Most advice is useless (Oversubscribed Weekly #42)

October 10, 2019 by Max

Max here. This recent-ish tweet from YC Partner (and my former investor) Dalton Caldwell inspired me to say a few words about how I approach advice:

Dalton is exactly right. A common experience for me when I was running my startup was that I’d seek advice from two people I respected, and each of them would advise me to do the opposite thing. Their advice would average out to… do nothing.

Thus, my hot take: most advice is useless. When people give you advice, they’re usually telling you what they would do if they were you. But they’re not you, and what you should do often isn’t the same as what they would do if they were you. And what’s more, the only knowledge they have of your conundrum comes from what you told them—but you may have unintentionally left out some of the most essential data in your retelling. You don’t know what you don’t know.

I approach advice as almost the inverse of the way I approach investor no’s. When an investor says no, a good approach is to listen to the no, but not the why. Unless an investor explicitly commits to investing if you change a specific attribute of your company, their reason for not investing usually doesn’t tell the full story. They may tell you you’re too inexperienced, but if you were a 22-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, they would still invest.

The opposite framework applies to advice. When you’re given advice, the least useful part of the advice is usually the specific choice the advice-giver would make. It’s the framework they used to think about your problem and arrive at their solution that’s the most valuable. Trying on their framework and thinking about your problem again can yield great results—even if it doesn’t lead you to arrive at the same solution.

We’d love to hear how you all approach advice. Do you have stories about the best (or worst) advice you’ve ever been given? Let us know!

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