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How Experts Can Avoid the Zombies

“Can I pick your brain over coffee?”

“Can I call you and pick your brain?”

“Can I pick your brain?”


Are you tired of hearing this phrase used in every way imaginable? For those who use this phrase on others, let’s count the ways in which it is received. Then we’ll look at ways to avoid getting your brain picked over until there’s nothing left.

You’re just sitting around waiting to help me.

You don’t know how to do something, yet you know you’d like to learn. So you see an expert who appears successful at that thing. If your solution is to ask to “pick their brain,” you send them your assumption that they’re not working hard at their craft and just waiting for the next opportunity to be graced with this question.

Wrong. If you can externally see someone’s success, you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg that peaks out of the water’s surface. Below that, there is the remaining 90% of hustle, hard work, sacrifice, and commitment which helps get the expert to where they are.

You must work for free, so hand over the goods.

How insulting is this? “Pick your brain” instantly quantifies the transaction as being free or complimentary. And I get it: everyone loves free stuff. But to assume an expert’s time and knowledge is going to be free is utterly ridiculous.

What makes this worse if when the person asking knows they’re talking to an entrepreneur or self-employed individual. Their target has carved success out of the very ground, working countless hours and spending money (probably a good amount if not all of their savings, as well as venture capital if applicable) to build something, and here you come with your hands extended expectantly waiting for your share. Please stop.

Anyone can do what you can do, so why not me?

This comes most into play with those “dream jobs.” I’ll confess, I’d love to have Trip Advisor reach out to offer me all the dollars just to travel the world and share my experiences on Instagram with all of the hashtags necessary. (HINT, HINT, Trip Advisor!) Or how about if Pixar offers me my own YouTube show to give a parent’s critique of their movies while being compensated enough to pay my mortage?

Sweet deals are highly sought after, but they don’t just land in one’s lap. Top dollars go to top efforts, and we’re back to that elusive 90%-of-the-iceberg we can’t see which helps generate those dream jobs. Unless you’re willing to build the same network and put in the same hours to cultivate a truly special set of skills.

Bottom line: if you’re asking anyone if you can “pick their brain,” you are officially a zombie. You’re the groaning, grasping, kind of smelly undead being stumbling toward your nearest expert hoping to come away with a bit of their brains… which—surprise, surprise—they are loathe to part with.

They’re coming for what you know.

How you can avoid the brain-picking zombies

Establish a free discovery session. Set yourself a time frame which you’re willing to provide complimentary expertise. It can be as low as 10 or even 15 minutes, or as much as an hour—but no more than that! By setting a block of time you offer to anyone, you can give away just enough knowledge to tease the rest of your services. Then it’s full price for the rest of your time.

This becomes largely useful when you get questions in many formats online. It’s easy enough to answer one or two questions, but if they start pouring in from the same source, time to bring up your discovery session.

Schedule your availability. This is on the expert to be disciplined with their “free” time. While being helpful is something to strive for, you can do so on your own schedule. By offering limited knowledge during set hours, you communicate to the requester that you are indeed busy and are being selective with who benefits from your labors.

If you need to, block off your calendar with your “zombie availability” and schedule your knowledge sharing in those time frames. There are also affordable ways to provide a scheduling link to prompt your zombie to do a little work and find a time that works for your schedule.

Have a pricing sheet ready. Many entrepreneurs and consultants neglect to drill down on what their hourly rate is, and they should. Once you can demonstrate on paper that you do have a baseline for what your time costs, your zombies can either be educated about your value or chased away to their next meal.

As this Forbes article says, every “yes” means a “no” to something else. When you say yes to the zombies, you say no to your brain’s value.

What do you think? What’s your favorite way to avoid the brain-picking zombies?