This Week I Quit Letting People Pick My Brain
Is there a more annoying question than ‘Can I pick your brain?’
It’s time to stop this. It’s time to say no.
Whether it comes via email, LinkedIn, or some other flavour of social media, the request is always the same: Can I have your time – usually in exchange for some sort of beverage, like a drink or a coffee – to ‘pick your brain.’
And, typically, the request comes open ended, the time unlimited, but for the sake of keeping this short, let’s focus on the problem and not its packaging.
What are people asking for when they want to ‘pick your brain’? Usually, it’s advice. But not just hum-drum advice. It’s never just ‘What’s a good show on Netflix?’ or ‘Where can I find a good hamburger?’ It’s career, or professional, or technical advice.
It’s valuable advice.
But the brain picker isn’t planning to pay for that advice. They are, with the offer of a cup of coffee or some other drink, making token recognition of the value of their request.
Because it isn’t really about the advice as much as it is about your expertise.
The brain-pickers are, in the most oblique way possible, acknowledging that you have expertise. But they don’t want to pay for it. Or they found themselves faced with having to pay for it somewhere else and hope that, from you, they can get it for free.
Expertise always, in every instance, comes with a cost. Maybe you didn’t pay money for your expertise in the form of courses, trainings, degrees and certifications (although most of us have), but you certainly did pay in time, effort, sacrifice, and trial and error.
Most galling of all, the brain-pickers want your expertise in pre-digested chunks, ready-made to apply to their problems. It’s a drive-by crime, the theft of ideas and experience to compensate for their unwillingness to apply themselves to their own problems with any depth or courage.
When you let someone pick your brain, it invariably turns out to be an oddly unfulfilling experience. The brain-picker elicits your expertise with flattery but seldom, if ever, has anything to offer in return.
Which is not surprising, because it’s never set up as a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship. What more can we expect from a meeting set up with the dynamic of ‘How much can I extract for the price of a cup or a glass?’
It’s the strip-mining of knowledge.
From now on, I’m saying no to all these requests. Of course, I’m just following in the steps of people smart enough to reach this stage of the journey a long time before I did. I’ll still try to turn these requests down politely in the future. I know people who don’t even bother to do that.
There’s more to be said on this: where friends fit in, how we approach our possible place as mentors, leaders, or other public roles, and so on. But I’ll leave those questions for another time (or maybe for the comments below).
For now, I’d like to say this: Let’s stop picking brains and start being present for each other in more open, authentic and mutually beneficial ways.
This Week I Quit is an occasional series where I share experiences of quitting apps, platforms, habits and commitments in a quest to live a simpler and more focussed creative life. Last time I quit night-time meetups and you can read the rest of the series here.