Entrepreneurs Should Pay Attention to Advice They Don’t Want to Hear

VP K12 Computer Science Products, Carnegie Learning

Entrepreneurs get lots of advice, especially that of the unsolicited (and highly annoying) category. We ask for some of it, so we can’t always complain. Of course the sage words from our trusted mentors should receive a higher level of consideration, but the general consensus is to take most of it with a grain of salt.

But so many “startup” stories we hear lead us to believe that a single piece of advice—either taken or not—can be pivotal to the success of a company. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure surrounding the advice entrepreneurs take and the decisions they make.

So what happens when we receive advice—especially from a trusted source—that we truly don’t want to hear?

Take a moment to think long and hard about this question. I remember one piece of advice I was given very early on. I dismissed it quickly because it didn’t fit my vision for the company and my life. Yet there was something about it that sticks in my mind.

Even after 8 years, that bit of advice haunts me because only now I’ve come to realize just how pivotal that choice could have been. I’m not even judging whether it was the “right” choice. But it deserved much more consideration than it was given.

Don’t Fall Prey to Optimism Bias

Many times we solicit advice because we are seeking confirmation that the decisions we have already made are the right ones. This can be unconscious, or quite overt.

Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature, and this contributes to our tendency to take the advice that we want to hear.

But how do we arrive at the point where we’re going to do what we want, regardless of the valuable insight that gained by truly listening to our mentors, investors, consultants, mentors, and everyone we’ve surrounded ourselves with? Because of the pressure, often caused by the time and resource constraints most young businesses suffer from, founders and CEOs may think they are backed into a corner, with limited choices.

Taming the Wild Advice

The best decisions I made happened during desperate times, but only when I managed to get my mindset out from under the myopia and oppression that pressure can cause.RoadLessTraveled photo

It’s really difficult to think outside the box when your choices seem very limited. Yet this is EXACTLY the time when you need to take a deep breath, maybe even take some time off or find a change of scenery—whatever it takes for you to be at your creative best. Then tackle the problem from as many different points of view as possible.

That may mean thinking through the ramifications of those seemingly wild bits of advice you’ve received lately. Entrepreneurs may still end up on the obvious path that seemed the natural choice beforehand, but maybe not.

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Image by flickr user Simon G, licensed under Creative Commons

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