Good Advice (And Why You’re Not Taking It)

Like many others, I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s blog for quite some time. Seth has a way of getting to the point quickly and many of his posts are 100 words or less. For example, he wrote the following about the importance of accepting advice: “Good advice…is priceless. Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Not imaginary, but practical. Not based on fear, but on possibility. Not designed to make you feel better, designed to make you better.”

This small amount of text comprised over half of Godin’s latest post, but contains some profound wisdom. We all (especially me) need to heed this advice about taking advice. This is doubly true if the advice is coming from someone who has a lot more experience than you in a particular field – if he or she has “been there and done that.”

I’ve been on both ends of the equation – giving useful advice that was not taken, or even listened to – as well as not heeding good advice from others. As an advice non-taker, I have made costly mistakes in investing, large and a couple of other painful life situations I would prefer to not detail. Thankfully, everything turned out just fine, but I could have done without the headaches resulting from my failure to heed experienced counsel.

As an advice giver in the marketing arena, I have told my bosses or clients exactly what was needed to solve a particular problem or achieve a specific result. Occasionally, this advice was ignored to the detriment of my company or client. So why should they have listened and acted on my counsel? Not because I am the smartest guy in town or have a crystal ball, but rather because I have been a B2B marketing practitioner for a long time (almost three decades), study my craft, and have an excellent track record.

Of course you need to carefully evaluate the advice you are given, but your reluctance to act on professional advice should be based on some knowledge of the subject matter or a feeling that something is wrong with the scenario. I believe there are three primary reasons why supposedly smart people ignore wise and well-intentioned advice:

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1. Ignorance: we don’t know what we don’t know.
2. Pride: we overestimate our own abilities and underestimate those of others.
3. Stubbornness: we just want to do things our way, regardless of consequences. Counselors refer to this as “choosing to be right instead of happy.” In the business world we refer to this as “choosing personal preferences over profits.”

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post about how engineers harm themselves when they design a great product but fail to heed the advice of marketing and sales professionals when they try to bring it to market. If you want a bit more perspective on this topic you can view that post here.

I’ll leave you with the words of Harper Lee, “Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.”

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  • Patty Wittnebert Tomsky May 30, 2014   Reply →

    Great, um, advice! I especially like the three roadblocks to receiving advice and I hope I can avoid them the next time a sage adviser approaches me with input. We lost a great advice giver this week- the poet/activist, Maya Angelou. Here’s a piece of advice I learned from her that I try to live by: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”

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