Attack of the Gurus
There has never been more
free business advice. What’s
worth listening to—and what
should you ignore?
Whenever I get advice, the frst thing I do
is fnd 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.
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 fnd 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 18 years. You’re far better of asking someone who started a business a year 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.
For example, my company, Basecamp, has been
entirely self-funded and proftable for 18 years. I’m
happy to explain why I think this has been a good
path, how to make that path work, and how to keep
it working. I’d be the wrong person to talk about
what it’s like to take VC money. All my stories are
other people’s stories I’ve heard. You’re better of
talking directly to someone who’s taken VC money.
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 connec-
tion, 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 he or she has to say with
a grain of salt. It’s hard to be good at one thing, let alone dozens of things. So when someone
tells you 100 things to do, be wary.
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 I think 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.
THE INTERNET HAS BECOME a living, breathing, profes- sional self-help platform. If advice on how to run your company isn’t coming at you 140 (or now 280) characters at a time on Twitter, you can get it from a homespun podcast, a Medium confessional, or someone’s TinyLetter personal newsletter. There’s hardly a CEO, an entrepreneur, or a cultural fgure these days who doesn’t profess to hold some wis- dom that will lead you to building a great business. I don’t think this proliferation of expertise is a particularly useful development (though it’s not
lost on me that I’m guilty of dishing my own brand of advice). All of
this counsel isn’t informing people. It’s overwhelming them. What
happens when you read one thing one day and the next day you read
something that completely contradicts it? What’s right, what’s
wrong, what’s leading, and what’s misleading?
So rather than give you advice on how to take advice, I thought I’d
share my personal approach to fltering it.
Jason Fried is a co-founder
of Basecamp (formerly
37signals), a Chicago-based
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