Advice on following advice 

 I’m using he as a pronoun but it stands for he and she. This is to make the reading of this post easier than writing he/she each time.

As a founder, you are inundated with advice from all corners. From your current investors, potential investors, parents, colleagues, managers, co-founders, friends, relatives, BFFS, customers, suppliers, mentors, brokers, your pet dog and most importantly – your own mind. How does the founder in you figure out what advice is worth acting on, what is the system of acting on it and how to appreciate or reject advice that isn’t relevant?

The first thing you as a founder should know and accept is that NOT ALL ADVICE IS WORTH FOLLOWING. The people that give you advice may have the best of intentions just like a dose of cancer medication is good medicine. However, if you don’t have cancer but are still taking that pill, that medication just like the advice can be very harmful if not useless.

So, when anyone gives you advice (lets call him advisor) it is important for you to assess whether genesis of that advice comes out of experience or conjecture. To find that out learn the Socratic method of questioning, it is a method to get to the bottom of things using questions formulated by the answers to your previous questions therefore getting you deeper into the root of the advice. You may find advice coming from conjecture is brilliant & applicable but how to act & implement it can be widely different based on where that advice comes from.

How to act on advice the comes from experience?

My ex-boss and mentor taught that “if you do 100% of what another successful person does you will get atleast 80% of their results” and that advice has serious merit. Therefore if the advice given to you comes from an area of experience then it is extremely important for you to identify the dissimilarities in the the situation you’re facing to the one that the person giving the advice faced (you will find this from the Socratic method of questioning). Isolate the differences and point them out to your advisor, take their opinion on how the implementation of their advice would change due to these differences and make a detailed model of their implementation ensuring that you have the resources & processes in place to replicate their advice therefore replicate the result.

How to act on advice that comes from conjecture?

When the advisor is giving the advice from a brainwave be careful! Just like communism, a concept that sounded good on paper but was a disaster at implementation, great sounding advice can be the rumbling of large wave about to rip your idyllic island to shreds. Therefore get you & your team to research the advice, role play within your team with sides taking positions of supporting or disapproving the advice and get a SWOT developed from those discussions. Discuss that SWOT with the advisor, your board, your mentors & other advisors and gauge their response to your findings. Encourage them to question you so that you uncover points that you hadn’t previously thought about and if and only if after this exercise you still feel that the advice is worth following then and only then decide to implement it. 

How to implement the advice?

Any large move should start out small. Founders that make company changing decisions even if they were well researched & implemented could still be pushing their company off a cliff. Any change should be done in small and well defined silos (read: A/B testing) with clear expectations on the result. Only when the results are as per (or beyond expectations) should you increase the size of the silo test until the emerging strategy becomes a deliberate strategy that changes the entire company.

If the initial silo tests fail then involve the original advisor in providing the adjustments that need to be made to alter the results and if that advice doesn’t work (but your faith remains) try out some more variations and eventually you will have enough data to decide to abandon or continue the tests. Then armed with that data decide what you want to do.

How do you appreciate or reject an idea?

When the advice is deemed good & has led to positive results; be effusive in your praise to the advisor, praise them publicly. If the advice hasn’t worked out or was rejected by you or your team privately respond to the advisor detailing out how or why that advice wasn’t relevant or successful but to also thank them for the advice and to continue helping you with more. Most founders do that exact opposite i.e. criticise publicly and praise privately which leads to unintended consequences.

This system has helped evolving strategies for me as a founder, investors and manager but I will be the first one to say that not all my advice is sound or correct so you as the founder, have to use the 1.3 kg mass of cells between your ears to filter out which piece of advice you should be following – including this one.