Having people ask to "pick your brain" can be the ultimate compliment to an entrepreneur. It makes us feel like we're experts in something, or that we've been successful enough at something that someone values our thoughts. But brain picking comes in many shapes and colors. Some brain pickers (BPs) are just looking for inspiration; talking with you stirs their own ideas. Others want resources--money, contacts, insider knowledge that will help them with their endeavors. None of these are inherently bad, but none of them are good if you aren't getting something out of the sharing.
I used to love it when people asked to pick my brain, especially early into the business. I might not have been drawing a paycheck, but by golly! Someone wanted to talk to me about something. It was a small sign of traction.
Today it's different. I still love helping people, but I've been confronted with the limits of my time and energy. I've had to be brutal at times about how I prioritize "non-business-related" requests. And I feel badly about it, I mean what entrepreneur doesn't include in her war stories a paean or five for the big shots who threw her a bone--a contact, and introduction, or an informed opinion--her way that made all the difference. Since becoming an entrepreneur I've become more determined than ever to pay it forward.
But paying it forward can't be confused with sucking yourself dry. Even while helping others with their endeavors, I see no reason why we can't always strive for win-win situations. I hope that the following ideas stir your thinking--both brain pickers and pickees. I'll write this up in installments this week. But let's start with a few:
- Brain Pickees: It's OK to say, "Not a good time." Even if you want to help someone, sometimes you can't. I recall respected peers asking for business intros and advice when it just wasn't appropriate for me to provide it. Perhaps my company was in the midst of a negotiation with the requested company, or sharing my info would compromise others. It sounds like common sense to respectfully decline, but it really is a tough lesson to follow, especially because of the "pay it forward" thing we entrepreneurs tend to ascribe to.
- Brain Pickers: Make giving you help as easy as falling out of bed in the morning. I have a pal who is a budding, but successful, entrepreneur. She runs a women's community. "I knew that things were starting to go well when people started reaching out to me, asking me for help," she says. A doctor and artist, she's had many different career lives and experiences, so she was asked just about everything, from "Do I have H1N1?" to "How did you start a business?" At some point, the requests began to hinder her everyday work. She decided to create a filter, if you will, to separate the quickie information seekers from the serious people.
"I ask them if they will join me for a hike," she says. Some background: my friend lives in what could best be described as a remote area, near the lovely, pristine Marin coastline. She's committed to hiking an hour each day. I've joined her, and it ain't a quick jaunt or drive.
"The right people will make it out and help me kill two birds with one stone," she says.
Likewise for me. If I am approached by someone who is seeking information that is not a part of my daily business plan, they must be willing to call me in my car (as my commute hours are often the best place to reach me), or make it to my office. If you miss the time that we've agreed upon for a chat, please let me know in advance, and give me a good reason. If you miss the time, I won't be calling you to reschedule. In some cases, if the person seems to be disrespectful of my time, I won't respond to requests to reschedule.
Again, it's not about being cruel or mean, it's about saving time for the good stuff, and for the people who will use your time well.
More to come later this week.