December 8, 2011 in My thoughts

Why you shouldn’t follow advice

There is plenty of advice around and plenty of people willing to offer it! Every time I look on Twitter, Linkedin, at my RSS feeds or the Podcasts I’ve got saved for long journeys, I see loads of advice being offered and lots of case studies, best practices, motivational quotes, and ‘success secrets’! There is a lot of good material, but here are three reasons why we should be careful about looking to other people for the answers.


1 – Not all advice is created equal

“82% of all quotes attributed to me on Twitter aren’t things I said”. Albert Einstein

When I’ve got a long holiday, I’m planning to read Einstein’s works to see if he did say everything that he’s quoted as saying as I am very suspicious. I’ve sometimes seen multiple tweets on the same day with the same quote attributed to different people which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The reality is that it is easy to publish a blog post and even easier to Tweet. Not all will be accurate and well-researched. Some will be rants, some will be opinion, some will be wrong, some will be sales pitches, and others will be brilliant. I love Twitter and I read a lot of blogs. My point is simply this; don’t necessarily believe everything you read.


2 – Advice needs context

Given a particular piece of advice, it is often easy to find a piece of advice that suggests exactly the opposite! It doesn’t matter whether it is business, entrepreneurship, fitness, dieting, social media, or productivity it easy to find contradictory advice. For example, my fitness has slipped somewhat over the last year and I’ve done a bit of searching round for a workout plan that will suit me and found loads of contradictory plans. I’m sure many of them are good but unless they’re suitable for where I’m at now and where I want to be, they either won’t help me as much as they should or could help me damage myself in the process. Whenever you see or hear advice, look for the context that it is set in so that you can get an idea of whether it might be suitable for your situation.


3 – Your own advice is better

There is an easy trap to fall into of looking to success stories and aiming to copy whatever made somebody else successful. Lauryn Ballesteros wrote a great blog post on this after working with Seth Godin: If Richard Branson can do it, then so can you. Steve Jobs obviously figured it out early on as he talks in this video about discovering that

“…everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

If you can’t see the video embedded above, here is the original on YouTube.

Successful people like Branson and Jobs didn’t try copying others; they’ve been successful because they have been themselves. Nobody knows you or your challenges like you do. One of the most powerful aspects of coaching is that it helps people work out the answers for themselves; If you know what is holding you back, you won’t find the best answers from others. Instead, try coaching yourself, do some mutual coaching with friends (more on this in a future blog post), or get some professional coaching. That way, you’ll get advice you can trust, tailored to you, and you’ll learn and grow as a result.


Finally, if you want an illustration of what it is like to listen to and respond to advice from everybody, then watch the following video. I wouldn’t bother watching the whole thing as you’ll get the idea after less than a minute but I think it is a great metaphor for what it is like to ask for too much advice!

If you can’t see the video embedded above, here is the original on Vimeo.



But don’t just take my word for it; What do you think and how does this relate to your experiences?


  1. April 4, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Andrea Nastase

    Advice definitely needs context, but too many people insist because something has worked for them. It’s like with online dating – sarcasm doesn’t work for everyone, but everyone is not for everyone. Steve Jobs is a good example of that saying, “be yourself, people won’t like you anyway”. It’s shocking how much everyone focused on the negative sides of being yourself for the sake of simplifying the message and selling a few books. 

    1. April 4, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      Ian Pettigrew

      I agree with what you’re saying and I get miffed at the steady stream of ‘success secrets’ being offered when people just mean that they’re going to share what works for them with a bit of spin as well. Steve Jobs seemed to have that inner confidence… the one that doesn’t come from seeking approval from others but just from doing what you believe is right. I like that.

  2. December 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Nicola Pike

    Great post Ian. Picking up on your first point (not all advice is created equal), I would recommend that people properly check the credentials of the person giving advice before they take it. Lots of followers on Twitter does not equate credibility. I’m astounded at how many people give advice on marketing and social media when they have no marketing qualifications or experience to back it up. I know that this is also true of many other industries (you mention fitness in your article for example). Fortunately LinkedIn is a great way to check credentials.

    1. December 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

      Ian Pettigrew

      Thanks Nicola and you make a great point about how easy it is to check somebody’s experience and credibility. I think social media in particular is going through the early stages of the hype cycle at the moment; I’m sure it won’t be too long before there’s a bit of a shake-out and the real, sustainable expertise will shine through.

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