Stumped? Borrow Someone’s Brain

UPDATED: August 6, 2014
PUBLISHED: August 6, 2014

What makes salespeople successful? Jill Konrath, author of Agile Selling: Get Up to Speed Quickly in Today's Ever-Changing Sales World, reveals their success habits. Here, in an excerpt from the book, she shares one strategy—brain borrowing—that helps people learn fast and move past the anxiety of little experience, in sales or other unfamiliar business and life situations:

Sometimes we just don’t know enough or, worse yet, don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re neophytes who lack the knowledge and skills to handle challenging situations or to take us to the next level. That’s when things can get really tough for us—especially if we’re on our own, unable to get guidance from a colleague.

Early on in my career, I bumped into a strategy that’s provided big dividends for me over the years. In fact, just recently I leveraged it to negotiate a much bigger sponsorship contract than I ever thought was possible.

Here’s how it all started. When I began my sales career at Xerox, I trained under Jim Farrell. He was a top-notch salesperson, masterful in his dealings with people and incredibly street savvy. I hoped that someday I could achieve his level of competence.

After a few months, I finally got my own territory. I was scared. Now I had to do it on my own, and clearly, I was no Jim Farrell. As I was sitting in my car one day, trying to get up the gumption to cold-call, my mind was racing through all sorts of tough sales scenarios. What if the customer asked me about our new product and I didn’t know the answer? What if they said they weren’t interested? What if, what if, what if…?

I was deep into catastrophizing when it hit me. I might not know how to respond, but Jim sure would. By thinking about how he’d react and using that as my guide, I could handle almost anything. From then on, when prospects asked questions I couldn’t answer, instead of sounding like a babbling idiot, I parroted Jim: “Great question. Why is that important to you?” When they tried to dismiss me by saying they already had a copier, I brought in his cheekiness: “Of course you do. That’s why I’m here.”

“Borrowing” Jim’s brain was a lifesaver for me. It allowed me to shift my perspective away from the angst that had paralyzed my thinking. Plus, it turned my problem into a question: How would Jim handle this? Suddenly my brain had an irresistible challenge to solve and immediately went to work. New ideas and answers quickly popped into my head, enabling me to deal with customer scenarios I feared.

Even though it worked, I was much too embarrassed to tell anyone (especially Jim) about my new strategy. I was sure they’d think I was nuts. That didn’t stop me from doing it, though. Over the years, I’ve borrowed someone else’s brain in virtually every single career move I’ve ever made. Sometimes I’ve used my more experienced colleagues’ brains. But when I really need to stretch my thinking, I’ll get more creative.

Over the years, I’ve tapped into the brains of Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Mahatma Gandhi, a couple of presidents and many of my customers. The ideas and insights I’ve gained have been extraordinarily helpful in discovering options I didn’t even know existed.

Many years later, I learned that “brain borrowing” is an actual creative problem-solving approach used by innovation companies to shift perspective. Hillary Clinton used the strategy when she was acclimating to her new role as first lady. She’d constantly ask herself, “What would Eleanor Roosevelt do?”

Next time you’re stumped by what to do, consider borrowing someone else’s brain. It’s a perfect strategy to use when you’re developing the necessary confidence, knowledge and skills to deal with unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. It’s almost like having an invisible sales coach with you at all times. Use it when you need fresh perspectives too. Don’t let yourself be trapped by your own limited experience.

I love the quote by former U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, who said, “I not only use all the brains I have, but also all that I can borrow.”

Whose brain are you going to borrow today? Expand your options by thinking from another person’s perspective.

Salespeople, beware of self-sabotaging behaviors. Find out what 9 actions you should avoid to succeed in sales.


Reprinted from Agile Selling: Get Up to Speed Quickly in Today's Ever-Changing Sales World by Jill Konrath with permission of Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright Jill Konrath, 2014.

Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.