Nothing is as Bad as Good Advice

Yeah, I used to be flashy

Those of you who know me will remember that a few years ago, I used to drive a splendid red classic convertible. A Saab 900, 1987. Wonderful machine, wonderful handling and quite a mover. But it had some issues and it had to be repaired every now and then. My house mates at that time were unanimous: ‘Sell it. Get yourself a modern car, something decent. Martin, you’re going to burn your money on that car.’

So for once I thought I’d do something smart: I followed their advice. I’m not pointing fingers here, but it was the stupidest thing I ever did. That and perhaps that time I decided to see what would happen if I pulled the handbrake on a snowed-under road in the forest. (Not while driving my Saab though). Long cold walk to civilization, I can tell you.

I traded my beautiful Saab for something slick and 4 years old and paid much too much for it, and got a ridiculously small amount back for my Saab. In one simple decision, I lost 7000 Euro’s which is whatever, 10.000 Dollars or something outrageous like that. I thought that I was investing, but I was being dumb.

The dealership where I did that by the way, was chosen following the advice of a buddy. Turned out later the guy was a complete dick and ripped me off. Second piece of bad advice. I guess I was experimenting with advice at that point.

There was another bit of advice I followed a year before that, which cost me over 50.000 Euro’s. It’s a fun story, I’ll tell you some other time.

So I decided to completely stop following advice, all of it.

HughMcLeod anyone? Ignore everybody.

And I can tell you, it’s done me a world of good. I am now free from the doubt and concern that comes from listening to everybody. When someone tells me what I should do, I just shelve it and forget about it. I’ll remember it later and probably consider it, and when the time comes I’ll use it. Or not. My choice.

You may think it’s the same thing, but it’s not. In the different mental attitude, something fundamental changes in what you ultimately end up doing. I don’t know whether it makes you more focused, or more aware, but the final choice is in almost all cases better, or at least, successful.

When I do consulting, I do the same thing. I distinctly refrain from giving any sort of advice. Instead I just tell people that I’m going to tell them what they should do.  And then I say that it’s up to them to do it or not, I don’t care.

EDIT: I’ve just been talking to Peter Shallard and he inspired me to add the following: I don’t simply tell people what to do. I listen. A lot. Then I ask questions. Lots. And then some more. And if necessary, I will go on to the aforementioned. Just thought I should clear that up.

In this way, the choice is always better informed. It forces you to consider things as to what it’s worth for you, rather than simply going by what some authority tells you.

An example: JohnnyBTruant suggested that I use twitter, some months ago. I decided not to, because it just wasn’t the right time for me. I recently did open a twitter account and I must say I’m very happy to have done it, and even more that I did it when it was right for me. Timing is EVERYTHING.
So here’s what you should do: Stop following advice. And if you want to do your fellow human being a favor, stop giving advice.


  1. Hey, Martin;

    I think advice is occasionally useful, but a lot of it isn’t. For me, the challenge has been to realize, as you have, that the decision is mine, and advice is only input. As you mentioned, listening and asking good questions is much more useful than giving advice, most of the time.

    Timing is important. So is understanding What’s In It For Me. You see, someone else’s reasons aren’t mine, their circumstances aren’t mine, their limitations aren’t mine. So I have to figure out MY WIIFM, do my own due diligence, and make my own choices. Anyone who wants to “give me advice” had best respect that. When they do, their advice tends to be more valuable to me.

  2. Exactly, you’ve got it down to a T. I really wish it were something more understood and applied because I see so many people making the same mistakes I did: This person seems to know what he’s talking about, so I’ll just do it.

    That way, there’s a huge risk, because you switch off your brain and relegate responsibility for the outcome to the advisor whereas you should have and hold it yourself!

    You are the business, you make choices, you must know that those are going to work and above all, that you are going to do what it takes to make the advise work!

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