Advice is to be processed, not to be followed

The other day I was chatting with a seasoned entrepreneur and talking about some of our favorite young companies and entrepreneurs. We started chatting about a team of entrepreneurs we both knew and he said, “Listen, I gave them some great advice and they didn’t take it, so I’m not wasting my time with them anymore.” [1]

His comment got me thinking about all the advice I’ve gotten as an entrepreneur. Turns out, everyone is an expert and everyone is willing to offer their opinion. And that’s a good thing – you should get lots and lots of advice and feedback as entrepreneur. This job is difficult and if someone can offer you something that helps you do it more effectively, then that’s a bonus.

But the more important thing I got from this unnamed entrepreneur’s comment was the following:

No one knows better than you what you should do.

It’s true. You are at the epicenter of the company and while you’ll get tons of advice, maybe 2% of it is unique, actionable and helpful. The rest is stuff you already knew, you can’t deal with and doesn’t solve your most pressing problem. That advice goes in the “quickly forget and move on” pile.

And while some people may assume that the advice they give you is like gold (like the individual I mentioned above), remember that advice is to be processed, not followed. Ultimately you are looking for proof points, suggestions or directional help from all of these conversations – with the aim of making decisions easier, better or less complicated. Don’t feel obligated to follow someone’s advice because they raised money from a high profile VC, sold a company or promises a potential partnership. Take the advice with a smile and use it (to the extent it helps) and disregard the rest.

I can point to multiple pieces of advice from super smart people in the past two years that was either spot on or way wrong. Looking back does nothing other than highlight how difficult this whole game is.

At the end of the day, don’t hide from advice – take it whenever possible as you learn way more when you listen. But also don’t be afraid that if you receive advice that you are obligated to follow it.

Immediately after writing this artilcle, there was a wonderful blog post supporting my points written by Paul Singh, partner at 500 Startups. The title says it all: “Investors Need To Lose Their Egos And Founders Need To Gain Some Confidence.” Pretty spot on and my favorite point he raises is “founders need to stop asking for so much advice — most of what they really need to know is already online…”

[1] I described this attitude to another friend who had the following immediate reaction: “What a douche.”


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