The Brain Exchange
The Brain Exchange
20th Anniversary, August 1995- August 2015
San Francisco Bay Area Women's Brain Exchange


San Francisco Bay Guardian, Feb 2000

The February 23, 2000 edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, in its Culture Shocked column by Katharine Meiszkowski, printed an article called "Brain Tease" about the San Francisco Brain Exchange.

Reader's Digest, Oct 2003

Oprah Magazine, Nov 2003

Woman's Day Magazine, April 1, 2005 Or go to and search for Brain Exchange

Women Swear by a Meeting of Minds

by Marian Magid
Contra Costa Times

While ancient Greeks brought their pressing questions to the Oracle at Delphi, some East Bay women take their queries — with just as much faith and hope — to the Brain Exchange.

There, at monthly meetings in an El Cerrito home, they seek practical solutions to problems familiar to many 21st century women. What kinds of problems?

Thirty-something Sarah can't decide if it's time for her to have a baby — or if motherhood would interfere with her writing career. Bettina, an earnest-looking outdoorswoman, wants to find a job with an environmental organization that serves disabled people. An artist named Anna is thinking about renting out a room in her small home but isn't sure how to avoid a "tenant from hell" who would upset her quiet life.

At the Brain Exchange, these women all got suggestions — lots of suggestions.

The group gathers in the home of one of its founders, Anita Goldstein. Meetings start at 7 p.m., but by 6:45 all of the 20 or so seats are taken, and late-comers have to squeeze into the back of the room or sit on the floor. Some participants attend steadily for years; others come and go. Most newcomers are with someone who has been there before.

Participants then pull cards from a deck, and questions are asked by those holding the seven or eight lowest cards. Topics have ranged from "How do I market my business?" to "How do I find forgiveness in myself?" to "How can I survive life with a teenager — or mother-in-law?" Other members then ask clarifying questions. When the questioner is satisfied that the group understands what she's asking, a timer is set for five minutes.

The timer's first tick has the effect of a starter pistol. The room explodes with rapid-fire tips and referrals. The idea is to give a brief recommendation or referral — and then stop talking. It's not OK to tell stories or to discuss or rebut what's said, and those who do get gentle but firm reminders from Anita. The result is dozens of succinct answers to each question, ranging from the practical to the far-out.

Sarah, the prospective Mom, is advised to "realize there is never a perfect time to have a child, "to "read the book 'Operating Instructions' by successful writer-mother Anne Lamott," to "spend time around new babies before you decide to have one," and to realize that "being a Mom will make you tired whether you're 18 or 64. "After a series of cautions, a cheerful middle-aged woman gets lots of positive nods when she says, "With all the accomplishments and travel in my life, I consider my kids my greatest production. Go for it!"

Job-seeker Bettina, a first-timer at the meeting, gets a list of more than 20 contacts for environmental work, including two that specialize in wilderness trips for disabled people. A look of amazement crosses her face as she whispers a nearly breathless, "Gee, thanks" when her turn ends.

Anna hits her own jackpot in her search for a renter. One woman says she'll send Anna a list of questions and some proven tips that "virtually guarantee you'll get a good tenant." Someone suggests a science graduate student — they almost never leave their labs. Another advises her to call airlines for a "tenant from heaven" — pilots or flight attendants who need an occasional place to sleep. Each comment is recorded on a computer by the group's co-founder, Susan Goldstein, who is not related to Anita. A few days later, everyone gets the whole list of brainstormed suggestions by e-mail. Everyone is free to use any suggestion, whether or not they asked a question.

Attendees can also send out pleas through a mass e-mail to any Brain Exchangers who choose to receive them. Recently, one woman looking for a ghost writer for her tales about seniors and sex got more than 80 replies.

There are no fees. Anita calls the many hours she devotes to the group "a gift I give myself and others." Susan says enthusiastically, "I think of it as a part of my social life." Other members fill in as facilitator or recorder when Anita or Susan is unavailable, and there's no need for other staff. There are no printed materials or RSVP's. Refreshments are simple: popcorn and bottled water brought by participants. And when the meeting is over, everyone helps put the house back in order.

Anita and Susan started the group more than eight years ago, at a time when many of their friends were "in transition" in their personal or professional lives. They had attended a brainstorming session in San Francisco and decided to try out the technique with their friends in what they thought would be a one-time experiment. The participants decided to meet again — and kept coming back. "Our goal is to help people discover the power of brainstorming to solve problems," says Susan. "Then they can use the technique in any way they choose."