The Most Effective Way To Take Advice

How do you consider what advice to take? Just because you like and / or respect someone? At this point most everyone will take Elon Musk’s advice just because he’s Elon Musk; but you shouldn’t. The same goes for when you have a mentor or are seeking advice from various people.

Like you, people seek me for advice. I’ll get a call or go to dinner with someone who wants to pick my brain. I appreciate when they tell me beforehand that they want some advice; most of the time they don’t tell me. I’m not someone who gives unsolicited advice, if you ask I’ll give it; but if you don’t I won’t.

I’ve been told that I give good advice, though I don’t let those compliments go to my head because I understand that giving advice is a very specific skill which doesn’t improve from repetition. I know a bunch of people who give unsolicited advice, that doesn’t make them great at giving it!

A few recent experiences got me thinking about what the best way to take advice. Before I go into that, I’ll start from the perspective of the advice giver. For me, giving advice means taking the time to understand context and the person seeking it. I want to avoid taking that time and then the person seeking the advice basically taking nothing away and doing nothing; which is a waste of their and my time.

Also, as an advice giver you shouldn’t expect the other person to take your advice to heart. Anybody who gives advice freely to stroke their ego sucks. Yes, you suck if you do it for hubris. Giving advice isn’t about you, it’s about them.

Now, from the perspective of the advice seeker you should avoid people who give it just to stroke their ego. When you do sit down with a mentor or person you trust to seek their advice, you don’t have to do exactly what the other person says. When I take advice, I consider how the advice giver arrived at his / her advice. Do they practice what they preach? Did a situation made them shift their thinking? What questions did he / she ask to arrive at this perspective? What is their thinking process?

I agree with Nilofer Merchant’s point that to take advice you have to engage with the advice being given; you just don’t take it as given. Engaging with advice means asking questions about the advice, making comments about it, engaging with the person about their advice.

Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel Brain Computer Interfaces, has a different take that he discussed with Lex Fridman:

He hits it right on the head!

Seek advice, listen, take what you can use in your context. Another person’s experience is his / her experience; not yours. It happened to them in a different time and context. Examine the advice, engage it by questioning it; that’s where the value is.

To summarize, the most effective way to take advice is:

  • Seek advice but don’t take advice as given;
  • Listen, take what you can use and adapt it to your context;
  • Consider how that person arrived at this advice;
  • Take the thinking behind the advice as your learning.

How do you take advice?