- Nancy Mendelson
Why You Shouldn't Let People "Pick Your Brain"
When I first began dating, my mother sat me down and gave me “THE TALK,” which in summation, basically consisted of the following: “When things are getting hot and heavy, stop and ask yourself… why would a man buy a cow, when he can get all the milk for free!?!” Her tone made it feel less like advice and more like a warning.
Sheesh!!! Not only did I find this analogy to livestock disturbing, it felt so Beware the Ides of March-ish that I began to view anyone who wanted to date me as a potential assassin. Oy Vey, the therapy sessions it took to delete that program from my psychological hard drive…but that’s another story for another column.
So fast forward to nine years ago, when I decided to leave the corporate world to start my own consultancy, and a respected colleague, mentor, and friend sat me down and offered the following: “Your first year in business you will need to prove yourself, so you must be prepared to give away your services for free,” she said emphatically. And I listened, because she had an MBA from Harvard, and I didn’t.
Worst advice ever—totally on me for taking it when my gut said otherwise. By going against my better judgment, I undermined my self-confidence, undervalued my experience, and underestimated the time it would take to become profitable.
Case in point: within the first few months of starting my business, I was invited to a meeting by the founder of a start-up who had deep pockets and a proven track record for creating successful businesses. We talked for hours – him, me, and his business partner. They even recorded our conversation. “When I get back from my vacation, I’ll give you a call because I want to pick your brain some more,” he said, as we parted, like it was coming to him.
Even though his imperious attitude really bothered me, I sucked it up because the words of my mentor kept ringing in my ears. So, we met again when he got back, he picked my brain some more and then told me he’d like to meet yet again. Something inside me snapped (in a good way) and I replied, “Great, I’d love to have you as a client.” And thus ended our relationship because, metaphorically speaking, he didn’t want to buy the cow. Lesson learned, Mom, your advice proved invaluable for business!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for helping people, but I've learned the world is full of *schnorrers… so if I’m going to give it away, it’s going to be to the right people under the right circumstances.
To help you to navigate your own journey, Forbes seems to have the market cornered on excellent brain-picking articles; here are two of my favorites, and another from DUE:
Forbes, How 3 Successful Women Of Color Navigate 'Can I Pick Your Brain' Requests
* The word schnorrer originally occurred in the German language to describe a freeloader who frequently asks for little things, like cigarettes or little sums of money, without offering a return.