Jason Fried

June 8, 2023

Advice Expires

The internet's a living, breathing, professional self-help platform. If advice on how to run your company isn't coming at you 280 characters at a time on Twitter, you can hear it on a podcast, read it on a Substack, or get it right here on your LinkedIn feed. There's hardly a CEO, an entrepreneur, or a cultural figure these days who doesn't profess to hold some wisdom that will lead you to building a great business.

I don't think this proliferation of expertise is a particularly useful development. It's overwhelming and often contradicting. It's hard to know what's worth knowing when you don't know in the first place.

So rather than give you advice on how to take advice, I thought I'd share my personal approach to filtering it.

Whenever I get advice, I first find out if the person giving it has ever done the thing being suggested. There are plenty of gurus out there telling you how to start a business who have never started one themselves, like business school professors who have spent their careers in academia. Or marketing experts that haven't marketed anything at scale for a decade (or ever). Or ChatGPT experts telling you how game changing something is when the game barely started.

If they haven't done the thing, I dismiss the advice. I don't want theory. I want practice.

If they have done the thing, then I find out when they did it. Was it years ago? Are they still doing it as they describe? I believe advice has an expiration date. For example, I'm the wrong person to ask about starting a business. Why? I haven't started one for 24 years. You're far better off asking someone who started a business six months ago.

Then, if they have done it, and they still are doing it, it's good to know for how long. I put more weight into someone's advice if that person has been following it for an extended time.

Another thing I consider is the motivation behind the advice. Is someone with experience trying to sell you something? If so, discount that advice. If it's in the service of sharing and mentoring, and there's no commercial connection, invest in that advice.

Last, I tend to look at how much advice a person gives. If someone is a professional advice giver — writing book after book in quick succession — I'll take what they have to say with a grain of salt. It's hard to be good at one thing, let alone dozens of things.

Here's the most important thing to recognize about advice: It's relative. It's contextual. People love to share success stories, and suggest you follow in their footsteps, but most people really have no idea how they achieved what they achieved. They look back and connect dots that maybe weren't there, lay it out for you, and encourage you to do the same thing.

That's why you should ignore more advice than you take. Find your own way. Then, once you've been doing it long enough, maybe you can share your lessons with others — and they can decide whether that's worth listening to.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.