Should You Let People “Pick Your Brain”?

Gene Marks

“Would you mind if I picked your brain?”

You get this question, I’m sure. You’re an attorney. Or an accountant. Or a doctor. You’re a senior manager or a business owner. You have experience. You have knowledge. And now someone wants to tap into that knowledge. For free. Do you let him?

This is how you earn your living, isn’t it? And now, just because it’s after hours and drinks are being served, this complete stranger thinks it’s OK to basically get free advice from you. He has a problem. He’s looking for help. He knows that you charge for this kind of advice. But he doesn’t seem to care. What’s a couple questions, anyway, between friends? What other reasons are there to network than to meet new people and learn new things, right?

So what do you do when this situation occurs? You can be a jerk and tell the guy that you’re more than happy to help him if he wants to call the next day to schedule an appointment. Or you can just give in and offer him the advice that he wants. You can act annoyed. Or you can be gracious. You can turn and walk away in disgust. Or you can put down your drink, ask the guy to take off his shirt, and examine that strange looking hairy mole on his back right there in the middle of the party. What’s the best move?
How about this move: you thank the person for asking and offer whatever advice you can.

You earn plenty. You have customers and clients. You’re doing fine. Yes, of course you’d like to be doing better. And yes, it’s human nature to not want to give something away for nothing. And sure, there will be some people that will take advantage of your kindness. But you’re fortunate. You are making a living. And here’s a complete stranger that is asking you for help. And you genuinely may be able to help this person. So help him. Let him pick your pick brain, because two things will come out of it.

  1. You’ll feel better about yourself because giving is always better than getting. That’s your humanitarian and benevolent side. You’re a good person. And you care about others. This is doing something nice.
  2. You’ll get your money in the end. Maybe you’ll never see that guy again. Or maybe that guy will appreciate your advice and think you are so smart that he’ll be calling you first thing the next day  to offer a million dollar contract. That probably won’t happen. But what will likely happen is that he’ll eventually walk away appreciating your help and valuing your knowledge. He will tell others. He will remember. Someone in his network of friends will have a similar hairy mole on their back and ask him for a recommendation or remember that he liked you. What comes around really does go around.

So let people pick your brain. Give your advice away for free. Don’t get defensive and don’t be annoyed. Be grateful instead. This is not a burden. It’s an opportunity to help. You’ll get your compensation someday. I guarantee it.

4 Responses to "Should You Let People “Pick Your Brain”?"

    • Debra L. Hockett | October 9, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      Wow….How refreshing it THAT mindset? In this world, that’s a rarity! 5 GOLD STARS! It really isn’t all about the money, is it??? Could it be something larger at stake here? KUDOS!

    • Therese Hayes | October 10, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Best article yet! Let’s pass some goodness around & Yes, let’s be GRATEFUL for all that we have. Those who share always end up way ahead. The world becomes a better place when it starts with us 🙂

    • Teresa Hagen | November 1, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      It’s always a good “feeling” to know you’ve shared valuable and helpful info.; I agree 100% and I happened upon this article just when life (and a prospect) threw me a curve!
      I COULD become selfish with my time, resources, and “value adds” but I won’t. Thank you!

    • Brian Puchalski | January 2, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      I agree if it’s in a social setting but if you’re speaking with a co-worker in a social setting or even at work, take heed. For instance, if you’re at a client site as a business consultant or technology architect you want to be helpful, if only to grease the skids of the idea engine moving a project forward. But projects often have consultants from many companies so receiving recognition is essential to survival and hopefully securing a rate increase come contract renewal. I’ve noticed what seems to have become almost epidemic that good ideas given freely are often taken credit by competitors. Unscrupulous consultants take credit for your ideas and accomplishments as their own within their chain of command. Depending on the reporting vehicle you often don’t find out until much later when saying something might seem petty. The same is true within corporations as layers of middle management increase some don’t actually contribute anything to the bottom line and survive only by reporting on others accomplishments. Such is the fate of managers where the Peter Principle is allowed.

      My rule of thumb has become that I will share openly but when someone takes 100% credit for my idea then you I don’t share with that person any longer. Or at least restrict my ideas to generalities. But I do cultivate relationships with those that give appropriate credit when sharing my ideas to build collaborative working relationships.

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