I learned to be patient with who knows absolutly nothing about my business, my sector, my technology or startups in general. Friends of friends and relatives in general. It is good to have patience because most of time they give you ridiculous ideas (because they know nothing of your business), but every few times you realize you got a very interesting idea, something that you would never thought, precisely because they have a completely different background and experiences.
But the type of advice I learned to ignore are the ones from "experts". Such as the case of the OP. They are usually founders and mentors, both experienced and newbies. The problem is that they think they know what is your problem, and they know what would be the solution. And worst, usually the solution comes with a lecture about how you suck on doing something you obviously should be doing, ie, following a famous advice from a famous person: "get out of the building", "do something people want", recently the "do things that don't scale".
TL;DR If the advice comes from some random person and starts with "What if.." or "Have you tried...", be patient, you will hear a lot of nonsense, but sometimes it will pay off.
But if the advice comes from someone who think they are better than you on what you are doing, and starts with "You are not doing X right.." or "you must do <famous advice> more", forget it, it is BS.
Mentoring isn't just about knowledge expertise it can often be about helping people gain perspective.
Last week I had a call with a new start-up founder. I didn't tell him anything new but the fact that i was able to be there for him to bounce ideas with him and help remove doubts or confirm trains of thought was invaluable for him and he wants to come back for more.
That is a good thing to listen to from an expert. I should have maked explicit in my comment that I thought it was a great thing to do from the author.
But the key point is that is always BS when the person you are talking to thinks he knows better about your business than you. And that there are some obvious thing you should and you aren't doing it that will fix your startup. This could happen with random people too - the same way an expert can be humble as the author new attitude - only is more common with experts.
I think the objective answer of why I think is BS is that an arrogant interlocutor, almost by definition, lacks empathy. If someone is sure about what your problem is, it is probably because he didn't actually listen to you, he is picturing you as a straw man and giving advice to it.
This is an interesting formulation, and I think there is something to it. "Fake" experts are (all to often) merely people with "too much self-esteem" and too little comprehension of context. "Expertise" is too often a crutch for those looking to assert some sort of claim to social rank or status. Or, polish their "brand" for future 'business opportunities'.
The flipside of the analysis, however, is the juxtaposition of "objective" with "lacking empathy". Both are two ways to de-emotionalize a subject, and it is a good rule-of-thumb to ask if what you are seeing is one or the other. Also, to make sure you have enough resolution to distinquish the two variations. After all, it is quite common empirically for people to become emotionally attached to home-grown ideas,[0,1] and this is in fact quite common with startup founders .
What is juxtaposed here are insiders and the outsiders both of which are fighting for credibility and influence. And ultimately, the prize of "being right". There are times when having high-powered incentives and/or low-powered incentives either work or don't work in bringing to bear a new light on the subject.
Ultimately one needs to be a ~visionary (not run of the mill), or truly from left-field.
 "Not invented here syndrome"
 There is an emprical behavioural bias about "switching" opinions, even on trivially important positions, provided that the information on the position has bee made public to a peer group.
 Which, if unchecked, classically leads to the installation of a new CEO.
But when they say "here are the things I tried in this circumstance, and here's how they went" then they're reporting their actual experience (rather than imagining yours) and you are able to take their actual experience and apply lessons learned to your actual experience.
 in aggregate -- while any given piece of advice may be helpful, other advice may be the opposite, and there is no reliable way to determine which is which.
When I use a product, whether it's a blender or a website, the producer's business goals aren't really my problem. If I communicate to them at all as a customer, my only relevant area of expertise is how I use their product. (And possibly how I would like to use their product, if it were improved in some way I would prefer.)
Is that advice you would ignore or should I instead show you experiences or link to other sites who do something similar?
Advice and ideas that came from proven and experienced people were often better and more useful but only because that meant I didn't have to spend so much time researching them to see if they might work for me or figuring out the potential pitfalls - the ideas themselves were no better or worse than if they'd come from someone "unqualified".
Regarding the 'impostor syndrome' problem, that doesn't really enter into the equation if the person listening to your ideas and advice is sensible. No one just blindly goes and does what someone outside of their startup tells them to do, regardless of how much respect they might have for that individual.
 Anyone who gets offended by someone offering well-meaning advice is an idiot and probably wouldn't have listened even if that advice was based on a mountain of prior experience.
I don't think the point was, "Don't tell them about things that might help them." I understood it more as, "Tell them things, but do it in reference of what worked in your experience. Then let them decide whether that might work in their experience."
Before: "You should try (this thing). It's awesome for (whatever it does) because (x, y, z)."
