Someone posted Adrienne Graham’s Forbes.com post, “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much,” on Facebook this morning. Graham addresses the lack of corporate etiquette and professional boundaries individuals display when they ask to take her (or other professionals) out to lunch or dinner as a data-mining tool instead of prospective business relationship.
“I can’t tell you how flattering it is to be approached by representatives from major companies seeking my wisdom and advice,” she states. “But often I find the road ends when they are just on a fact finding mission. That mission is to pick my brain to gather as much free intel and knowledge they need to make their jobs easier.”
Graham further declares that her brain “costs money to maintain.” She lists books, training courses, seminars, networking and mastering expertise as some of the expenses included in her professional maintenance costs, driving home a solid point many fail to see:
It isn’t always fair to assume that exchanging ideas – or “picking someone’s brain” – over lunch is sufficient for professional insight.
Ya Best Protect Ya Neck
RZA said: “Ya best protect ya neck” – and that’s not only what Graham was doing, but what more business experts should do, especially those who provide information-based services.
It’s one thing to ask for general professional opinion on something specific, but to schedule free personal time with that same professional for specific advice or services usually paid for lacks professional corporate etiquette.
Dr. Khia Thomas, college professor and professional grad school coach, not only agreed that a simple “turkey sandwich” wouldn’t suffice as due compensation for such detailed advice, but added that the expectation of “free” help has even reached a sense of “entitlement.”
“People feel like a cup of coffee is a fair exchange for information that it took years to master. Did YOU invest in these workshops? How about all these books I read? And everything I’ve learned over the years from experience? Refer [inquirers] to your FREE resources. Anything above and beyond that? I’m sorry, [they] must pay just like everyone else.”
Play or Be Played
Exploitative brain-picking is why I stopped accepting so many job interviews recently – especially for SEO jobs.
I spent countless hours preparing for interviews with so many companies, small business and corporate.
I’d artfully sculpt my answers for several general and complex questions regarding keyword research and search engine algorithms for clarity.
I’d spend time searching for the perfect simple but sophisticated business outfit to deliver a tasteful and attractive appearance.
I’d spend a great length of time coordinating schedules with each company’s recruiter.
I’d meet with the interviewer at their desired location, dressed to the nines.
I’d notice how precisely they’d write down answers to questions they asked me in such detail…
… Push me for more information…
… Push me yet again for more specific details…
… Review their notes before smiling and thanking me for such a great interview and promise they’d be in touch.
Then they’d mysteriously close their job search without hiring anyone after a few more interviews.
I quickly came to the realization that, for some companies, picking an expert’s brain was a matter of playing on their eagerness to get a job instead of taking them out to lunch or simply consulting with them for a specified period. Others I’ve spoken too have admitted this has happened to them as well.
Game recognize game. Game over.
Professional Etiquette: Pick an Expert’s Brain and Leave Their Dignity Intact
1. Engage them with respect. Ask well-framed questions that allow professionals to candidly reveal their experiences, including how they’ve overcome obstacles or challenges they’ve faced. Their answers will reveal insights that are highly valuable without forcing them to directly give up the knowledge they’ve invested in.
2. Have something to offer. Free lunches are overrated, period. Unless you’re more than willing to provide a suitable offer or sign a contract for consulting or coaching services, you’ll need to provide a greater benefit than P.F. Chang’s. Don’t be cheap or lazy – either be prepared to really pay for what you want (custom coaching or consultation services), or respectfully step aside so they can get fed by more serious clients who respect the value of their time with solid checks.
3. Buy their book. As much as I’d love to have Rebecca Lieb answer all of my content marketing questions, that’s what her book is for. Furthermore, that’s why she also has a Twitter account. Anything we say back and forth creates an open dialogue that’s great marketing for the both of us. Unless I’m ready to pay up, or have an offer she can’t refuse, attempting to bribe her with lunch would be a waste of time for both of us. (Besides, her book is really, really good.)