Paul Jarvis

A world without advice

What if all advice just stopped existing?

No longer are there any “5 easy steps” or “10 simple ways” articles (i.e. the Internet is now a much, much quieter place). There’s no more paid or free brain-picking sessions. Industry experts are not able to bestow their wisdom to their audience.

What would happen?
Would we be better or worse for it?

I have been wondering about this a lot lately. What purpose does advice ultimately serve? Sometimes I think it’s crutch or just procrastination. Sometimes I think it’s the asker looking for an easy answer to a not-so-easy question. I’m guilty of that — I see someone who can do something I want to be able to do, so I ask them about it, hoping I can learn those same skills near-instantly.

I got to thinking about all the times I’ve been happy with accomplishing something. Every single time it happened because I just wanted to try something and thought, “What the hell, let’s do this!” I didn’t ask anyone first. I didn’t consult a mentor, advisor, oracle, or listicle. I just jumped in head-first.

When people ask me for advice, I do my best to give a quality answer. But really, for a lot of questions, I don’t have a good answer. For example, I don’t know how to get started with web design. I started so long ago the industry was very different — the biggest debate was Flash or HTML. The biggest challenge to overcome with getting clients was to explain to them what the Internet was and how it might serve their business.

My advice is warped by time, my own opinions, and personality quirks.

Advice is also heavily affected by the subconsciousness of expertise. Experts aren’t necessarily better than people starting out, they just know how things work and can do some tasks without thinking. They are able to think several steps ahead. If I asked a carpenter how she would build a house, she would only be aware of steps she has to think about. Not the thousands of steps her skill takes over and does for her subconsciously. She’s not thinking about how to hold the hammer or where to place a nail, she’s thinking about the house as a whole because she knows how to abstract her present to an intended outcome. Those small steps and skills are the important parts, however, when you’re learning something new.

Most of the time — due to stubbornness more than anything else — I prefer to figure something out on my own, rather than ask someone. If I’m going to fail, I’d rather fail my way. If I’m going to succeed, it has to be the same.

It seems like the only advice I’ve given someone else that I can truly stand behind is this: above anything else, listen to yourself. Sure, you’ve got to use external sources to learn. You need to have other people to lean on, gain knowledge from, and see how things could be done before doing them. But ultimately, and once that’s all finished, it’s your life, your choices, your ultimate decision.

So, how would you proceed with what you’re thinking about doing if you couldn’t rely on advice from others? And, how can we stop this advice gold rush?

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