The Real Value of Advice


Inc. Well is a blog of advice. You know this. I know this.

But occasionally it’s worth zooming out from the miscellany business things we advise on to talk about the nature of advice overall. I think of gathering advice to be much like the work you do when you’re starting a marketing plan: You’re researching to assure the best outcome possible and that your work will be like every part of the buffalo in achieving it.

But the thing is since our actions aren’t like buffalo, it can be hard to tell whether you’re using every part of it — or even if you should. You make a decision, you make a move, and you’re off to the races. If it’s a big decision, there’s no coming back from it.

That can be scary, but it’s also good. But this week in particular, from a variety of conversations I had, I’m reminded that people often aren’t seeking advice but are instead seeking permission to do something they want to do anyway. I feel like people know this is what they are doing, but sometimes don’t. If you’re going around talking to people to reinforce what you already think you’re doing, maybe what you’re really doing is solidifying relationships. If that’s the case, I think it’s insincere to use up someone else’s time under the guise of using advice, and it may wind up doing you both a disservice: It could be an opportunity to nudge your professional relationship up a notch or to progress your careers.

If you’re just using up someone’s time to be told something you’ve been told before for the sake of being seen, chances are the other party will know and sense it because you’re probably not going to be that skilled of an actor. And even if you were — don’t you have something better to do?

Advice can be great and it can help get you thinking about things in a new way, and that’s what advice often is. But you should see how you feel about it above all else if indeed you are seeking it earnestly. Just bear in mind, oftentimes people are advising themselves and what they would do in your position, or what they wish someone had told them at a similar junction. Our specifics and circumstances are all different, and at some point all the projected advice can serve to advise you. Plus, there is true value in making mistakes of your own, provided you look at everything you do as a learning opportunity. Right?

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as IFC’s comedy, film, and TV blogger, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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