I’ve stopped giving other people advice. Well, not exactly. I still have as many opinions as I have always had, I’ve just realized that giving good advice is really hard to do.
It’s almost automatic that I’ll give you bad advice. Not horrible, malicious advice — just insight and perspective that are completely unhelpful. And almost always horribly inadequate.
Today, everyone has an opinion.
Actually, that’s always been the case. And despite how wise they might have seemed at the time, even the smartest people can look foolish over time.
- In 1876, senior executives at Western Union made the decision that “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. It is inherently of no value.” In early 2019 Apple announced that it has sold more than 1.5 billion iPhones.
- In 1933, the head of engineering at Boeing bragged that “There will never be a bigger plane built” after the first flight of the 247, a twin-engine plane that held ten people. Boeing’s own 747-8 can hold 605 passengers, and it’s long-range competitor, the Airbus A-380, can hold 853 people.
- In 1954, Dr. Wilhelm Carl Hueper, Director of the National Cancer Institute, argued that “If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” More than 20 million Americans have died because of smoking since 1964. That number continues to grow.
- In 1968, Times Magazine made the observation that “online shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.” In 2013, worldwide online shopping reached nearly $1 trillion. Goldman Sachs predicts year over year growth of almost 20%.
Everyone, everywhere, has always had an opinion. Some of them being epically wrong. The only difference between now and then is that right now everyone’s opinion is right up in your face.
Sometimes, obnoxiously so.
You can’t spend more than a few minutes on social media, your favorite news channel on television, or even in conversation with a close circle of friends without hearing advice that is spoken with audacious boldness — so much boldness that you are convinced the person delivering the opinion has some special information you are not privy too.
And sometimes they do. But most often, they don’t.
What they say out loud to you is based on what other people have told them or how they perceive their own life experience. They tell you how they see life, not as life fully is.
I’ve realized this lesson in the advice that I give others. What used to work for me in achieving success is no longer what I believe in. Those ideas are no longer the strategies and tactics that I use. It worked when it worked, but isn’t something that works now.
So when you ask me — or anyone else for that matter — for an opinion about how to be successful, you’re asking a hard question.
An almost impossible one.
You’re really asking what you need to do differently in order to achieve better results. And that is a slightly more complicated question to answer.
It requires a lot more information. A lot more honesty with yourself.
In truth, I’m the product of many years of hustle and hard work. A combination of who my parents raised me to be, the religious and spiritual beliefs that were ingrained in me at an early age, and all of the new beliefs and mindsets I’ve been developing proactively over the last decade.
My opinion today is certainly different from the advice I would have given you many years ago. It’s certain that I’ll have a new perspective in the years to come.
And while some life questions appear to be easy to answer, every bit of advice you receive needs to be filtered through the following six questions.
- Is the advice misleading or flat out wrong? — Just because someone has an advanced college degree or appears to know that they are talking about doesn’t mean that everything they say is accurate. It doesn’t even mean that well-intentioned advice is right. Sometimes common sense is dead wrong. By the way, statistics can tell a few different stories. A lot of the times, what looks to be a pattern is just a mirage. Do your own research before buying in.
- Is the advice outdated and not specific to what you are going through right now? — Times change. Strategies change. Tactics change. You’ll often hear a wise old man tell you how you should do it the way they did it. And while some strategies are never outdated, like hard work and honesty, most everything else evolves so much over the years that it hardly looks like what it used to be. You need to be aware of where you are right now.
- Is the advice incomplete? — Half of the picture isn’t all that helpful. Getting part of the solution might seem like a good idea at first — until you are unable to finish what you started. All too often, good ideas die because no one thought through the entire process. Sadly, you usually only learn this after you’ve failed a few times. It’s OK to grab bits and pieces of advice from different people. Just don’t blindly accept that part of the solution is the entire thing.
- Is the advice overly emotional and not able to be implemented practically? — Just because you have a rallying cry doesn’t mean that you have the weapons to go to war and win. Being loud and obnoxious isn’t all that useful — even if you have a job in broadcast journalism. Things that sound like good ideas are often just anecdotes meant for effect, not for getting things done. Progress needs to be practical or you’ll just find yourself angry and stuck.
- Is the advice based on your flawed explanation of your particular situation? — A remedy is only as good as the symptoms that you describe. Sometimes the advice you are given is helpful if you are describing the right problem. But you’re not. And so you begin executing based on a flawed premise. Regardless of how you got there, you’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. This means you have to be brutally honest with yourself and those you are looking to for help.
- Is the advice“forgettable and naïve”? — Sometimes successful people forget how hard it was to get there the first place. They can tell you five or six things that seemed to work, but often forget to mention how much effort it required to make those things work. What you hear is “this works” when you should be hearing “this works if you do it long enough and hard enough”. Dive a bit deeper into the advice that you get. Find the answer behind the answer.
Don’t worry. My opinions aren’t going anywhere. I’m still quick to drop my perspective in almost any conversation that I’m a part of — even the conversations where no one really cares what I think.
But when it comes to improving, the only thing worse than not knowing what to do is following advice that doesn’t work.
You might feel better in the moment blindly accepting the perspectives of those who seem to have it all figured out, just be careful that you don’t waste time buying into other people’s nonsense just because it’s easier than developing the emotional fortitude to take risks and fail as you develop your own insights and perspective along your pathway to greatness.
Be teachable. Be willing to listen and learn. Be wise enough to separate good advice from bad.