Why You Need A Brain Trust (And 5 Steps To Build Your Own)

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Ever been stuck on a problem you couldn’t solve, and trying to find the answer on Google simply added to your anger and frustration? Chances are, having a brain trust could have helped you solve the problem in a few hours, if not minutes. What is a brain trust and why should you build one?

Historically, a brain trust was a group of advisers who aided a state leader in making important decisions. The first brain trust was formed around US President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. Nowadays, a brain trust is simply a group of your high-level peers. These are people whose fresh perspective on your problems will help you gain insights that would have likely taken many years to figure out on your own.

In this post, we’re going to explore 5 ways you can find and create your own brain trust, as well as participate in a larger network of well-informed professionals who help each other out when needed.

1. Harness Your Network

It makes the most sense to start with the people you already know. Build deeper relationships with your fellow freelancers, designers, writers, or advertisers, and bring their friends and colleagues into the fold as well.

Other good places are associations for your college or university. Alumni networks, fraternities and sororities, athletic or arts clubs; any activity you are/were a part of in school can be mined for potential brain trust members.

Remember that this isn’t your traditional network building. You’re looking for people who don’t necessarily share a common career, but instead a common vision for their lives. People who are going places and who want to have a support network to help them get there.

2. Send Thank You Notes

It’s hard to believe that something so simple and old-fashioned could actually be a powerful networking tool, but it’s true. People you’ve been inspired by, or who have helped you in some way (no matter how insignificant), will usually respond warmly to a short, kind note thanking them for the impact they’ve had on your life.

It hardly takes any time at all to send a thank you note, and yet it’s one of the most disproportionately effective things you can do to network and build up a brain trust.

It doesn’t even matter that you’ve been out of touch with the person you’re thanking for months, or even years. Almost no one will respond well to a sudden request for a favor from someone who hasn’t spoken to them in ages, but everyone likes to be praised.

3. Don’t Have An Agenda

It may seem counterintuitive, but you shouldn’t aim to just milk other people’s knowledge and experience; it’s slimy and most top-performing people can tell when you’re trying to always take and never give. Just as you’re building a trust of people you can go to in a jam, they also need to be able to rely on you to fulfill the same role.

Building a brain trust is sort of like networking in hyperdrive mode. To really get the most out of it, you need to become a master connector, i.e. know as many people as possible. You can do that easily by making introductions among your friends and friends of friends. Introduce people to others who might be able to help them, and you also create new opportunities to collaborate with someone.

4. Ask For Advice, Not Favors

This is related to the last point, but it bears repeating. Your aim is to provide value. Don’t be predatory or self-centered; remember that it’s not all about you. Think of how you would like to be approached by a colleague and try to provide the same experience to others.

A good rule of thumb is to give away at least 3 pieces of "value" to someone before asking them for something. It may not be immediately obvious, but a great way to add value to someone is by asking them for advice. That’s right. People love to give advice, and they love it even more when others take the time to let them know that their advice was not only appreciated, but followed.

If you receive a piece of advice from a brain trust "member" that worked out well for you, be sure to tell them – this is important for their self-confidence as well as possibly a good source of marketing testimonials for their business, if applicable.

5. Work Hard And Be Patient

Creating this kind of concentrated, highly effective information network won’t happen in a couple of days or weeks. It’ll take many months of effort on your part to build and maintain your own brain trust, as well as contribute your own knowledge and advice as it’s required of you.

However, its value to you and the effect it will have on your career will last a lifetime. Something to remember, that many people seem to forget or never really think about at all, is that if you want a good community, you have to build it yourself.

Almost no one is born surrounded by amazing, helpful people. If you want to break out of the limiting and often poisonous influence of friends and family members who attempt to smother you with their negativity or criticism, it’s up to you to locate a new "tribe" of people who will have a vested interest in your professional success.

Author:

Addison is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She's written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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