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Brain Barter

Last spring my friend, Karen, and I were sitting around plotting our world domination (as one does) and came up with the idea of a networking group called Brain Barter. Our thought was that in this economy, it was critical to have access to lots of other areas of expertise, and that introducing the smart, well-connected people we knew to one another couldn’t hurt. In the eight months since the group’s founding we have grown from two to more than fifty-two, and the advice, connections, and camaraderie we have given one another has been invaluable—with everything from Web site design to frequent flyer miles, public speaking training to eyeglass frames, legal advice to architectural input being freely handed around. The only mandatory criteria we have for joining is that your first question be, “How can I help you?”

Why is this story useful to you? My hope is that it will spur you to step back from your standard approach to networking—which I imagine focuses on making contacts-- and take a look at what skills and/or expertise you have that could be valuable to others. Yes, we will remain a cash-based economy—we’re not switching over to wampum anytime soon—but trading skills and services is smart, if for no other reason than to give you a sense of the value of your training and knowledge. And while I know it can be uncomfortable to bring up this idea of working in trade, it’s a system that worked for thousands of years before the current one was devised, is still used in many parts of the world, and, frankly, doesn’t have the potential to break down with the same kind of catastrophic results.

So, how to begin? My suggestion would be to sit down with one or two friends who have a wealth of knowledge about something you’ve always wanted to know, but haven’t yet had the time or inclination to learn: whether it’s landscape gardening, building a Power Point deck, or designing a closet, and tell them frankly how much you admire their expertise. I would then ask them if there’s anything that you do that they have always wanted to find out more about. While the answer for this might seem self-evident, perhaps because you have a string of letters after your name proclaiming your expertise in an arena, it’s possible you’ll also get some answers that surprise you because we all have talents we so take for granted that we no longer even think of them as talents—they’re just what we do, or something we’ve learned about but consider a hobby, and therefore not worth much.

But these talents can be gold—or, at least, worth their weight in gold. If, or example, you have a friend who’s made a hobby of gardening then having that person come put in a vegetable or flower garden not only has the potential to feed your family, but also to increase the value of your home once your perfectly-manicured flower beds are in place. They, in turn, might prize your ability to turn a phrase and so, ask you to review their marketing copy, website schemata, and the like, all of which has the potential to increase their revenues. With regard to keeping the barter “even,” I suggest keeping a log of hours spent and make sure that stays equal, as you never want others to feel you’ve taken advantage of them.

If you’re feeling ambitious enough to want a start a group of your own, the most important piece of advice I can offer is to ensure that those who join are as anxious to give as they are to receive. This is the only way we’ve found to ensure everyone leaves feeling they’ve gotten the most for their smarts.

Learn more about Brain Barter here.