Principles for Taking Advice

- my-drafts

A friend of mine, Jack Altman, asked a very good question on Twitter that boils down to the following:

When you go to multiple people for advice, how do you decide who to listen to?

I wrote this blog post for myself as a guide for taking advice and incorporating it into decision making. Maybe you will find it useful as well.

1. Prioritize Both Expertise and Reflective Ability

In order for someone to give quality advice about a particular domain it is important for them to have experience with that domain and demonstrate excellence in it.

But while expertise in a domain is necessary for quality advice in the domain, it is not sufficient.

The skill of teaching is distinct from execution, and many excellent performers are not great teachers, as can be seen with many college professors.

Before taking advice, get to know the person giving the advice and try to determine whether you trust the person’s ability to reflect and effectively break down what worked well for them in the past.

2. Prioritize Guides Over Instructors

A marker of good advisors is they don’t try to tell you what you should do. Instead, they help guide you to making the decision on your own.

They often help you think through the decision and verbalize things you didn’t get the chance to hear out loud.

They will also often provide principles and frameworks to help guide not only your current decision but also other similar decisions in the future.

When it comes to advice on personal situations, make sure you make the decision yourself as only you have the extensive context.

3. Take Advice from Repeat Performers

When seeking advice on general principles that work, give greater weight to advice a person has successfully put into practice multiple times, and give limited weight to advice that’s only worked well once for a person in a big way.

For example, when talking to an entrepreneur who has built a single billion dollar business with a team of 100 engineers, you’ll get better results on taking advice on how to hire engineers (performed 100 times) or how to raise money (performed 5 times) than on how to decide what business to work on and when (performed once).

4. Look for Skin in the Game

If you must take advice on what to do, give more weight to those with something to lose if their advice brings you harm (skin in the game) and be skeptical of those who only have something to gain if their advice serves you well.

For example, if someone tells you to invest in a company alongside them, you can be sure they will not only make money when you make money but also lose it when you lose it. They have skin in the game and are a good candidate for advice in this context.

Be more skeptical if someone facilitating an investment deal is telling you to invest but not investing themselves, as they make money even if the company fails and you lose money.

Also be skeptical if someone is telling you to learn a particular skill or start a particular practice when they haven’t learned the skill or started the practice themselves themselves. The person probably has great intentions but the lack of first hand experience should be viewed critically.