Whenever we start out with new prospects, it’s only natural that we go out seeking advice from successful individuals in our field. Sometimes that means reading articles (such as these), and sometimes that means going to networking events and talking to people about how they started out or gained success. Advice can be formative for setting us on the right direction for our goals and directing us away from options that may not be worth out time or could waste our funds. However, it’s easily possible that any advice you get in these situations is bad advice as well.
Just like good advice, bad advice is everywhere. Not only is it readily available on the Internet, but it’s also frequent during conversation as well. This is particularly true when you’re networking or speaking with someone in your field for a limited amount of time. Therefore, it’s best to think critically about the advice you’re given and take what you can from it. Some ways to identify bad advice include considering the context, what assumptions the advice is making, whether it’s truly applicable to you, whether it feels misguided, whether it’s replying to a question you really have, and how you can take the best from it.
What Does Bad Advice Look Like?
One of the most common ways of getting bad advice is not asking specific questions or asking questions. This means that the advisor must guess what we mean and where we are on our entrepreneurial journey. This is common at convention and networking events, but it’s also frequent in more accessible places such as social medial comments. These venues implicitly encourage quick-fire questions and canned responses that offer you very little value while possibly discouraging you or sending you down the wrong path.
Often this can happen when the question is vague or doesn’t give the responder much to go on. Of course, you don’t want to give your entire story in a quick-shot event like this, and sometimes even your elevator pitch is too much.
This can often lead to a question such as: “How do I break into X industry?”
And a response similar to: “Just do/make the thing.”
Or another frustrating phrase that misses the mark. While there are ways to avoid asking questions that are sure to get bad advice as a response, this article is here to help you deal with that bad advice once you’ve gotten it.
1. Consider the Context
When receiving advice, it’s important to think about the context of the advice you’re getting. The above example demonstrates a context where the advisor doesn’t have much time to think before giving advice, meaning that the advice they will be giving is rehearsed or stereotypical, since there is little time for thought. Other restrictive contexts might be:
- If another person is in the conversation when you’re getting the advice, their presence might alter the conversation or steer the advice in a certain way.
- The person who is giving the advice may know about your project. The more they know, the better advice they can give, even if they are an expert in the field.
2. What Assumptions is the Advice Making?
Unless the person giving the advice knows your entrepreneurial journey through and through, they are going to make some necessary assumptions about your project. In some cases, they will get it right, but other times should flag you that the advice they give you isn’t ideal.
To identify these assumptions, you can think about the background of the person giving the advice. You might consider what path they took themselves or what they generally see in entrepreneurs. This will help to inform where they’re coming from with their advice.
They might expect you to have less experience or education than you do.
- They might think that you’re developing your startup in a different way than you are.
- They might assume that you’re at a different stage than you are.
3. Is the Advice Applicable to You?
Sometimes bad advice is good advice dressed up in an ugly, discouraging, or otherwise mistaken tone. One way to handle this is to compartmentalize how you feel about the advice and then take what you can from it.
If you find that the advice is for someone in a different stage of the process or someone who has different goals than you do, you might still be able to salvage some kernels of advice or resources from the conversation.
If the advice isn’t applicable to you or your situation, and you find it to be bad, discouraging, or frustrating, discard it. Advice is everywhere, and you will find it again someday if you need it.
4. Is it Actually Related to a Question You Have?
Unasked advice can cause a red-herring that makes us divert our energy. This is because advice regarding things that we aren’t actively asking about may lead us in a direction that we aren’t intending at the moment. Acting on such advice may cause us to stretch our resources and stall us regarding our actual focus.
Sometimes it’s good to store this kind of advice in our pockets, in case it comes in handy later. Keep in mind that this kind of advice can lead to time waste and slow productivity, when switching tracks for advice takes you out of your flow. At the same time, this kind of advice can be valuable for yanking you from a creative slump or lack of direction.
5.Is it Misguided?
Sometimes the advice we get is downright misguided. This is most commonly what we think of as bad advice. Misguided advice leads us to take action that would lead to negative outcomes as opposed to positive outcomes.
People don’t often give bad advice on purpose. However, for this same reason, misguided advice can feel more convincing than some of the other bad advice that we receive. It often feels that it applies to us, and the person giving the advice may be convinced that they’re right as well.
Misleading advice requires you to rely on your own intuition and knowledge to weed out the good. This might also mean researching the advice a little more or asking someone that you trust about it.
- Misguided advice may come from mentors and advisors who are out of touch with the current industry and have outdated notions of what you should do.
- Individuals who are prospecting and forecasting future trends or development in an industry may also give irresponsible advice or may recommend something risky or untested.
- Someone from another industry may make a false comparison or example that doesn’t apply to or help you in your industry.
Whether the advice you get is bad or good, helpful or redundant, thinking critically about it can teach you a lot about your field, including how people perceive your work, what your next stages could be, and probably most often that the truest challenge of a startup is persistence, as this is the most frequent but of advice you’ll get.