After: "At (my place), we use (this thing). It's been great for us at (whatever it does) because (x, y, z)."
Basically, you're removing the implicit assumption that you know better than the person you're speaking with about what would work for their business.
Bingo. I feel that that from a psychological perspective the way you word advice can dictate how well it's received.
"I think you should do X", or even worse "You're doing that wrong, you should be doing X" isn't generally something that people digest hearing that well.
"I've done X in that exact situation and it worked really well for me" can be much more palatable.
But the usefulness of the insight you're able to provide is an essentially separate issue from coming across as a jerk who blithely insists they can fix others' business. It's possible to discuss your experiences with Y in great detail and still be that jerk (because you come across as assuming that experience must be relevant and your way of doing it was right), and conversely possible to have no experience of Y whatsoever other than reading an article on it and still be asking a very reasonable question
If someone thinks you're an asshole for simply for asking whether they'd considered a Salesforce integration, they're almost certainly the asshole.
Honestly; I've founded many different businesses over the past 20 years (of varying levels of success), and I get really tired of people telling me everything I'm doing wrong.
If I wanted to hear what I'm doing wrong, I'd call my parents or talk to the wife.
Interesting because I think generally the experience is quite the opposite. Parents & spouses (never had one) tend to be over encouraging and much less critical. So I can see how you found that redundant since the critiquing was coming from another source in your life.
It took 10 years for my mom to stop asking when I was going to get a "real" job.
Nobody wants to be told what they are doing is wrong. They must choose to figure it out on their own.
It seems unlikely that after 10 minutes someone would understand your situation enough to be able to judge.
"You should allow people to log in using Twitter" doesn't mean as much from someone that doesn't have experience or knowledge of running a system that uses Twitter to log in.
It might be a valuable idea, but it is an idea rather than advice.
> "Members don’t give advice; they speak from priorexperience, letting you draw your own conclusions on how to best proceed.”
I can totally relate from when I was teaching programming or explaining math related stuff to other people. Telling what to do is like giving the solution right away: they will solve the problem but without making the mental connection for it to be able to reproduce the reasoning.
As a wannabe teacher, I just try to make sure people I teach encounter bugs, or make wrong computation, or biased proofs. He forgot a semi-colon? Good, let the compiler throw an error at him so that he actually gets negative feedback; if he does not understand what the compiler says, I'll help him get it and, when he fixes the typo and get the source to compiler, he'll get the positive feedback for himself.
There is a common bias when teaching. You don't expect to be waiting, so you try to drive people's thinking in the right direction. But good teachers make sure you don't give up in front of an error. Great teachers make you want to get errors.
Algrith, it was not exactly business-related, but I think it connects someway.
tl;dr: teaching is about catalyzing the process of encountering errors, not avoiding them
We learned a lot from experience and observation. This was the same class where we had to plan a new server room together even though the course was aimed at desktop support. And the same teacher who had us break our Fedora installs just to see if we could fix them. That was where I got comfortable with Linux.
Last in date: I subscribe to a coworking space, and on Sunday I couldn't find the IP of the printer. The next Monday when the agent gives it to me, I immediately write it on a label on the printer, to help the next guy who would have the problem. She hates me since then.
Previous one. Accepted in a (young) incubator. I sat there and there's a cold stream of air in my feet. On day 3, I asked the president (they're just 6 volunteers) to take care of the heating (Well, members participate 350€ to the fees so I feel entitled). I has ass-kicked out and she discredited me to other colleagues.
So yes, I give advice, tell opinions, take initiatives, have requirements and more generally feel entitled when I should. It really is hard to balance between taking the room that you're entitled to while not hurting others. If you have experience to share, I'm listening.
(Note that I'm living in a hippy scientist bubble where you have to work hard to make people take something personal, so I'm playing on the easiest level.. (plus, young woman bonus))
These two statements are in conflict.
People tolerated him because of his recent success but history was not always so forgiving to his brand of leadership.
An asshole doesn't care if they offend, irritate or otherwise cause problems.
What I try to do now is to ask good questions. If I suspect something is wrong with their business model, instead of saying, "You should do X", I'll try to ask questions that help them uncover the flaw in their thinking. Sometimes that actually happens. Sometimes they just aren't ready to learn the lesson, which is fine; maybe they'll remember the question. And sometimes I uncover a flaw in my thinking. That's valuable twice over: not only did I learn something about the domain, but I learned to be a little more humble.
It's good practice to not give out advice unless someone specifically ask for it.
The only time I break this rule is with my parents. Most people will not feel any gratitude if your advice turns out to be good.
