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Weekly 3: Not all advice is created equal


Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 14 · Issue #182 · View online

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

Summary: All advice is biased. And some advice may even lack relevant knowledge or experience. When receiving advice, it pays to evaluate the person giving the advice as well as the advice itself.
(~3 min read)

#1. Ultimately, you have to make the decision
Author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes on his blog that you shouldn’t take any one person’s advice too seriously.
Imagine that you’re facing a big question like, Should I quit my job and start my own company?
You then ask the advice of a few successful people you know, whose opinions you respect and trust: one says “Yes” and the other says “No.”
As Sivers points out, because they can’t know everything about you and your particular situation, their advice is really just a reflection of their biases and their own current situation.
There are three such biases that you should be aware of when asking others for advice:
1. Success bias
Sivers writes that when successful people give advice, what he hears is: “Here are the lottery numbers I played: 14, 29, 71, 33, 8. They worked for me!”
Success is the result of many factors, some are based on luck and others aren’t, and it’s hard to know which are which.
2. Underdog bias
When most people give you advice, they don’t want to simply repeat what seems like conventional wisdom.
But what’s conventional and popular to them is based on their surroundings, not yours. If everyone around them is quitting, their advice may be for you to keep your job. It’s an under-represented opinion in their environment at that point in time.
3. Creativity bias
You ask, “Should I do option A or B?”
They reply, “Zebra!”
In this scenario, they’re treating advice like a brainstorm – giving a wild suggestion to help open up more options. As Sivers notes, this suggestion “was meant to be mostly entertaining, somewhat useful, and probably not correct.”
So if you shouldn’t take any one person’s advice too seriously, what should you do instead?
For Sivers, asking advice should ideally be like echolocation: “Bounce ideas off of all of your surroundings, and listen to all the echoes to get the whole picture.”
In the end, only you know what to do, based on all the feedback you’ve received, and an understanding of your personal nuances that no one else knows.
#2. You want to be open-minded, but there are limits
Author and investor Ray Dalio writes in his book Principles that the best way to increase your likelihood of being right about some issue is to have “open-minded conversations with believable people who disagree with you.”
A person’s “believability” is a function of their capabilities, the evidence of their track record, and their willingness to say what they think.
As he puts it, believable opinions are most likely to come from people who meet two criteria:
  1. They have successfully accomplished the thing in question at least 3 times.
  2. They have well-reasoned explanations of the cause-and-effect relationships that lead them to their conclusions.
If you imagine people and their respective opinions about a given issue as existing on a spectrum, they will tend to fall into one of the following camps:
  • The most believable people meet both criteria.
  • Somewhat believable people meet one of the two criteria.
  • People who are not believable fail to meet both criteria.
As you’re listening to other people’s advice and opinions, you should be especially wary of people who are not believable: the ones who lack both direct experience and good logic.
As Dalio puts it, “they are dangerous to themselves and others.”
#3. Sometimes the best advice is no advice
Investor and philanthropist John Arnold says in an interview  that, “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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