In 1906, statistician Francis Galton took a visit to a county fair. There he observed a contest where fair-goers were meant to guess the weight of the cow–the person with the closest guess would win. Numbers were all over the place, both incredibly high, and some strangely low. Galton had an idea.
He took all the guesses and averaged them together. The result? The average was a single pound off from the true weight of the cow–it was more accurate than the winner’s guess.
What does this have to do with advice? It’s the popular “Wisdom of the Crowd” theory. Popular in behavioral economics, this theory posits that “large groups of people are collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to problem-solving, decision making, innovating and predicting.”
Just like the weight of the cow was best determined by the opinions of many, so too are personal and business issues often best solved with suggestions, or advice, from others.
Taking advice can be a valuable tool when it comes to problem-solving. But, you’ve got to set yourself up for success by keeping the following in mind.
Do you think you already know the answer?
Advice or getting a “second opinion” can be incredibly helpful, but those insights often fall on deaf ears. People have a tendency to feel overconfident when it comes to decision-making. By the time they go out looking for advice from a friend or colleague, their mind is already made up.
Seeking advice without an open mind is like turning the pages of a book without reading. To an outsider, you might appear to be reading, but in reality, you’re not. If you go ask for a second opinion with your mind already made up, you miss out on valuable advice.
Beyond that, it’s only a matter of time before people realize you’re not actually “reading,” or in this case, absorbing the advice. This can have a negative impact both personally and professionally. If you go to a boss or mentor in the office asking for advice, but they notice you never take it, it might alienate them and damage your relationship. The same applies to friendships–if you’re constantly asking for advice, then doing your own thing, your peers lose trust in you.
Understand that when you’re asking for advice, you’re asking for the other party to contribute. Go in with an open mind and listen to what they have to say without your mind made up. This way, you honor the time people are taking out of their days to help you, and you just might end up with a much better solution.
What do I know about myself?
Not all feedback and advice is good. For example, if you’re looking to grow a team of diverse talent, someone suggesting you hire all software engineers is not the most advisable next step. You’re bound to get bad advice, but that can be just as valuable as good advice. Is key is understanding yourself.
Even if you don’t know what the answer is to your problem, know your priorities and values. Having a strong sense of self works as a filter for advice, making it easier to process and turn into actionable items.
Using the example above, it’s safe to assume a priority when it comes to growing your team is the diversity of skills. That means the bad advice of “hiring only software engineers,” conflicts with your top priority.
Before you go off seeking advice, ask yourself what you prioritize in a solution, establishing a strong set of values that’ll serve as a guide to process the advice you receive.
Am I asking the right person for advice?
Let’s face it, it’s nice to live in an echo-chamber. It’s nice to follow people who agree with you on Twitter or mute dissenting (and annoying) Facebook opinions from distant family members. However, the opposite is true when it comes to searching for advice.
Remember the Wisdom of the Crowd. Chances are, the crowd’s got a ton of different opinions, which is the key to getting the best advice. While you probably turn to like-minded mentors or friends for advice, don’t shy away from asking someone with a very different opinion from you.
When you get advice from a different point of view, there’s a very good chance you won’t agree with it. But, it’s adding another voice and perspective to the problem. It might challenge you to look at your issue from another angle, and getting a different perspective can lead to a solution you never considered before.
From the outside, asking for advice seems as simple as posing a question. However, as you seek it, keep in mind who you’re asking, why you’re asking, and what you can learn from the experience.