You might find this piece of advice a bit strange, especially coming from me, perhaps some explanation is called for?

When I was younger, when people came to me for advice, I listened for a while and then told them what I thought. Sometimes my enquirers would smile and say encouraging words along the lines of “thanks that’s great advice, just what I needed to hear.” If I happened to meet my enquirer again sometime later, more often than not, it was pretty obvious that my advice had not worked.

If someone gives you advice and you find yourself saying “Wow, that’s so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of it before?” Then don’t trust the advice – it probably is too simple. Listen to it, play it over again in your head, test it, ask others what they think – but whatever you do, do not follow it blindly – your advisor can not possibly know the complexity that surrounds your issues, unless they know you better than you do?

The reasons we ask for advice are many fold. The next time you find yourself asking for advice, stop and ask yourself these two questions first: ‘Why am I asking this person for advice?’ And ‘Once I receive my answer how will it help me solve my problem?’.

Let’s consider five common reasons why we ask for advice:

1. Because we are too lazy to work it out for ourselves
2. Because we like the personal attention we receive
3. Because we think wise people can solve anything
4. Because we are too close to the issue to think and act rationally
5. Because we like to have confirmed what we already know

I often ask others for advice, mostly my wife:
“Does this jacket go with these trousers?”
“Do you find this blog too long?”
“Should I see a doctor about my back?”
“If I mentioned it to her, do you think she would understand?”
“Is it worth cutting the grass, I am sure it is going to rain?”

Ok, so my requests for advice are pretty crass but think about it, mostly we ask for advice in the hope that our advisor will tell us something that we want to hear – to reconfirm our own beliefs. So when we hear what we want to hear we like it even more when we consider our advisor to be as wise as can be.

If we truly desire advice to solve a problem, especially a business problem (which by their very nature are often complex), it is mostly because of reason number 4: Because we are too close to the issue to think and act rationally. In this case, it is most likely, that unless we brief our advisor for at least 200 hours or more, the chances are they will be guessing at a solution. That is why, if you have a serious problem, it really is best to go through at least the first four steps of my nine step methodology for solving problems, before asking someone outside for advice:

Step 1: What is the real problem?
(Understanding and defining the current situation – separating the symptoms from the root causes)
Step 2: How did I (or the business) get to where I am today?
(Looking at the past to understand how the current situation came about)
Step 3: Cash, Culture and Competence
(Assessing the resources at our disposal)
Step 4: What are my (or the business’) aspirations?
(Understanding our long term desires and/or the long term objectives of the business, to be sure any solution will be in line with them).

These four steps take some effort and talking them through with others who know us, can help – but asking for advice as what to do (Step 5 Decision Time) – is something best done on your own. However! Once you have made a decision, it always a very good idea to share it with others for their opinion, if the majority of those you speak with disagree with you, then think twice and ask yourself again – “why have I decided on this solution?” – before you act upon it (especially if our actions will impact on others).

Remember, there is a big difference for asking for advice when one is lost, than asking for advice to confirm where we are. A powerful leader has only one councellor (advisor) for each topic, but many colleagues with whom to debate. There is a difference.

If you’re looking for advice, my door is always open, have a good week 😉