Imagine that you hand someone your camera, and ask him to take a photo of you. He does, but when you look at the photo later, you notice that he took a photo of himself by mistake.
Imagine you’ve got a big question like, “Should I quit my job and start my own company?” You go ask the advice of some successful people you respect. Because they can’t know everything about you and your unique situation, they’ll give advice that’s really just a reflection of their own current situation.
So let’s look at some ways that advice is biased.
Lottery numbers: When successful people give advice, I usually hear it like this: “Here are the lottery numbers I played: 14 29 71 33 8. They worked for me!” Success is based on so many factors. Some are luck. Some are not. It’s hard to know which are which. So which do you learn from?
Underdog opinion in their context: Someone giving advice doesn’t want to say what’s been said too much already. But he’s basing that on his surroundings, not yours. So if everyone around him is quitting their jobs, his advice to you will be to keep your job. That advice has nothing to do with what’s best for you — it’s just the opinion that seems under-represented in his environment that day.
Creative sparks: You ask, “What should I do, option A or B?” He replies, “Zebra!” He’s treating the situation as an invitation to brainstorm, giving a crazy suggestion just to open up more options. Like an Oscar Wilde quip, it was meant to be mostly entertaining, maybe useful, and probably not correct.
The problem is taking any one person’s advice too seriously. Ideally, asking advice should be like echolocation. Bounce ideas off of all of your surroundings, and listen to all the echoes to get the whole picture.
Ultimately, only you know what to do, based on all the feedback you’ve received and your personal nuances that no one else knows.