Why getting advice is sometimes more of an hinderance than a help

How we discovered not to take advice from everyone

Let me ask you a question — would you ask a butcher for tips on how to make the perfect victoria sponge? Probably not. Butchers and bakers both work with food, but their knowledge and skills are in very different areas. So why is it that so often people make this exact mistake when asking for business advice?

My business partner, Mae, and I fell into this trap. We would ask everyone who had started a business for advice about anything we were finding difficult. And guess what? 99% of that advice was absolutely useless and caused us way more panic than it did help.

Fortunately Mae and I have made all the mistakes there are to make when it comes to advice. So, here’s a list of things you need to look out for and be aware of in order not to fall into the traps that we did.

Fexperts

Or fake experts. It’s very easy for people to just label themselves as an authority figure without actually know what they’re doing. My favourite example: I came across someone who is a CEO coach who has no experience actually being a CEO. Imagine that — advising the most important people in a company on very important matters without having any knowledge of what it’s like to be in their position. I mean, the arrogance is incredible really. So just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn’t actually mean they know what they’re talking about.

Pointlessness

Most people just like the sound of their own voices so will conjure up an opinion for the sake of it. It’s quite likely that at some point you will ask someone for advice and they will literally make something up because they feel they need to have an opinion or just want to be seen as knowledgeable. You know what’s more helpful? Being honest and not feeling the need to be the loudest voice in the room. Avoid these people at all costs.

CEO blind

Don’t be dazzled by a job title — higher up the food chain does not mean they know what they’re talking about. The reality is lots of todays C-levels and MDs have got to where they are through connections (remember they are still the ‘old boys club’ generation, so treat with caution), but even if they got there through genuine talent, they are involved in lots of high level decision-making and aren’t aware of what’s happening on the ground. So if you do ask for advice, don’t expect them to understand how the cogs work because their knowledge will be big-picture.

Outdated

Don’t ask someone about something if they haven’t done it within the last few years. People’s memories get foggy, so they probably won’t remember what happened. The more recently their experience, the clearer the anecdote will be.

There is no answer

If you’re looking for a unanimous response to a question, you won’t get it. Everyone has different opinions and disagrees about advice because everyone has different experiences and viewpoints. So embrace this and don’t look for a perfect answer because there isn’t one.

Endlessness

There isn’t an end to advice. You have to know when to stop looking otherwise you’ll be chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (spoiler alert for anyone still looking: there is no pot of gold, you idiot). The best option you have is to have a deadline and draw a line when you get to that deadline, whether that be number of people you’re allowed to ask, a specific date to stop asking or just when you can’t hack it any more. Don’t drive yourself nuts by continuously pursuing the unending and certainly don’t get into the habit of using the endlessness as a procrastination technique. Set a deadline, take what you can from the advice you’ve collected so far and finish your project.

Going back to the butcher/baker analogy. If you’re looking for the perfect victoria sponge recipe, we can all agree it makes no sense to ask a butcher. But may well be that you find solace asking someone who hasn’t necessarily made their incredible victoria sponge into a business but you trust hugely. So for example, your grandmother’s recipe. Conclusion: Find a small number of people you value the opinion of but you will go to for different things.

This article has actually been turned into a workshop by the author Sam and her business partner Mae. Watch or listen to them chat through the reasons for creating the article and how they’ve actioned these points in their own lives here.

This workshop is the first in a series titled ‘The Career & Self-Development Series by ERIC’. Click here to see the rest of the workshops — all are action-focused and designed to not only help you know what you want from a career but also find companies that are hiring, get in touch with them, interview with them and find people who can help you get the future you want.

Mae & Sam run ERIC together, a community that empowers Gen Z creatives through career & self-development content.

ERIC are launching a career and self-development app. Sign up to be an app tester at meet-eric.co/app.

Co-founder of ERIC. Likes writing, loves listening. Immersive experience obsessive. #whattheworldthinks podcaster.