Posted by: Marty Fahncke | May 12, 2011

Can I pick your brain? Yes, but…

Forbes magazine recently posted an amazing essay by Adrienne Graham called “No, You Can’t Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much”.  If you have time, click the link and read it.  If not, I’ll summarize for you…

It’s a thorough examination of the phenomenon that occurs when people want to tap into your knowledge, expertise, or connections…but they don’t want to pay for it.  It usually goes something like this:

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?  I would like to pick your brain.”
“Can I get 10 minutes of your time on the phone?  I just have one quick question.”
“Hey, let’s do lunch, I have something I want to run by you”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m honored that people respect and trust in me enough to seek out my counsel.  I hope it never stops.   (And if you are reading this blog post because you made a similar request to me, please don’t be offended.  I’m writing this and asking you to read the Forbes article so you will understand where I’m coming from.)

The problem is, if I said yes to every request I get (some weeks it’s 8 or 10!), I would never get any actual work done.  Also keep in mind that as a consultant and professional speaker, the product that I sell IS my expertise.  So when someone asks to pick my brain, they are essentially asking for free product.

As Ms. Graham points out, “…knowledge has value”.  Indeed.  I spend a ton of time and money to gain the knowledge and connections I have.  I read books and magazines, travel to attend conferences and seminars, listen to speakers on teleseminars and webinars, and much more.  It costs a lot of money to stay ahead of the game in today’s information-packed world!

One other point she makes is “I charge my paying clients very good money for my expertise and results. How would they feel to know that I’m giving out free advice? Not too swell I would imagine.”   Think about it. If you paid me for my services, but the next guy didn’t, wouldn’t you feel ripped off?

Now, I’m not going to be totally stingy.  I do love giving back to people and I love helping people.  So I am offering TWO different ways you can “pick my brain” for free:

#1  Every week I hold a live webinar called Midweek Momentum.  It’s a 45 minute session where I open up the lines so attendees can ask me any question they want.  It’s a great way to get a problem solved, brainstorm, or get some direction for your business. Sign up for free here:

#2  You can post your question to the “Wall” or “Discussion” section of my Facebook business page located HERE.  I’ll reply using the same format.

So there you have it.  Two great ways to pick my brain for free.  And you don’t even have to pay for a cup of coffee.  🙂


  1. Marty, the same thing happens to me all the time! I am getting really good saying no to in person meetings, but occasionally still give out a short phone consult. I think I might take your approach as I make more progress in preserving my time for important things! Cheers, Lisa

    • Glad I could help Lisa….good luck, and let me know how it works out!

  2. This is really helpful to me Marty. I keep reading in the personal development materials that we are to ask people to be our mentors, yet I value people’s time a lot and wonder what I would have to give in return. So to search out the people that are offering advice in this format is a great idea, starting with YOU, who I’m blessed to have met and spent a short time with!

    Thank you, I will share you with many!

    • Robin,

      THANK YOU for posting your thoughts so I can clarify this important point. Mentoring is an entirely different thing altogether from what I’m addressing in this post. Mentoring is an agreement and understanding between two people, one of whom has agreed in advance to help the other. I’ve been the mentee and the mentor several times in my career…and believe me, BOTH parties get something out of the deal. You have a tremendous amount to offer any mentor. Your expertise, positive energy and just downright friendliness are refreshing, and a mentor would be blessed to work with you.

      This blog post was really more of a way to clarify why I can’t just drop everything for the one-off questions that come up so frequently.

      Also, there are a few souls who have entered into “crossing the line” territory when it comes to asking for my time. There has been no agreement of mentoring, and it’s been a very one-way relationship. I know you would never do that. 🙂

      So your personal development manuals are correct…seek out mentors. And don’t be afraid you don’t have anything to offer them. Because you do. Trust me. 🙂

  3. you are a gem Marty, thank you for the kind words and for clarifying the differences in which you mentioned…

    Wishing you JOY today!

  4. Hello Marty. Thank you for posting my article. I’m glad you liked it and hope your readers found it useful as well. Healthy boundaries are good. And we should all be unapologetic in setting them. I give, but there is also a time to draw the line.


    Adrienne Graham

    • Adrienne, thank YOU for writing a great piece that inspired me to take some action. 🙂

  5. Marty – A business coach told me that he model was that at the end of a speech/presentation, she offered a free one-hour coaching session in order to determine if the person could be helped in a long term (6 months to a year) coaching engagement.

    thanks for the insight


    • You are welcome Bud, thanks for stopping by!

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