“Brain-Picking” is for Zombies

Here are better ways to ask for someone’s time

Joseph Flaherty, Director of Content & Community

In addition to conjuring a heave-inducing visual, asking someone if you can “pick their brain” is a waste of time — Absent a pre-existing relationship, it’s basically the equivalent of a cold call. Here are some ways to ask for time that won’t make you sound like a zombie:

Part of the reason “brain-picking” evokes such strong responses is that it’s a lazy ask. What exactly are you looking for feedback on? More specific asks are more likely to be met with positive responses:

📈 Do you want feedback on a biz plan?
📜 Someone to review your resume?
🗺️ Help in understanding a new market?
🗨️ To talk through potential career paths?
🕵️‍♂️ Intel on a competitor?

A specific request will be better received than for general “brain-picking.”

If there’s a piece of work product you’d like feedback on, send it with the ask. An impressive product demo or deck can turn “maybe” into “yes.” Even the busiest person will make time to meet with a product savant or demonstrably talented marketer.

Are you’re a rising talent? An expert in some hot field? Focus on how you’ll be able to help this person. Meeting with a random stranger is a chore, meeting with an expert in an up-and-coming space is an opportunity.

Demonstrate a familiarity with the work of the person whose time you’re requesting. For instance, instead of a generic intro, tailor your crisp ask into a format that recognizes the recipient’s expertise. For instance:

“I read your posts about SaaS, and had some questions on the finer points…”

“You’ve been involved with half a dozen travel companies, what do you think about this…”

“Given your experience raising $107M in VC, can you advise me before I meet with investors next month?”

If you don’t know the person you want to meet, send an email with a direct ask that will take less than two minutes to complete. Follow-up with a revision based on their feedback and another low-intensity ask. Repeat until they offer to meet you.

Send periodic updates on your progress. Follow the person on Twitter and offer to help when possible. Remember, the person whose time you’re requesting has a billable rate into the hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. Closing the sale might take time.

The startup industry is special in that it is more open to networking than any other professional sphere, but the opportunity has to be pursued thoughtfully. Aim for a meeting of the minds, not a picking of the brains.

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