media ideas that I had. He took notes on my resume, first quick ones on the front. Then, he actually started writing stuff, word for word, all over the back. At one point, he actually held up his finger for me to stop so he could catch up. The result: I left thinking I was a lock for the job. When I called a few days later to touch base, he said that he hired someone for HALF my rate but, and I quote, “Thanks for letting me pick your brain!”

    *slap* My cheek is still burning almost a year later!!

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