Some more food for thought, following my post from last week:
- Brain Pickers: Be specific. A few months ago, a man approached me--or more accurately reproached me--about my company's attitude toward him. He had wanted to work with us, but we weren't being receptive.
"OK," I said, "tell me more."
He did, telling me nothing that would indicate why we should work together, only that he resented that my company charged for advertising across our network. If only we let him share his product with our community in partnership, we'd see what a great fit they were with us.
After the event, I followed up with him, as I was sensitive to the fact that prior to our meeting he had felt unheard. I explained that we were approached by people asking to partner like this often, and unless there was something that would benefit us both upfront it would be hard to justify a test relationship. Did he have any ideas? Anything to make me think we should place a bet on him by changing our business model to work with him? His note back was short: He had been hoping I would have thought of something.
This is arrogant: Assuming that others should immediately see your value to them. And it's lazy. I'm sure that many callers aren't intending to be that way when they approach with little specificity--I'm sure many think they are being accommodating by not assuming how they could work with you. But with time at such a premium, I prefer to receive a note that says: "I think we should work together because of X" and letting me counter if that reason isn't important to me, rather than saying, "I really like what you are doing, let's talk and see if there's a way to work together."
- Brain Pickees: Consider everyone a potential resource. Mahalo Founder and serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis openly condemns VCs and angel funders who charge entrepreneurs for the opportunity to pitch their businesses, and I have to agree with him. The sources that are worth their salt--and Calacanis points to VC Fred Wilson as an example--may be tough to reach because they are busy people, but if your concept is worth something and you present yourself well, you should get a meeting, without paying for it.
I learned this waaay back when I was in print publishing: You don't pay an agent to read your manuscript. Sure, it takes some moxie getting an agent to see your work, but agents that charge you for the opportunity tend not to have the reputation required to take your work to the next level.
It may seem counter-intuitive but it's true, because successful people don't stop looking for ideas and opportunities. They don't "top out" once they reach the big time. As much as I don't always agree with Diddy's approach to talent development (as I've seen on his various Making the Band programs), I do admire his willingness to go back to the roots of what gave him success in the first place in order to mine new talent and stay fresh and relevant in the music industry. In many ways his show is an early, analog version of curated crowdsourcing that worked.
- Brain Pickers: Be useful: Back when my partners and I were contemplating seeking venture capital funding to grow our business, we sought out a number of experienced people like Guy Kawasaki, Steve Perlman and Caterina Fake to help us get some perspective on whether to do this, and if we were to, how to do it right. These are some busy, successful people, but they were only too happy to help, for many reasons. These people were very generous with their time, and we made sure we didn't waste it. We also did what we could to be useful.
You may come to the table thinking you have nothing to offer someone who is already successful, but put yourself in their shoes: Often success can become a buffer from some of the less-desirable things about entrepreneurship (like having to do everything, even the things you're not good at) but it can also keep you a few feet removed from the ground, where you have access to information. I often complain that as our business grows, I have less time now to get the skinny on my favorite topics on blogs. Nor can I go to as many meet-ups, where even the most random small talk yields insights on my industry. I have to make an extra effort to stay connected, which a few years ago was part of my everyday world.
When we met with Guy Kawasaki, he was in transition, learning more about the blogosphere and what made it tick. I can only hope that in some exchange for his wisdom we were able to bring him closer to the the space before his new venture, popular with the women's blogging community, AllTop launched.
Before I get my brain picked, I often ask myself, "What new things can I learn from this conversation?" Before I pick a brain, I ask, what info can I bring to the table?
- Brain Pickees: Expand your horizons. This goes back to consider everyone a resource. But even while being open you might not see opportunities in places that are surprisingly fertile. A few months ago, I was approached by someone I'd met years ago to be on the advisory board of a children's entertainment and educational company he now headed. He was aware that I could not offer up free media or proprietary information; he just wanted to tap my thoughts on marketing to moms.I don't have kids, so the free DVDs weren't what tipped me to saying yes. Rather, it seemed like an opportunity to get better at what I currently do. The beauty of the position is that it has re-enforced my connection and thought leadership in an area in which I knew a lot, but now know much more. I've gleaned new insights for my own business as a result. Now that's a win-win.
- Brain Pickers: Let people know when picking their brain has helped. And pick your moments. So this goes back to good old-fashioned upbringing and lives next to writing thank you notes in my top five things that have carried over from my mother's nagging. But having now been on the other side of the equation, and having seen how my helping someone has made a difference, I insist on doing this when I am helped. When people I help do this, I am more excited to help them again.
That said, even if you send home-baked goods to everyone who has helped you, if you ask for too much too often, you wear out the good will. People can only eat so many cupcakes. People who continually go to the well because they are thirsty will find it dry if they don't give it time to fill up naturally. For this reason I recommend that BPs pick the best use of a source's time and not waste it on things she could get without that source's help. I recall responding to a stranger's emailed request for help starting her personal blog with a few general resources for getting started. I don't do this kind of work and thought she should have researched what I do at my company before sending her request, but I appreciated her desire to get started and wanted to encourage her. When she followed up asking me to interpret some confusing information on the site I sent her to, I was much less helpful: I told her to do exactly what I did when I started a blog and needed help: Call customer support.
This example is egregious, but think of people you might have helped in the past who followed up, essentially because they did not want to do the work that you suggested. If you provide support you are enabling them to eventually fail.