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Weekly 3: How perspective impacts advice


Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 13 · Issue #108 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Seek broad expertise. Think of your best friend. Ignore advice altogether. (~4 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue, and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the core theme: how perspective impacts advice.

#1. Beware the bias of expertise
In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli writes: “If you ask people the crux of a particular problem, they usually link it to their own area of expertise.”
To illustrate his point, he tells the following story: 
A man takes out a loan, starts a company, and goes bankrupt shortly afterward. He then falls into a deep depression and commits suicide.
Your interpretation of what happened likely depends on your background. 
As a business analyst, you want to understand why the business idea failed: Was he a bad leader? Was the strategy wrong? Was there too much competition?
A religious conservative may see this as punishment from God; a psychiatrist might recognize low serotonin levels; and a socialist would blame the failure of capitalism.
Which is the correct view? 
For Dobelli, the answer is: none of them. 
The writer Mark Twain may have summed up this bias best: “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails.”
Having such expertise isn’t inherently a problem. It’s good if, for example, an engineer sticks to what she knows.
As Dobelli puts it, the trouble can happen when a person veers from their field.
He suggests remembering that if you take your problem to an expert, “don’t expect the best overall solution.” Instead, expect an approach that can be solved with the expert’s toolkit.
After all, no single person, academic discipline, or field can contain all the wisdom of the world.
#2. What would you say to your best friend?
Authors and academics Chip and Dan Heath write in their book Decisive that when you’re making an important personal or professional decision, it helps to create some emotional and mental distance, so that you can view it more objectively.
As the Heath brothers point out, we have a natural tendency to overweight short-term emotions in our decision making.
Sometimes this makes us erratic and quick to act, like when we react aggressively to another driver who cuts us off on the road.
But more commonly, short-term emotions have the opposite effect: we’re timid and reluctant to take action. Or we see too much complexity and freeze with indecision. Or we’re afraid of the unfamiliar and worry about what we’ll have to sacrifice in order to try something new.
The Heath brothers suggest that the most effective question you can ask yourself when you’re stuck making a decision is: What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?
That’s because giving other people advice downplays our own short-term emotions, and gives us clarity about what’s important.
As they put it, “When we think of our friends, we see the forest. When we think of ourselves, we get stuck in the trees.”
#3. The best advice = no advice?
In an interview with author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, investor and philanthropist John Arnold says: “The unfortunate truth is that advice is almost always driven by anecdotal experience, and thus has limited value and relevance.”
To see for yourself, Arnold recommends that you read a sampling of college commencement addresses. 
You will quickly realize that each story is unique: “For every entrepreneur who thrived by resolutely working on a singular idea for many years, there is another who pivoted wildly.”
For every successful person who designed a master plan for life, there is another who was deliberately spontaneous. 
Arnold’s advice is to ignore advice itself, especially early in your career: “There is no universal path to success.”
Quote of the Week
“Any advice it seems I give is really just me saying my autobiography.”
- Author and entrepreneur James Altucher writing on his blog
Idea Journal
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