brain picking

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10 Tips for Brain Pickers

IMG_6978Let’s get this out of the way right off the hop: I am not going to pretend that I have never “brain picked” – I totally have. It’s a quick and inexpensive (the price of a coffee or lunch, tops) way to get the benefit of a more experienced person’s “pickings”: contacts, information, trade secrets, whatever magic is the currency in your field. It can be a hustling entrepreneur’s goldmine!

And yet, at some point a few years ago it started to feel like I wasn’t actually getting what I hoped for: I had hit the astonishing realization that business wasn’t just about having the right information. And yet, like Gollum chasing the ring, I wanted the Precious: the secret formula for my business to succeed.

I personally find the term brain picking to be distasteful, however it seems so commonly accepted that I keep telling myself: who cares, really? And yet, it makes me cringe (as do the phrases “nailed it”, “killing it” and “killing two birds with one stone”, by the by – try substituting “feeding two birds with one seed” for the latter expression and see how it makes you feel, not to mention people’s surprised reactions). But I digress.

Part of the rationale for building the Lunagals website was to offer up our pickings without having to be picked – self serve, if you will. We get asked to have our brains picked so often that if we always said yes then there would be little time left to build our own projects!

As it happens, I had a telephone interview just the other day with a menstrual product startup entrepreneur to whom I had been randomly (ie: without prior consent or notification) e-intro’d by a distant colleague – not a good foot to get off on – for this very purpose. Long story short, I came away feeling sad and a little put out, and wondered if there might be a better way to get the benefit of others’ experience without feeling gross.

Let’s start with a reframe of Brain Picking: we like Wisdom Harvesting, but you can of course choose your own name for your practice of respectfully requesting and receiving information and feedback from others.

Forthwith, Lunagals’ Top 10 Tips for Wisdom Harvesters:

  1. Check your motivation and expectations, particularly watching for the underlying belief that you can have the keys to the kingdom that someone else has basically done the work for. We are all about sharing, but ultimately, one way or another, you need to do the work, a fact that should be a source of pride and essential point of your business practice. 
  2. Be discerning about who you ask. Resist putting the Harvestee on the spot if you are in a competitive field. Even though you may share goals and values, don’t assume that they will want to support your project or endeavour.
  3. Consider paying for their time or make a different ask. Are you looking for free consulting or information that you are not taking the time to look up yourself, as opposed to the benefit of someone’s personal experience? Ask yourself: If you were them, would you say yes? Another option is to consider asking for an ongoing mentorship relationship (more on that in an upcoming post!).
  4. Give to get. Consider and even ask what’s in it for a prospective Harvestee to connect with you. The exchange does not need to be 100% equal, however there needs to be some meaningful attempt at reciprocity. There are things that you know that they have no idea about, for example, ways that you can bring value to them: watch for what they might be and offer them as your gifts.
  5. Be prepared. Read as much as you can that has been written by or about them. Prepare specific, thoughtful, non-obvious questions (the answers to which do not already appear on their websites or via a Google search). One brain picker once asked Suzanne at the end of the call “So, what is your advice on how to market products to women?”
  6. Be willing to tell the whole story. During the call I described earlier I was asked for a cherry-picked version of 23 years of my best business advice, only to be told that I was not to be trusted with a crucial piece of her business story. I have no problem with being asked to sign an NDA in advance of a call or meeting, however the assumption that her idea was so original (and that I, while being asked to offer up all manner of valuable information, was not to be trusted) frankly ticked me off and reduced my ability to actually help. Which brings me to 6a: Don’t Take Yourself Too Freaking Seriously. Never lose sight of the fact that we are all just people playing a game called business.
  7. Listen. This seems super-obvious, however hearing it can be less than fun if you are not willing to listen. On another Harvesting occasion I spent the better part of an hour feeling like the Harvestee was defending themselves against every question or piece of advice that I offered them. At the end it honestly felt like they didn’t want me to help them at all: they were too busy trying to look like they had thought of everything already. Trust us: you have not thought of everything yet: we haven’t thought of everything yet, nobody has: it’s ok!
  8. Be open to feedback and possibilities. Further to this point, be especially open to ideas or outcomes that you didn’t think were relevant to your enterprise. There are of course pet theories about your business lurking at the back of your mind that you secretly want Harvestees to validate – (this is also ok, but just be aware of it) – having them outed or questioned can be fun and surprisingly valuable.
  9. Gratitude and Presence. Time and attention are the greatest gifts of all: appreciate and use them well. Be transparent when you outline your vision, goals and self: you need to build trust with this person in order for them to be able to feel comfortable sharing with you. The more that they are excited about your project, the more support you will get.
  10. Follow up. I am surprised at how infrequently Harvesters follow up to keep us posted on what impact we may have had. It’s lovely to hear those stories: tell them!