They will, however, mentally blame you if it turns out to be bad advice, whether justified or not.
Most times people just want to chat or vent. As engineers and hackers we tend to want to "fix" things, to come up with solutions. Most of the time people don't want unsolicited solutions or to be told what to do, they just want someone to listen.
The thing about advice is it almost requires you to invest yourself a little in the other person's problem and advice starts turning into involvement, which can be frustrating when the other party doesn't follow the advice, as my friend almost never does. Over the years I found that he'd typically ignore good advice, get himself into trouble, come back for more advice/a way out of his disaster and then repeat until I was getting way too involved in his business. Which left me in a foul mood and our friendship on the rocks.
It's tempting for the receiver to take that advice/involvement as most people are looking for a little bit of help through problem areas.
But I've learned from him that it's often better to not get involved at all in other people's business, even if it's just advice,...no matter how tempting it is. They have to make the mistakes and learn from the experience themselves. And if they can't learn from that experience, maybe they shouldn't be involved in doing whatever it is they're doing.
This is really hard to do though, especially for engineer types who view the world as a sequence of problems. There's a lot of pop-sociology that men like to fix things and women like to talk about things, which is used to explain the constant need for guys to give advice, and often results in relationship counseling like "just listen to your girlfriend/wife, that's all she wants, she's emotionally processing".
I think it's a bit too gender biased so I've taken that idea and reworked it to "most people just want to vent or verbally process their issues". Just listen to them, nod a bit, if you have a similar situation try and and talk about it too, but don't focus on how you solved it, just dialog. For many people, it's about ordering their thoughts so the solution presents itself to them.
For my friend, he's started to realize where lots of his life faults are, and is slowly coming to the realization that they aren't good long-term things to carry around. He's looking at lots of digging to get himself out of some bad problems he's gotten into, so he keeps looking for an easier alternative/other way out. But letting him talk things out helps him see that he's really only got one choice, and it's going to take a long time to do it.
There exists a certain type of person who believes deep down that this behavior serves as the basis of friendship. And more, that anyone not willing to listen is not a friend.
The sad part is that without the drama, they wouldn't really know how to connect to others. To someone who enjoys the notion of seeming supportive, compassionate, these ne'er-do-wells offer a unique opportunity to give constantly - one gives time, attention, advice, support, and it just disappears down a deep, dark well.
This is where "assistance" crosses over into "enablement". The most compassionate thing you can do is cut such a person off, and force them to deal with their drama on their own. They may feel isolated at first, alone, friendless. They will feel helpless and unable to solve their problems. But that feeling of helplessness is their primary problem - and it's not true. The human mind, every human mind, is powerful. In the depths of their despair, they can and will discover their agency in this world, and more often than not will emerge from their isolation with a newfound strength with which they may be able to participate in a relationship, rather than just consume the goodwill of others.
It may seem like self-serving advice, as listening to someone endlessly speak of their fears, doubts, injustices, etc is frustrating and annoying. But it is far worse for them - you only endure it on occasion, but this litany of negativity is constantly rolling around in their head. The real motivation of talking to you is that talking to you will get the words out of their head and make them stop. They aren't looking for advice, just the chance of a brief respite from the incessantly negative thinking. This is the same way in which drug users start using the drugs just to get a brief respite from the pain of not doing the drug. And the solution is the same: stop using, go through the horrible pain of withdrawal, and claim your dignity as human being. Then rejoice together, as real friends do.
Before you can solve a problem or take action, you first have to accept that there is a problem and action needs to be taken. That acceptance is an emotional thing. It isn't a product of reason or intellect. It's not so much that men do not emotionally process, but rather, people who are not in tune with their emotions and suck at it will try to use reason to talk themselves into acceptance. And it never works.
For people who are more in tuned with the heart of things, watching someone like that is like watching someone going around and around in circles, using the wrong part of their consciousness. Furthermore, the only way to be in tune with your emotion is to acknowledge and experience those emotions. You cannot force someone to fully experience something. The powers of human denial and aversion are very creative.
However, once you've emotionally accepted that there is a problem and action needs to be taken, it is from there that reasoning and problem solving skills allows you to quickly get stuff done.
Mindfully listening to someone as they speak allows them to feel safe to touch those emotions within themselves. It's called "holding space". And this practice requires you to stop "waiting for the other person to speak". You are simply witnessing someone work this stuff out.
There have been countless times when I wanted to go up to an attractive woman and just start talking to her. But, I feared rejection. So usually I sit there, mulling over about it while watching her from the corner of my eyes. (Which is really creepy for the women). My mind comes up with any number of scenarios, reasons, narratives to try to get me to go talk with her. Or, perhaps, I try to come up with worst case scenarios.
