How to Get Good Advice

When it comes to advice, quality is way more important that quantity. It would seem therefore that the most important thing about advice is where it comes from.

For example, if you were learning tennis and needed help with your forehand, who would you ask for advice:

a) Someone who is also learning tennis b) A recreational player who has played for 20 years c) The tennis pro at your local tennis club d) Kobe Bryant e) Jimmy Conners f) Roger Federer

Each of these people would give a different answer but it's obvious to me who I would listen to: Roger first, Jimmy second, the pro third, and probably not Kobe, the rec player, or the other student.

These last two weeks have seen a couple strategy changes at Kindara in response to shifting terrain (we decided last week we're going to Haxlr8r, a 3.5 month accelerator program in China). As a result we've been getting a lot of advice from our advisors, mentors and friends.

The thing I've noticed is that the best advice comes from people who have done this before. The more specifically they have done exactly what we're doing, the better the advice.

The best advice we got these past weeks came from Ben Rubin, co-founder of Zeo: a company that helps people with their well-being using bio-sensing hardware connected to software and support. Ben has done something very similar to what we're doing, and he's about 5 years ahead of us, so his advice is informed by direct experience solving the same problems we're dealing with. This equals good advice.

We've also gotten advice from people who have created successful companies, but not companies similar to Kindara. Their advice has been less good. This has been like getting tennis lessons from Kobe Bryant. Kobe's an expert, but he's the wrong expert for the job and I wouldn't trust him to tweak my forehand. I'd trust the tennis pro before Kobe since the pro has the direct experience.

I'm learning that above all else, direct experience solving the same problem is the best qualification to give advice. Just as a very small subset of professional athletes are qualified to give advice on the perfect tennis forehand, a very small subset of entrepreneurs are qualified to give advice on a particular business problem. I'm going to make sure the people I ask for advice are qualified to give it.

Some corollaries along this line of thinking:

  • It seems qualification to give advice bears no correlation to willingness to give advice. Nearly everyone is willing to give advice: so it's a buyer beware system. Be mindful to only ask people for advice on things they are qualified to advise on (ie. ask Kobe how to dunk), OR be willing to discount their advice.
  • Choose advisers carefully. Pick ones with direct experience succeeding at the same thing you're intending to do. And pick ones who expend the effort to get all the facts. Otherwise it'll be "general advice" which is bad advice.
  • Get advice from people whose experience is recent - ask Roger Federer over Jimmy Conners (no offence Jimmy)

Searching out the right advisors creates the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants and avoid easily avoidable mistakes. There are enough new mistakes to make without repeating ones other people have already made.

And lastly, you should be asking yourself how qualified I am to give this advice.