How to understand the advice we get as entrepreneurs (and what to do with it) is perhaps the most important topic that 2019 has left me wrestling with. There’s so much more to be written and explored, but I wanted to get something down to help organize my thoughts before 2020 is fully upon us.
Here’s the confusing reality:
Wise advisors can give wise advice, but wise advisors can also give un-wise advice.
Un-wise advisors can give un-wise advice, but un-wise advisors can also give wise advice.
So, what are we as entrepreneurs supposed to do with this?
For starters, we need to sort advice and advisors into impermanent buckets so that we can focus and be most efficient with our learning at a given time, for a given stage of our company, or around a particular challenge or opportunity. The quality of advice and advisor can change based on context, so these categories should be at least somewhat fluid. To be clear, however, some people will likely stay in their buckets permanently.
Here are a few ways to think about sorting advice and advisors:
The Holy Grail
This advice is hard to come by. There just aren’t that many people in the world who have the wisdom (which fundamentally includes their own self awareness) required to give good advice. Additionally, there just aren’t that many people who can listen to and understand our problems dispassionately and with the ability to help us identify the structural patterns and problems at the root of our issues or opportunities. If you find this person, hold on to them. When you get advice from them, dissect it, explore it, come back to it, let it marinate - and, ultimately, make sure it’s not The Mirage.
This advice is easier to come by than I ever realized. And to be clear, in my experience, it’s rarely - if ever - malicious. In fact, it often comes from wise people with a genuine intention to help us. For this reason, The Mirage has all of the appearances of The Holy Grail. Determining the difference has everything to do with our own understanding of our business, our needs, our questions, concerns and so forth and our ability to think critically about advice in that context. The trick of The Mirage is one of convoluting the value of the messenger with the value of the message.
The Golden Nugget
This advice is the fundamental reason we must always listen for understanding and keep an open mind. It’s the reason we must remain hungry as a learner, no matter who we are talking with. Just as we can’t accept advice simply because of the person who offers it (The Mirage trap), we should not dismiss advice out of hand for the same reason. It is potentially the person who knows little about our business or our product who can offer an insight that breaks us out of being stuck or sheds light on our next move. They might not even realize that they are giving us advice. We just have to listen for and grab that Golden Nugget when it shows itself.
The Grain of Salt
Again, I’m not trying to be ugly here but just strategic in how we think about advice. This isn’t about individual people. Sometimes advice just isn’t relevant. Sometimes other people’s experiences, views of the world, or approaches to problem-solving just don’t match our own personally or in terms of our business. It’s OK. Just know that. Be nice. And, file this advice away somewhere. Still, I’d say to archive it, don’t delete it. Who knows, we might find in time that it ends up a Golden Nugget.