I recognize now that, those thoughts I come up with are ways for me to avoid feeling fear that is arising in that moment. It was much more comfortable coming up with ideas or thinking about things than it is to touch that fear of rejection. I'm used to thinking.
These days, the attitude I have is simply that I'm being friendly, and there's no expectation of that. I'm making an invitation to be friendly and leaving it at that superficial chit-chat. Someone might decline the invitation, and that's ok.
To get to that point though, I've made deep dives into the fear, into the things this touches.
Being able to chit-chat with strangers is nice. What is nicer is when I come to a technical decision that involve things like cutting out code I've vested a lot of effort in, because it does not work. Rather than trying to come up with why it does not work, I now know how to emotionally accept that this needs to happen. Then I cut it away and move on to getting it done.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
After I hear it or say it, I feel icy cold and extremely rational. I'm aware of emotion, but it fades into the background and I'm "freed" of it to make decisions and think through complex problems.
Just reciting the Litany has never worked for me, but that has more to do with obscurations from my own mind.
If you'd like a free session as a trial you're most welcome. There's no obligation or commitment necessary.
Contact details: krmmalik.com/me
Hope that helps?
eg: I'm curious about your method, could you give me an example or two of a prodding question?
A simple example would be:
Person A: I have to fire my new employee, i dont feel i can do it
- Why do you need to fire him?
- Can someone else do it?
- What would happen if you didn't?
- Is it the method of firing, the person, or you?
But obviously the questions adapt based on the responses.
Does that help?
Happy to explain further via email or on skype if you like. Contact details in profile
His key takeaway slide was a simple equation:
Limited Life Experience + Overgeneralization = Advice
The full video has more info on how to get past the advice you hear and actually process feedback:
If they follow and have success they're a genius for evaluating options and coming to proper conclusions. You don't get any credit for the advice.
If they ignore your advice and it works out well then they just remember you're an idiot who can't be trusted.
If they don't follow your advice and things work out well they can resent you for the imagined "I told you so".
But worst is if they act consistently with your advice (or at least believe they have) and have a negative outcome. Your advice can cause people to avoid accepting their own agency in the outcome, and fail to learn key lessons while passing the blame to you.
Giving advice offers little upside with a lot of downside particularly in relationships you value. I like the suggested approach of talking anecdotally about similar situations in my own life or career, and my thinking and choices, and as far as possible some objective accounting for outcomes.
Humility and support is better than overconfident prescriptions.
I wrote "Stereotype" because all of us can be in either role. As a founder, sometimes you just need to vent to someone who can empathize. The only "help" you want is for someone to listen. You're not asking for fixes.
Whereas engineer/founders are especially likely to go into problem-solving mode automatically. Even when that's not really what someone wants, or needs from you.
EDIT: After writing this, I realized it's a bunch of unsolicited advice. So....yeah.
Thanks for that. I never started blogging although I wanted to, because whenever I write a blog post, I feel it's kind of obsolete already, because it has a view point that's too limited, too narrow. I "outgrew" my blog post in the moment I finished it.
Maybe by framing it as stories and experiences, they get more valuable.
It frustrates me when I start telling a story and people interject to try and solve a problem that I don't have based on a partial story. Sometimes I'm just relating an anecdote, there is no overall problem, I don't need 3 suggestions on what to do next. The next is already solved. You just haven't let me finish the story.
This is possibly not related but the article says to speak from experience. Can this be applied to job interviews? In previous interviews I've started with my experience stating what I've done in the past only to be interrupted and told they don't care about what I've done in the past, how would I do it in the future. When I explain my approach to Project Management or QA Testing, or whatever, sometimes I get asked if that's how I've done things in the past and when I say yes the interview is very short.
Maybe that second paragraph is how I phrase things, but if you've got experience in a subject matter you're going to base what you would do, on what your experience has taught you.
Sometimes it sounds like people want a completely new process that's never been done before, or at least isn't attributed to some other company having done.
1) Simply talking about another person's startup with them for more than an hour makes that person feel like they are not alone in a world seemingly filled with Googlers and Facebookers. I think the feeling of solidarity here sometimes even trumps whatever silly advice you might be giving.
2) Making meetings feel more like brainstorm sessions helps. I think there is value in "experience" and "expertise" or even just raw intelligence. I'm pretty sure that it's wise to listen to PG's thoughts on your idea even if it's to sharpen your views and beliefs. But the key to these being productive is people asking questions, thinking from first principles and being honest about the experiences they are trying to relate to each other. Needless to say people shouldn't force things on founders and founders should be smart enough to test things quickly and discard them if they are silly.
