September 8, 2009

Pick my brain

September 8, 2009 - Categories: life

Over tea at B Espresso (111 Queen E), Daneal Charney picked my brain about collaboration, Web 2.0, Gen Y, community-building, leadership, and other topics of mutual interest. She filled a few pages of notes with people, websites, and books to check out, which is usually what happens when people get me going on something. (People who ask questions during my tea parties at home often leave with a reading assignment. That’s how I make space on my shelves for new books and new ideas to come in.)

Towards the end of the conversation, she asked me if there was anything I wanted her help on. I told her that I find it a lot of fun to connect  the dots between people and other people, ideas, and resources so that they can make things happen. Fun? It’s exhilarating. Connecting the dots is one of the things that brains are really really good at.

You might recognize this thought from a few days ago, when I was reflecting on how I have a hard time arbitrarily reaching out to people to catch up, but I enjoy asking people for help on behalf of others.

Networks are like muscles. The more you exercise them, the stronger they get. (Although networks are more like neurons than they are like muscles, because muscles get stronger because you damage the fibers, while neurons strengthen synapses with useā€¦</tangent>)

Exercising My Network

The brain is a marvelous associating machine. One stimulus triggers a memory, which triggers another, and so on. The more raw material you pick up and the more you exercise this ability to make useful connections, the better you get at it, and the better you’ll remember the important parts. I’m still working on being able to remember where I leave little things, but ask me for book recommendations or stories, and I can probably rattle them off before I find my keys.

And what a pay-off! Sometimes a tip about an obscure software package can help a friend deliver a solution quickly. Sometimes an introduction results in great friendships. Sometimes a link gets a person to explore even more. Terrific return, especially as it’s mostly from things you’ve picked up already. If you don’t know something yet, you can learn in the process of helping.

At my last get-together, Laura Kalbun (who did our vegetable plot and whom I’ll keep recommending because I think her story is cool) thanked me for taking such an interest in helping her succeed. I told her how it lets me exercise my brain and create opportunities without having to do the rest of the work. She laughed and called me vicariously entrepreneurial. That idea feels about right. Also, it’s a great deal of fun.

That’s what I get out of these chats. I don’t need it to be a self-contained quid pro quo. In fact, the more thoroughly people pick my brain about something we’re both interested, the more I learn from the firehose of ideas, links, and resources. The more they get me interested in what they’re doing, the more questions I ask, and the more they learn too. Lots of win all around.

So far, all the conversations I’ve had like that have been fantastic. It probably wouldn’t work so well with people who reject ideas with words like “Yeah, but…”, or with people who expect me to tell them what they’re passionate about, but people who pick my brain are usually positive and passionate.

I think it would be awesome to try this on the Net. Maybe on Skype for an hour or two during the weekend? It would be great to take questions about practically anything, scaling from a one-on-one consultation with screen sharing to a free-for-all chat. I used to be an IRC channel operator. I can deal with multiple threads. ;)

So… anyone here want to pick my brain? What do you want to talk about? When might be a good time to chat? <laugh> Ever been to something like that online? How was it? What should I or shouldn’t I do to make it great? =)