It sounds flattering, in a way. You have expertise and a friend (or stranger) wants help to know what you know. Sharing can be fun, although it is generally not easy. You want to help people not tell them how to run their lives. You don’t want to bore them with background information if they are bottom-line appreciators.
If you are the person with the brain, it’s best to:
- Be honest upfront, if you don’t want to or expect to be paid.
- Be clear about how much time you will spend. Stick to it.
- If your help is limited to answering questions, be clear about that.
- Ask questions so you can answer just the question, not the history of the planet.
- Re-phrase their question to make sure you understand what the picker is asking.
- Speak to the question and stay on track.
- If the question indicates the picker is running off track, point that out by saying something like, “I didn’t try that method because I didn’t think it would work as well.”
- Choose if you want to share links, templates, other people’s names, and make that clear.
If you are the brain picker, it’s best to:
- Ask for a specific amount of time, say an hour. Do not think you are going to get everything you need in five minutes. It’s not going to happen and you will annoy the brain.
- Make sure the person you are asking is a subject matter expert. Don’t expect the person to become what you would like them to be.
- Have specific questions ready. Use them. Take notes. An invitation to talk doesn’t cover an additional month of follow-up questions.
- If you meet at a coffee shop or restaurant, offer to buy lunch or coffee. Respect the answer.
- Travel to the brain’s location of choice.
- Don’t give assignments or ask for participation. “Picking your brain” is one thing, “help me with a project” is another, different thing.
- Do not ask to see (or be sent) proprietary information, a finished product, a sample you can take apart and follow. “Picking your brain” is you, asking for information. It is not a handout, a private training session, or a solution to all the problems in your life.
- Do not ask for a job or a reference for a job. An information interview (or a brain pick) is not a time to make someone see what a great employee you might be.
- Say “thank you for your time,” when the session is over. Follow up with a card or email. Mention one thing you learned by listening carefully.
By being clear, no one is disappointed and no one feel slighted.
—Quinn McDonald has been a brain picker and had her brain picked. Doing it right is important to good results.