That said, the biggest thing I agree with here is this: You can't really gain a proper appreciation of someone's problems, their thought processes, and the full context of what they've already tried, thought of, discarded, considered, reconsidered, etc., in a few minutes. Of the "annoying" advice I've gotten, it's usually been the kind that leaves me going "Dude, that totally has nothing to do with the business we're in" OR "Yeah, yeah, we already tried that and it doesn't work" or whatever.
That's why I like your (current) approach. I pretty much never mind hearing somebody relate a story, and if it isn't helpful, well, whatever. But at least it doesn't present the air of presumptuousness and arrogance that just blasting into "oh, do this" and "oh, do that" does.
It's fun to sit around a campfire in the dark, though I suppose the smell of coffee is a good substitute :-)
Now, I am relating from my experience, partly because I have experience to relate to, and partly because the attitude I assume is one of offering or making available the experience. It's an invitation to hear it, rather than me trying to be a hero and fix something that's wrong.
One tricky thing is that it doesn't appeal to everyone. There are a class of people who are so inside their own narratives, they resent it when someone brings up their narrative. They feel that I am trying to horn in on their drama.
Typically, these days, I've been practicing the acceptance of people as they are, right now. If someone actually asks me for advice, I do the best I can. I still sometimes slip and say something, but (with the kind of inner work I am doing) that has been becoming less and less frequent. It does screen out the people who are still inside their drama; I watch them, practice compassionate witnessing, and just let 'em be.
No matter how much you want to, you just can't always fix things for people in the small interactions that you have with them.
And even fixing it for them isn't actually helpful unless you'll be there in the long run to take that responsibility for them.
That's why, even though it's hard and will make you feel less powerful, all you can do in these small moments is facilitate.
It's about not asking the question "How should (s)he fix this?" but "What can I do in this amount of time we have together to have the greatest positive impact on you?"
Another value is, when speaking in a group (we call it 'forum'), experiences benefit everyone who listens whereas advice is only applicable to the intended listener.
An illustrative example is "I did X and Y was the outcome" vs. "You should X".
Sometimes we find it limiting however, and ask that people not use the gestalt protocol. That's the exception to the rule.
It is not until you have racked up a bunch of failures and successes that you realize an idea braindump isn't particularly helpful. When someone starts offering a braindump of ideas, I generally assume the person just hasn't had a bunch of success and failures that are relevant.
I think the author's change is natural, as you can't say "Here is what worked for us..." until you have actually had some wins.
The key thing that I learned was that gestalt (as Don't Give Advice is called in EO) helps conversations stay positive rather than defensive. When I receive advice, I sometimes perceive it as "why haven't you done this yet" and my internal response might be "hey, I'm friggin' busy'
Experience sharing gives me the opportunity to say, "hey, that makes sense. I'd like to do [X] and can you help me explore how to do it?"
Since EO, my conversations, both on the giving and receiving end of advice, have been far far more productive.
In my experience, only the most cocksure of people would react to the kind of simple brainstorming suggestion cited in that way.
Perhaps those people are over-represented among those who have self-selected as entrepreneurs and this is appropriate for that context.
For dealing the rest of the world I'll go ahead and be a flaming asshole by advising that learning to stop being mortally offended by well-meaning, benign suggestions might be worth looking into.
It sucks when you talk about something and then learn that you're an idiot. But more importantly, you _learn_ that you're a dumb idiot, and then you try to do something about it.
Teaching someone else (even if they know the subject better than you) is sometimes the best way to learn a subject.
So continue being the dumb guy who gives advice. It helps you become smarter.
Sometimes advice is about the niche, sometimes it's about time management, time-to-market, hiring, firing, whatever. The answer has to be about balance - sometimes you know better, sometimes you don't.
I think the difference is that if someone gives you advice you don't agree with, it's important to (politely) say why you see things differently. Perhaps the problem is less that people share their advice, and more that there is a reluctance to engage with others to work something out. I really enjoy a good debate.
Thanks for putting this out there.
Glad to see you are blogging again and quite effectively at that. This was at the top spot on HN this morning.
The biggest problematic with advice is that you gave them against information you have received. Vision is much more than a few sentences.
Outsiders' short-term advice are most of the time contradictory to long-term vision.
YES. YES. ON POINT.
Thanks for the post.
I really dig how people are starting to nail the social tone-deafness and misplaced pride in trivial knowledge this involves. It doesn't mean you're smart, it means you're dumb in a way you probably don't even grasp.