The Secret Entrepreneur: Taking advice with a pinch of salt

Heed the wisdom of others, but be sure to follow your own path implores our hidden boss

There’s a lot of business advice out there. More now than ever before. Beyond the books, videos and websites, there are an increasing number of great real-world courses designed for entrepreneurs.

I try and read, watch and participate as much as I can because I believe that to succeed in business, it’s essential to never stop learning. You can always be better. That next article you read might give you an idea that gives you the crucial edge when you’re pitching your next big customer, or helps you solve that tricky strategy problem you’ve been shying away from.

But there’s an issue. As an entrepreneur, a key part of the role is to define the vision and direction of your company, and then to ruthlessly pursue it. This often means ignoring outside advice, because you’re trying to do something different. You don’t want to do what everyone else has done.

Knowing which advice to take, and which to acknowledge and then ignore, is an important skill, and one which I think is a key part of the learning process, something you develop over time.

Getting advice from other entrepreneurs is also invaluable. Talking to people who’ve already faced the problem you’re trying to solve can be a great shortcut – let’s face it, most business books take 200 pages to explain a principle you can grasp from reading the back cover.

You need to be wary here though, because there are a couple of things which can distort the advice you get.

Firstly, ego. Even with people you’ve known for a long time, or consider yourself close friends with, you’re almost certainly getting an edited version of the truth. Entrepreneurs can’t help it – they’re eternal optimists with a reality distortion field that they rely on keeping in place until they’ve made reality catch up with them.

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It’s rare to get the complete, unvarnished truth from a fellow entrepreneur (do you really give it all the time? Honestly?), but when you do, it can yield some incredibly valuable lessons. Like the conversation I had last week, where my key learning was “thank God I’m not in that line of business, the cashflow sucks and the margins are terrible”. Unless you’re sure though, take everything with a pinch of salt.

Secondly, correlation is not causation. Just because someone did something, doesn’t mean that that’s what gave them the result. There are always other factors at play and you usually can’t see them. Following a successful person’s moves doesn’t guarantee success – but it can certainly help you on your way. Just be prepared to put in more effort than you expected, and tweak things to match your own situation.

Whatever sources you use for your learning, don’t be afraid of deconstructing ideas and advice and reworking them for your own needs, and likewise don’t be afraid to straight out steal great advice.

Don’t worry about screwing up either, you usually learn more from mistakes than anything else.

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