Be Careful Who You Listen To
Business advice is easy to find, and a lot harder to filter. Here’s how to do it.
Last week, I shared why I think “hustle” is terrible advice for most people.
It’s advice often given by “ultrapreneurs”; founders who have built huge businesses with the hustle required to do so.
And it’s often taken by people who never stop to think if they even want those huge outcomes… and the sacrifices to match.
For most of us, it’s an example of taking advice from the wrong people: those whose goals—and thus the path required to achieve them—is far, far different than our own.
It’s important to be self-aware enough to understand that your goals might be smaller than, say, Gary Vaynerchuk’s.
But there’s an equally dangerous risk lurking on the other side of the issue: taking advice from people who’ve never achieved your goals before.
Be Careful Who You Listen To
A weeks ago, I shared a thought inspired by a growing trend in the “business advice” world:
I find it baffling to see "influencers" on Twitter talking about startup growth when they've never started a company. Please stop.— Alex Turnbull (@alexmturnbull) March 21, 2017
This post isn’t meant to give advice to the people I call out in that Tweet. I don’t really think they’d listen to me.
But instead, this post is meant to help you catch bad advice before you take action on it.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking Any Advice
Chris Sacca, one of the most successful startup investors of all time, told the Dropbox co-founders that they should pivot rather than take on Google.
I passed on @Dropbox because I had already been using what became GDrive and told the founders Google would crush them. Sigh.— Chris Sacca (@sacca) July 12, 2015
Imagine how different things would be if the founders had listened to the advice of a brilliant, successful entrepreneur and investor.
Figuring out what advice to take and what to ignore is something that I still struggle with, and something I suspect I’ll always struggle with, but I’ve gotten much better about it.
Over time, I’ve honed in on five questions that I ask myself about every piece of advice that I’m considering. I’ve found these questions to be really valuable when it comes to deciding how to act on advice, or if I even should.
1) What’s the advisor’s perspective for this advice?
I remember in college, one of the most common questions that incoming freshmen asked older students was: “which classes should I take?”
The problem was that some students want the classes that would challenge them and that they’d learn the most from, while others wanted the classes that would be easiest and would let them get the best grades for the least amount of effort.
For obvious reasons, whichever perspective the student had make a huge impact on the advice that they gave.
The same is true today.
Not everyone you ask for advice is looking for the same outcome as you are.
Some might be giving you advice that’s best if you want your business to grow slowly and sustainably, or if you want to scale rapidly and sell the company, or attract new investors…the best course of action is often very different in all of these scenarios.
Consider not just the advice, but the perspective that motivates it.
2) How closely does their experience mirror my own?
While it’s helpful to get advice from people with experience that’s different from yours, that’s also a factor to consider when figuring out if the advice is relevant to you or not.
We tend to give advice from the perspective of “well, here’s what I would do…”
But if the advisor’s experience is vastly different—for example, if they raised venture funding and consistently had 18+ months of runway in the bank—then their advice will likely be colored by that. In that example, their advice might be to take bigger risks than what you’re comfortable with in your cash-strapped position.
When taking advice, always take the context of the person’s experience into account.
3) What are my own biases regarding this advice?
One unfortunate-but-inescapable truth of being human is that we’re a lot more likely to take advice if it validates our existing beliefs than if it contradicts them.
So when I’m evaluating a decision and considering advice from a number of different sources, I know that I tend to subconsciously give more weight to the advice that I already agreed with.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing (as I’ll discuss in more detail below), but it’s important to be aware of.
It’s hard work to try and strip your biases as you consider advice, but recognizing those biases is an important step in giving all good advice the consideration it deserves.
4) How does it compare to other advice I’ve gotten?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was from a mentor who was telling me what he thought I should do about a particular hire I was considering.
He told me his opinion, and then he said: “and before you do anything, ask three more people.”
It’s the non-medical equivalent of getting a second opinion about your diagnosis, and it’s absolutely critical to ensuring that you’re getting insight into all of your possible options.
5) Can I live with this advice being wrong?
At the end of the day, every decision you make is up to one person: you.
If you follow someone’s advice and it hurts you, it’s not their fault. It’s yours. You executed on it.
That means two things:
First, always take full responsibility for any course of action you choose.
Second, sometimes it’s better to trust your gut and be wrong (and learn from it) than take someone else’s advice and be wrong (and regret not trusting your gut).
Getting Advice is Easy. Filtering it is Hard.
Getting feedback is one of the most important things you can do, both in business and in life.
It’s something I think everyone should always be doing.
But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by advice, and just as easy to forget to think for ourselves when people tell us what they would do.
I hope that this post helps you become a better taker of advice.