Advice and Context

Advice is a tricky thing. We get it all the time. We give it all the time. And we seldom know if what we are giving or getting is actually any good until we evaluate it in hindsight. As an entrepreneur, I've spent a lot of time speaking with mentors, advisors, peers, and friends asking for advice, listening to their stories about what they've done over course of their careers and how they've handled certain situations. As an investor, I spend a lot of time sharing my own stories and advice with other entrepreneurs.

Whenever giving advice, I like to provide a disclaimer that whatever I'm saying is strictly informed by my own set of unique experiences, and that the context in which I learned whatever I'm sharing is important. When receiving advice, I think this is a crucial thing to internalize: not everything you hear, even if it's from a person you genuinely admire and trust, may be relevant to your situation. Understanding the context in which they learned a lesson is key in applying that knowledge to your own set of circumstances.

When receiving advice, it's important to be very wary of people who declaratively state, "You MUST do this!" Unless someone is sharing something that is objectively true, like 2 + 2 = 4, then you must push to understand the context of their experience. The other exception is when someone's advice is an oft cited cliche. I've found that most advice-oriented cliches are usually truisms - they're tropes that have been learned and repeated over and over again (e.g. "Hire slow, fire fast").

I like to think of advice as little kernels of knowledge I accumulate over time that I can draw on whenever I feel it's applicable to a certain situation. Collecting these data points and refining how to apply them over time is a unique skill in and of itself. But, as the cliche goes, context is key.

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