By Allon Raiz
Everyone these days has heard about fake news but, in my view, a more dangerous concern for small businesses is fake advice. Every day we are inundated by advice from specialists in this and gurus in that. With all this so-called incredible advice floating around, it makes you wonder why so many people make investment choices that go south, take strategic decisions that implode the business, and sign contracts that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
There are always problems and there will always be advisors who say they can help you to avoid those problems. It is important to be able to discern between valuable advice and, frankly, bad advice which is self-serving and will not help you at all. Here are five pointers to help you hear through the noise.
1. Become cynical
When listening to advice, it’s important for you to be highly aware of the fact that everyone comes from their own point of self-reference. As such, they are likely to skew their input and advice to a version of the truth that supports their own self-interest and their view of the world. Listening with a cynical ear and being able to identify the link between the advice and the self-interest is critical. This does not necessarily mean that any and all advice is wrong, merely that it is always “loaded”.
2. Pay attention to the order of the advice
By controlling the construct and the sequence of the narrative, one controls the narrative itself. When people are giving you advice, always ask yourself why they are delivering the advice and related questions in that particular sequence. Then ask yourself how that sequence may be manipulating your own interpretation of your problems and options. By doing this, it becomes easier for you to decouple yourself from any manipulation – whether intentional or not – as well as the constructs and, very often, false choices being presented to you.
3. Listen for what is not being said
Contracts at least have small print in which important information is included in very small type that is hard to read, but which might highlight any risks inherent in the deal. Unfortunately, advice has no such small print. Any elements of the advice which may be important to know but which are not appropriate to say (because they run counter to self-interest) are simply omitted. Before receiving advice, it’s important for you to be very clear and specific about the information you need, and to ensure that the answers you receive speak specifically to those questions. There is always going to be a wrestle for the narrative but, if you have framed specific questions, you gain a measure of control. Another useful technique is to ask yourself the question, “What else is not being said that I need to know?” This can often lead to a very valuable alternative perspective that would not have been volunteered had you not asked the question.
4. Get a second opinion
When we understand that all advice comes from a point of self-reference and self-interest, we realise how important it is to solicit advice from multiple sources so we can create a three-dimensional perspective of the issue. It is critical for you to be able to synthesise the commonalities and disparities between your various sources of advice so you can make a definite decision on the way forward. Just remember, the unintended consequence of getting advice from multiples sources is that it can lead to confusion and indecision.
5. Get a mentor
As clichéd as this may sound, it is extremely important to find a mentor who has absolutely no vested in your business and who can offer you more objective advice. This will at least remove one of the two influences to which most advisors are prone, namely, self-interest. You need to be vulnerable with your mentor and allow him or her to be brutally honest with you. In fact, you should actively solicit brutal honesty … It is the gift that keeps on giving.
The irony in me writing this article is that most entrepreneurs I have come across battle to reach out, battle to admit that they need assistance and seldom take external advice. This is dangerous as it means your main advisor is the one who resides comfortably in your own head. This advisor is ruled by complete self-interest and will tell you only what you want to hear, and be quite adamant that his or her point of view is the most valuable one. The advisor in your head should not be totally discarded, though. He or she should have a seat on the panel of advisors you use to make the many decisions you need to make as an entrepreneur on an ongoing basis.