Enable that ‘Aha!’ Moment

The problem with advice is that it’s usually worth what it costs. And most of it is free — like with this article. I believe all advice is worthless unless I get my audience to think for themselves.

That’s why I try to give advice in the form of a framework for people to evaluate their situation or choices for themselves and always end with a simple question: “What do YOU think?”

There’s no genius in this. It’s based on the old proverb that if you “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; [but if you] teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” It’s also mindful of the fact that despite coincidences, we are all in fact unique.

So what’s my framework for taking advice? It’s really just three simple things:

1. Ask for a question

See if you can get the person giving you advice to ask you some relevant, intriguing or even inspiring questions instead. In my opinion, the best mentors know how to ask questions to help you reveal your own “AHA” moment. (See this related article from the Wall Street JournalThe Best [Mentors] Have No Answers). When was the last time you joyously exclaimed “AHA!”? I bet that in that moment you had just found some good “advice.”

What I’m seeking for you here is a revelation. A ‘reveal’ of your own insight that can help you connect your own thoughts to the best possible answer uniquely suited to you and your situation.

Therefore to help you get the best advice, my question for you is:

What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?

Now if you really need advice because you’re out of your domain or area of expertise, and don’t know where to begin, then ask yourself the following question:

2. What’s stopping me from answering my own question?

  • How can I best get help with that?
  • Is it a one-off kind of help I need or is it an enduring kind of help?
  • If it’s enduring help, how, where, and when can I learn it?

And finally, if you must take advice because it’s a pressing matter, consider these additional questions before acting on it:

3. How should I amend or apply it to my personal situation?

Who is this coming from, and what is their basis or bias for giving it?

  • What do I know differently?
  • What did this advice reveal to ME? (Consider whether this is the only way you can approach the situation, or is there another better way?)
  • What does my gut / instinct tell me to do?

OK, enough with the questions. I’m not suggesting analysis paralysis either. Sometimes good, simple advice can be just that. Simple. Here’s mine for today:

Don’t take advice blindly, take it mindfully.

Because the best advice is only useful as long as it’s left for you to draw out what it means to YOU. Here’s my example: I was once told “don’t sweat the small stuff.” It seemed like a great thought. But it turns out in my business as a VC the small stuff matters, as a degree becomes a mile off course quickly in a startup, and can cost the entrepreneur their cash, their equity, or their business. The same could be said for theSochi Olympics where four months before the games, an official was told to ensure they had enough large-grain salt (not available in Russia) in case things warmed up. A small detail? As it turned out, things did warm up and they had to have an emergency meeting and jump through some Olympic rings to find and fly 25 tons of salt overnight to rescue the games.

So the next time you find someone anxious to share some supposed great advice with you, turn the tables on them. Ask them if they have a great question to share with you instead.

For the Sochi Olympics planners perhaps it would have been “What could go wrong if you don’t have the right salt?”

As you might expect, I end this article by asking: What do YOU think? As I hope this will challenge you to think what might be the best advice for YOU. I’m sure I’ll learn plenty by reading your comments.