"Can I Pick Your Brain" Is A Cat Call

If you’re a woman there’s a 100% chance that you’ve been catcalled on the street. As uncomfortable and grotesque as it is, it happens almost daily. Similarly, if you’re a talented individual you’ve unfortunately also been catcalled, but in a different way. It’s not sexual or repetitive “just smile for me baby” lines. But, it’s a reach for your mind, skillset, or intellectual property and it’s just as likely to make you want to punch someone in the face. It’s the “Can I Pick Your Brain” or “Lets Build” email, DM or text that you repeatedly receive from strangers, colleagues and even friends.

Now if you’ve sent a “can I pick your brain” or “let’s build”  message to anyone, this post is not meant to demean you in anyway. Let’s instead, use this as a learning lesson that will hopefully allow you to build whatever the fuck it is that you’re wanting to build.

Here are 3 tips that will help you not come off as a complete asshole:

Be Specific About The Ask
You’ve probably gotten the hint now that using these phrases aren’t a great way to start any professionals relationship, but if you haven’t I’ll say it again. Stop sending “can I pick your brain” messages without any substance. Talented people hear this line all the time and it rarely transpires into anything. So, before you approach anyone be sure you actually know what you’re asking for. If you’re just looking to add that person to your professional network, try something like:

“Hi. I’m (insert name). I really admire the work you do, specifically (insert project) and would love to add you to my my network. Would you be interested in grabbing coffee and chatting more about (insert topic here).”

If you actually have a project you’d like to collaborate on, try this:

“Hi. I’m (insert name). I’m currently working on (insert project + description). I think you’d be an awesome person to collaborate with. Would you be available to chat more about your experience and rates?”

Realize That Nothing In This World Is Free
As budding professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives and so forth, we often have limited funds. That means that you may not be able to afford the best of the best talent, and that’s okay. “Let’s build” means finding someone with equal beliefs and aspirations as you that can assist you in your journey because whatever you’re producing is also something they’re genuinely passionate about. It also means finding a way to make this project worthwhile for the other person. If it’s not monetary, ask yourself what are you giving this person access to that they can’t get anywhere else? What are you teaching them that they don’t already know? Be intentional and honest about what you can bring to the table and ensure that this partnership isn’t deluged in selfish self-gain.

Discern Whether You Really Need Help Or Not
It’s easy to become infatuated with having a well-known person work alongside you, but understand that this also comes with new challenges. Everyone has their different work styles and that will definitely require you to spend time adjusting to one another. Additionally, it’s now a project for two not one. That means that this person isn’t coming on board to build what you want. They’re now trying to create space for themselves and something they too can be proud of. If you’re wanting someone to do exactly what you want, then “building” isn’t for you. You want an assistant or an intern, not a partner. Take a moment to ask yourself how this project will change if you bring someone on? What new skill set are they really bringing that you are currently incapable of doing? Are you just wanting them for their name or is this truly a mutually beneficial relationship? The answers to those questions may force you to reconsider your previous request.


Have more questions about how to properly approach someone for a partnership? Shoot me an email.

Netta Dobbins