Candy is DandySometimes the question “can I pick your brain?” is no different than someone asking “can I pick your pocket?” Ideas are currency in the world of creative endeavor. Yet in the workplace, too often our superiors and co-workers goad us into giving away our own good ideas and advice for nothing, selling ourselves short in the process.

Today I read an interesting (and very pertinent) blog entry by California blogger Kevin Ashton. In a piece entitled “Creative People Say No,” he wrote:

“Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

“Saying ‘no’ has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. ‘No’ guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.

“Creators do not ask how much time something takes, but how much creation it costs.”

(Read the whole blog here)

Almost everything in that article makes perfect sense to me. Harsh? Selfish? Sometimes the truth stings. It so happens that true creativity is a rare— but extremely marketable— quality. Indeed, entire industries have been built around the act of hijacking the creativity of talented people and monetizing it (at the direct expense of the hijacked) for the benefit of non-talented others.

No one gets rich (or even makes a decent living) giving away their time or art to other people for free. If you want to excel at your craft, buckle down and do the the work. You’re in luck! This is 2013— a little bit of ambition goes a LONG way in today’s slacker-infested work environment. And should you decide to donate a portion of your time or attention gratis because you support a particular cause or project, fine. But your time is a precious commodity. Always treat it as that.

The world is FULL of people who want you to work for them, or to do THEIR WORK for them, for free. If you are dumb enough to do it, I promise you: there will always be someone ready to take advantage of you.

In short… choose your projects wisely, and always receive proper remuneration for the expenditure of your time and creativity. Because once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.