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Advice On How To Ask For Advice

Advice On How To Ask For Advice

Most entrepreneurs are acutely aware of the fact that there’s a lot of stuff they don’t know about running a startup. This is why they are quite happy to seek advice, and they get this from multiple sources – by reading books and articles online, by attending conferences, by talking to other entrepreneurs and through mentors and coaches.

The problem with the startup ecosystem is there’s no shortage of people who are willing to give you advice and this is what causes problems! You ask three different people and you get six different solutions – two of which are diametrically opposite to each other.

How do you make out which is right and which is wrong? Part of the reason you’re asking for advice is because you don’t know anything about the topic, which means you don’t know how to evaluate the solutions either. This is why it’s so hard to differentiate between good and bad advice.

My advice for what to do with all this advice is simple. You need to ask for advice from lots of different people, grade it according to its quality and ultimately make the decision yourself. After all, this is your job definition – as the startup CEO, the buck stops with you.

You can’t shirk this responsibility and this is often the hardest thing in the world to do – to choose amongst conflicting bits of advice and then decide which one to implement.

It’s very helpful to talk to different people who have varied perspectives. In fact, you should encourage them to point out holes in your argument, and ask them to push back. The best advisors are those who act as devil’s advocates and frankly point out what the shortcomings and flaws are in your perspective. They help you to think about your problem from an alternative point of view and this can be invaluable.

How Do You Judge The Quality Of Advice

A lot of this has to do with where it is coming from – and you should give more weight to advice provided by someone who has skin in the game. Thus, you should take an investor’s perspective far more seriously than someone who calls himself a mentor and is happy to provide free gyan to everyone he meets.

Look at the credentials of the person who’s offering the advice. Has he tackled the kind of problems you have to deal with? Someone who’s already run a startup successfully in the past can be extremely helpful.

You need someone who’s empathetic – someone who understands you and your constraints. Ideally, this should be someone who respects you – he will not tell you what to do, but will help you to make your own decision.

It’s very helpful to write down the advice you get because this will help you to crystallise your own thoughts. Re-reading and parsing it will help you drill down until you get to the right answer.

It’s impossible to know how things will play out, which is why pulling the trigger can be so hard. The future is uncertain and none of us have 20/20 foresight, which means we’re stuck with trying to do the best we can. The key skill is the ability to be able to critically evaluate the different perspectives and have the confidence and courage to make your own decision.

It’s important that you learn not to blame someone else if you end up taking a decision which turns out to be wrong – by saying you based your actions on their advice. It’s very easy to find excuses for your failure, but that really doesn’t help anyone. You need to learn to take ownership of your problems and take the responsibility for making the decisions as well, irrespective of how those particular decisions turn out.

This is the whole point of becoming an entrepreneur – you can learn a lot in a very short amount of time, not only about the world but about yourself as well. And as you make tough decisions, you will become smarter, and your chances of being able to differentiate between good advice and bad advice will increase dramatically.


[This post by Dr. Aniruddha Malpani first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]