A simple way to know whether or not advice is worth having

Does anyone else think the issue of people posting all sorts of biased ‘advice’ online is getting out of hand?

The internet is great in the sense of giving everyone a platform, on a theoretically equal basis. But it does present audiences, including business people with challenges in terms of distinguishing an expert from a rank charlatan.

To be clear, I don’t just mean stuff I don’t like. I mean the kind of stuff which is deliberately intended for people to act on.

The kind of stuff that could result in a business failing or a person making a bad career choice.

All so that the poster can try to make themselves look like an all-round business guru.

This is important because people do use LinkedIn to seek advice.

When did we stop caring about conflicts of interest? Examples include the following: If a company provides a single type of training course, representing one route out of several available, it can’t give careers advice! If you represent a single sector, you can’t give ‘advice’ on which sector to go into. If you are not qualified in law, you can’t give legal advice. The same should go for any profession. If you work in one area of a market only, you can’t give advice pertaining to the whole market.

The same goes for advice that is just outside of your field of expertise. Accountants should not be giving marketing advice. And the fact that you don’t call it ‘marketing advice’ does not change what it is.

There is a difference between having done something once and being an expert and a professional, is there not?

It’s a serious issue because for the people providing such ‘advice’ there is zero consequence for being completely wrong.

Can any of the above be disputed?

So how do you know if someone’s advice is valuable?

For me there are three criteria – all of which need to be met:

  1. Are they qualified in the area in which they are advising?
  2. Are they free from conflicts of interest? (Do they benefit from you choosing the option they recommend?)
  3. Have they properly considered the entire context?

This last one is where some of the real nonsense can be spotted. It’s not to say that someone can’t have a strong opinion. People often mistake a strong opinion for ‘black and white’ type thinking. But it is not, so long as the context has been fully considered.

An example of a piece of advice that cannot be relied upon therefore is a general statement that people should not go to university because there are better options. No equivocation, qualification or context at all. It’s the kind of thing that simply cannot be correct. Another would be literally telling someone what kind of job they should go into.

For business owners, the equivalent would be for example telling them how to deal with potential bad debts – in ways that professionals would never recommend. This is serious because it puts the company at risk of getting nothing. Or telling companies to spend or not to spend on something because of experience in a different business.

All of the examples given here I have seen more than once on LinkedIn as well as in blogs and elsewhere.

Be careful whom you accept advice from.

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