How to Pick Someone's Brain

Many physicians and entrepreneurs need advice from time to time. Here's how to make the most of it when someone offers their time.

Do you mind if I pick your brain? Many of us get requests like this or ask someone for help, particularly entrepreneurs. The pickee wants to help and pay it forward. It also helps there is some ego gratification thrown in. The picker wants advice and maybe some wisdom.

Yet, after such interactions, many pickees hang up the phone or leave the Starbucks shaking their heads, wondering why they wasted their time.

Here are some suggestions for brain pickers:

1. Listen more than you talk. The pickee/picker talk-time ratio should be at greater than 1 (at least).

2. Don't disguise your request as a veiled way to use someone's network to get introductions or referrals or money or some other hidden agenda.

3. Many physicians start asking for advice when they have hit a roadblock in their business or ideas and now they are having pain and want someone to prescribe an analgesic, hopefully an opioid. You know how that is working.

4. Be clear in your mind what you want to take away from the meeting.

5. Be respectful of each other's time. Do you mind if I call you to “pick your brain” for 10 minutes?

6. Send a thank-you note, preferably hand written (remember how to do that?).

7. Do you want more than a “one and done”? If so, then ask and see if your pickee is willing to offer additional advice, what kind and when.

8. Create a to-do list based on the conversation and a follow-up plan. Let the pickee know whether or not you took their advice.

9. Do your homework on the pickee and don't waste time preaching to the choir.

10. Buy the coffee and offer to help in return.

It's nice to see that physician entrepreneurs are reaching out to their peers for advice and counsel. Like all things bioentrepreneurial, though, you won't learn it in medical school, so practice, practice, practice. It is not hard. Picking someone's brain is not neurosurgery.