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Be careful who you go to for advice

Written by Justin on October 2, 2014

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For this past week’s newsletter, I decided to share 3 pieces of advice.

Be careful who you go to for advice

Jason Fried talks about this in his essay Giving Less Advice:

I’m often asked for advice. I’ve decided it’s time I give less of it. There are things I used to know that I just don’t know anymore. Advice, like fruit, is best when it’s fresh. But advice quickly decays, and 15 year-old advice is bound to be radioactive. Sharing a life experience is one thing (grandparents are great at this – listen to them!), but advice is another thing. Don’t give advice about things you used to know. Just because you did something a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it today.

A lot of us want to climb the mountain, and ask the grand masters for their wisdom, hoping they’ll deliver the perfect answer to our questions. The problem is, most of them don’t remember what it’s like to start out anymore.

It’s probably better for you to reach out to a peer who’s going through the same thing as you (or just a bit ahead).

Update: Jason just wrote a new piece where he discusses this idea further:

I think it’s disingenuous for really successful people to put so much of the focus on love, just as it’s disingenuous for really rich people to say money doesn’t matter. People tend to romanticize their own motivations and histories. They value what matters to them now, and forget what really mattered to them when they started.

Start now

The advice I wish I’d followed earlier in my life: start small, and start now.

“The best time to take action toward a dream is yesterday; the worst is tomorrow; the best compromise is today.”
– Alvah Simon, Author

We wait too long to start. Every writer knows that the key to overcoming inertia is to just get a few words on the page. Once you’ve committed to writing a few words, it’s easier to write more.

“If you want to be useful, you can always start now. It will be a humble prototype of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. Start by teaching someone this week. Starting small puts 100% of your energy into solving real problems for real people.”
– Derek Sivers, Start Now: No Funding Needed

All of us (every last one of us) can be helpful now. We all have something small we could give. Start with that.

This all takes practice

The key to moving forward, and getting better, is practice. You get up, and you put in the work. You deliberately focus on improving your craft.

“People are missing the point about practice. It’s not so much that you’ve put in 10,000 hours; it’s that you’ve put in deliberate, gruelling, hard work. When Tiger Woods practices, it’s unlike anyone else practices: he’ll hit a golf ball out of a sand trap 100 different ways. That’s how you get better: by doing it more.”
– Nate Kontny, from this interview

Getting good, like Tiger Woods, requires the right kind of practice. It means tactically thinking about what you’re doing, and aiming to get better.

“Despite what some people tell you, you do have to work hard. It doesn’t mean you have to work 15 hour days. It does mean that when you do sit down to work, you need to put your head down and work. Get the fuck off of Twitter! If you’re getting distracted every 5 minutes, you won’t get any work done.”
– Chris Nagele, from his 2012 SuperConf talk

I love that quote from Chris. It reminds me that to accomplish anything of value, you need to sacrifice something.

“Making money takes practice, just like playing the piano takes practice. No one expects anyone to be any good at the piano unless they’ve put in lots practice. Same with making money. The more you practice the better you get. Eventually making money is as easy for you as piano is for someone who’s been playing for 10 years.”
– Jason Fried, Signal vs Noise

From a business perspective, Jason’s comment above had a profound impact on me. People aren’t “born” good entrepreneurs; many of them have been practicing for years (from the time they were kids, doing lemonade stands).

“So practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes closer. Every time you work at what you do, you’re one step closer to the next step.”
– Paul Jarvis, Practice makes closer

I love Paul’s approach: just keep moving forward. Every time you practice your craft, you get closer to your goal.

Readers respond

I asked my newsletter subscribers: “What advice has been meaningful to you?” Here’s what a few said:

The best advice I received early on was “never assume they can’t afford it”. When you are pitching your product, both you and your customer might be thinking about the cost. Try instead to promote the value. The cost is a real number that can only go down, but the value can go up – it may even be priceless to your customer.
– Mark Snape

You’re probably not charging enough; this advice keeps coming up when I talk to experienced business people.

Before I give someone advice, I think about whether I would feel comfortable paying that person ten bucks if my advice turned out to not help them or be bad. Like a refund. I don’t know if that helps me give better advice, but it helps me give less advice. That’s for sure.
– Jimmy Jacobson, Wedgies

Jimmy’s on to something here: sometimes we give advice too flippantly. We need to really consider the effect we have on people when we suggest something. If you’re not confident you can help someone, don’t give them advice!

It takes seven years, or 10 000 hours, to be a master at something, BUT you should practice with a feedback loop to correct and improve. That’s why everyone is not a professional cooker after cooking for 7 years for his family.
– Olivier F.

Olivier’s advice echoes Nate Kontny’s above. It takes deliberate practice to become a master. A feedback loop is a good way to manage this process.

I hope these insights were helpful for you!

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

PS: Want to get these articles before anyone else? You can join my newsletter here.

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