So, you want to pick my brain?
What's in it for me?by:Laura A. Meck, Managing Partner
Small Business Secret Weapon Company, Inc.
It’s been one of “those” days! You know the kind where the old adage is, if it can go awry it will. I had a ton of calls / meetings scheduled for the day – and in between my calls the phone rang off the hook [literally – I took it off the hook in my office, forgot about the reception area phone]. Each time I answered an unscheduled call it started the same way “Can I pick your brain for a minute?” Most days that phrase makes me shudder. First, it doesn’t sound pleasant – “pick your brain” – who started that? Second, it usually translates to “hey, I really need advice, just don’t want to pay for it.” And third, it’s NEVER for a MINUTE!
We’ve all had those calls. I’ve started twisting the proverbial “can I pick your brain” around on the caller. As soon as I hear those five little words, my brain goes into action…. If you pick my brain, “what’s in it for me?” I quickly assess the situation and determine if there’s something I can gain, learn, take away from the call and in rapid fire timing– make my mind up whether or not to invest in the call. Today’s “brain picking” however added a new twist.
The first call was from a magazine that wanted “information” about women business owners. Hmmmm, I thought – “what’s in it for me” a magazine…. Well, include me in the article, by name and by company name. DONE! Ok – so look for my interview next month J
The next call was from a fellow that I’ve consulted with in the past. He’s brilliant. I enjoy talking to him and hearing about his new adventures – he’s a wealth of knowledge and happily shares. He has started a new company – targeting hospitality [which I happen to know a little bit about], and it sounds intriguing – so “what’s in it for me”… Lunch! Hey, he happened to call when I was again missing lunch – again, win-win.
My next call was a phone tag call – not only did I have to play cat and mouse with this guy, but the message didn’t reveal a “pick your brain” question….. Turns out, in his final message – he finally shared that he just wanted to “pick my brain” about something that I have little interest in, and at that point I couldn’t even think of “what’s in it for me.”
So, my final message back [yes phone tag continued] shared that I was swamped and if he had a quick question he could send it to me by email - never heard back.. The last call of the day was fun. The call started as most of them do with a few pleasantries and small talk about the weather, travel and kids then it took a turn- instead of her saying “I want to pick your brain” she said, I have a situation I’d like your advice on, if you have a minute. Wait what was this, someone that admitted they needed something, she made it specific [a situation to me = one item to discuss] and she was respectful of my time. It’s amazing how different the situation can be when someone is coming to you for advice versus coming to “pick your brain.”
Really, it’s the same thing right? They want information that I (or you) have and they don’t want to pay for it. But when we’re perceived as a SME [subject matter expert] it seems to take on a different feel. When I shared that I did have just a few minutes – her question was succinct – easy to respond to – and appreciated. Then it happened before I could think about my “what’s in it for me” – she offered up “if you ever need anything, please feel free to call me.”
Now, instead of brain picking, I am working on developing a [mutually beneficial] resource. She has a lot of experience in an area that I don’t particularly like to handle, and will be a solid and reliable resource for me to pass customers to. I know she will take care of them and be respectful of their time, just as she was with me. Until today I really hadn’t spent much time with her, we’ve seen one another at networking events and conferences –but nothing more than a passing connection. Because of her approach, I will share information, potentially customers and recommendations.
It’s funny the people I’ve known the longest just wanted to “pick my brain” but the one I hardly know wanted to develop a relationship that could benefit us both. When we are in consulting businesses or coaching businesses regardless of where we are, start up or tenured, our time is valuable. When we are approached in a respectful manner and clearly see the “what’s in it for me” without having to think about it we invest the effort.
My “what’s in it for me” isn’t a sign of selfishness, at least that’s not how I view it. Instead it’s me putting a value to that period of time and how I am going to be compensated for it. Whether compensated in knowledge, a trade out of something or cash only we can put a value on our time. It’s okay to say to someone “I don’t have time” or “I’m sorry, I can schedule time for us to meet and we can discuss an agreement so I am more available to you…
Keep in mind the next time someone wants to “pick your brain” ask yourself “what’s in it for me” – If you don’t value your own time, how can you expect anyone else to?
Do you value your own time?
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Sonata Venture Solutions is a small business secret weapon company.