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The counterintuitive thing about advice is that although it can be incredibly useful, it can also do more harm than good. Advice is a double-edged sword, had certain extremely successful people listened to (certain) family members or friends for example, they undoubtedly would not have gotten to where they are now.

If you're doing something niche or untraditional, especially relative to people who are in close proximity to you (geographically e.g. people in your neighborhood or socially e.g. people you go to school with or work with etc.) many people will look down on you and think what you're doing is weird or a waste of time. They might generously offer advice to "stop wasting your time" and "do something else." They might graciously give you a detailed list or explanation of why you will fail or why something that you're doing is pointless. Often with good intentions. If they don't know you well, they might judge you and make sarcastic and funny jokes at your expense. Or just directly call you stupid. Others might look straight past you and very, very few will acknowledge they don't enough about said thing to understand it but they wish you the best.

How do you determine whether advice is valuable to consider and take or not? Acknowledging every piece of advice will clearly just lead you astray, at some point you have to create filters that block out the noise, otherwise the actually useful advice will become indistinguishable from the noise.

Heuristics for Good Advice

What's a good proxy or heuristic to determine whether you should even consider someone's advice, let alone take it?

  1. In the domain or field or specific interest or hobby or relationships or whatever you're doing, think of the people you look up to and respect the most. Is this person someone in the top 5 (to 10) people you look up the most on the axes or dimensions you care about. For example, has this person succeeded or failed at (and learned from) the start up game if that's the game you're playing? Is this person a kind, good-natured person if this is a relationship question? Notice, I said the top 5 people you look up to and respect the most. I didn't say is this person a reasonable and logical person who might offer a reasonable suggestion. I didn't say is this person a close family member or friend or teacher. I didn't say is this person someone who's older than you. These things are not necessarily disjoint, but they are not alone sufficient to qualify good advice.

  2. If you strip away the person giving you the advice, does the advice make sense from first-principles? That is, can you trace the core assumptions from the advice and reach a reasonable conclusion without any clear logical flaws? More subtly, does the advice-giver make an assumption that you know to be false to reach a conclusion? If you don't know for certainty that it's false, does it depend on other factors that they've missed?

Closing Thoughts

Advice is useful in so far as the person giving the advice has incredibly detailed context about the axes, dimensions, background, and domain you're optimizing for. Rarely will good advice come people who you don't value and respect.

Be open-minded, be gracious, be flexible, but don't lose conviction in what you believe in because of some bad advice.

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:24 PM

Perhaps you should counter unsolicited advice by actively asking for advice from people you respect.

Otherwise, the advice coming to you is biased in the way that overconfident people are more likely to give it, and you will hear it repeatedly from the people you meet often.

There's another importent dimensions. How specialized is the advice to your particular situation. If you read an interview in which famous respectful person advices you to do A and a less accomplished person but who has time to hear about your situation for an hour advises B it can frequently be good to do B. 

Minor nitpick: Doesn't non sequitur refer to an invalid inference rather than to a false premise?


It does.

Whoops, thanks for the shout, updated!

[+][comment deleted]3y10