Ask for stories, not advice

You’re better off with a story than the advice the story derived from.
Every bit of advice is a mere summary of the story that the advice derived from. I came across this advice — OK, it lacks a story — back in December as I looked for background on a new source for a report I wrote in December.

In a Forbes article by Clowdflower founder Lukas Biewald, “My board fired me, here’s what I learned,” Biewald tells why.

Ask for stories, not advice. Every piece of advice has a more memorable and interesting story behind it. In Silicon Valley, there’s no shortage of smart, successful people wanting to give you advice and, as a first time CEO, I didn’t have the experience yet to distinguish smart advice from empty advice.

Slowly, I learned to find the story behind every lesson. For example, one advisor wanted us to invest heavily in intellectual property. The reason was because his startup was bought for its valuable patents. Another advisor told me to never raise money. Why? Merely because he once had a bad experience. And yet, another advisor insisted I raise as much money as possible. It turns out he had turned down investors and eventually ran out of cash.

When someone starts giving you generic advice, ask them for the real story behind it. Then, you can decide if the advice is relevant to you.

One comment

  1. Hi Ted,

    Great advice! I mean a useful story! I would rephrase this learning as always ask for context (which is often shared as a story.)

    For example, if I say start-ups should spend as much as possible on marketing, that would be without context. However, if I add that this advice was for a start-up with a product that was a fashion fad and had limited lifespan before all the knockoffs arrive to saturate the market, the offered advice is much more valuable.

    Stephen McDaniel

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