Bad Advice/Good Advice – Five Toxic Tips and Why Entrepreneurs Should Avoid Them


According to Wikipedia, ideology is “a conscious and unconscious set of ideas that constitute your goals, expectations, and actions.” It affects your worldview, vision for your business and your entrepreneurial path.

A flawed ideology can diminish your ability to think rationally, make good decisions, and affect your success negatively.

If you work hard at something and become good at it, your enjoyment provides a solid shot at becoming passionate. Combining tenacity, hard work and passion ensure that good things happen.

But they won’t happen if you listen to bad advice or “conventional wisdom.” I think it’s time we gave conventions the boot. Let me show you what I mean…

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BAD ADVICE #1 – Follow Your Intuition

Sounds good, but what happens when your intuition hasn’t been trained well and leads to bad decisions?

In their book, The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons “combine the work of other researchers with our own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble.”

People tend to assume their intuition is fantastic, when usually it’s terrible. They often mistake fear for intuition. And that means trouble.

GOOD ADVICE #1 – Reasoned Analysis Works Best

A great article by The Critical Thinking Community sets forth solid foundations for Reasoned Analysis, stating that all reasoning is:

  • An attempt to figure something out, settle some question, solve some problem
  • Based on justifiable assumptions
  • Based on data, information, and evidence
  • Contains inferences by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data
  • Leads somewhere, has implications and consequences

Do your research. Observe, ask questions, learn to process well and base your decisions on reason and the three ‘I’s: intelligence, innovation, imagination—those are the foundations of Trained Intuition.

BAD ADVICE #2 – Fake it Until You Make It

Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, Napoleon Hill… they made their mark. Their ideas have become so ingrained that many people refuse to question them.

Reading all those self-improvement books isn’t the same as owning or integrated success into yourself. Many of those concepts are great, but most people only do well for a time then fall back into failure, never learning how to maintain power and stability. They fake it.

Think about it: If you need surgery: are you okay with a beginner using your body to practice on?

Fake is phony. Not genuine. Why would you want to succeed that way?

GOOD ADVICE #2 – Be Honest—To Yourself and Everyone Else

Entrepreneur Adam Fletcher, owner of The Hipstery, has this to say about bad startup advice:

“We owe it to everyone else to be honest, to share both successes and failures. Otherwise it starts looking like, based on our titles, our press releases, our websites and our business cards that everyone is succeeding. Then, if we try something and it doesn’t work out, we take it as a personal failure. We think we’re the exception and not part of a larger rule…”

Embrace challenges—that makes you powerful. Understand what confidence and success are. Own your knowledge, concepts and tools; that’s when confidence becomes visible and you’ll earn success.

Your interior is what expresses your exterior—the real work starts inside not outside.

BAD ADVICE #3 – Failure is Not an Option

This is the kind of advice that’s caused entrepreneurs to waste years of their lives. Sooner or later, failure is inevitable. Those who are afraid to fail usually never do anything.

Why would you want to immobilize people with fear? Or force them to behave ruthlessly?

GOOD ADVICE #3 – Fail Forward

In his book, Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes, author John C. Maxwell said:

“The major difference between achieving people and average people is their perception of and response to failure. If you have the right attitude, failure can be an amazing opportunity for growth and taking that next step closer to achieving goals.”

Selena Deckelmann, founder and COO of Prime Radiant and a member of the open source community, said this recently in an article called Failure Is An Option: “What’s important is to plan for failure…plan for when things fail, not if things fail.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. Instead, be afraid of doing nothing. That really is failure.

BAD ADVICE #4 – Focus on strengths, Not Weaknesses

No one has the right to give themselves a free pass on tasks just because they’re not a “natural strength.” And that includes the boss. Letting those who are better at something do it is part of the collaborative process. But ignoring your weakness is no way to turn it into strength.

GOOD ADVICE #4 – Focus on Deliberate Practice

Self-knowledge is power. Learn how to do a thing well. It takes research, learning and concentration. That’s what makes it “deliberate.”

BAD ADVICE #5 – Think Outside the Box

In 2011, Dan Pallotta wrote a great piece for the Harvard Business Review. In it he said:

“The exhortation to think outside the box has become ubiquitous…. it has become the new box inside of which everyone thinks. It pays lip service to the notion of transformation without really understanding the difference between transformation and change [or] the real thinking that must occur for an idea to be truly outside the existing paradigm.”

GOOD ADVICE #5 – Think Creatively

Instead of passing the critical thinking burden onto someone else (and demonstrating how incapable you are), be a part of the creativity you want to see.

If you want others to be creative, then you have to be as well. That’s what solid leadership is about.

Those are some of my positions on bad advice. What are yours?

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 4

  • Cheryl Conner says:

    Hi, Tom – Great article. I only partially disagree with one of the points – focus on your strengths – there’s an entire study and practice of leadership development that demonstrates that for leaders, focusing on their strengths and turning those strengths into standouts produces much greater results than honing in on a weakness (unless it’s a fatal flaw type of weakness). Statistically speaking, the weakness is unlikely to become a strength; just a less objectionable weakness (although with focused effort bad leaders are able to become significantly better overall if they really try).
    So I understand what you’re saying, and I agree fully that there’s no excuse good enough for someone to just “give themselves a pass” on the skill they lack and simply ignore. I would just to add my $.02 to the mix that there is some additional perspective to consider within that discussion.
    Thanks as always for a thought provoking article, Tom. I really enjoyed it.

  • Tom Lowery says:

    I know the study you are referring to. Are you aware there is another that revolves around the 10,000 rule of skill development and leveling up? You can read a bit about it here – every bit as strong an argument as the other study. Thanks for your note!

  • Thought-provoking article, Tom! I’ve always considered fake-it-til-you-make-it to be more of an attitude of confidence when doing something new. So, in your case of a surgeon, *someone* has to be the first patient. What attitude should that surgeon have? Feeling confident that he or she has learned what’s necessary to help a patient or feeling uncertain and doubtful? Yes, this could morph into arrogance and not asking questions when needed, but I’m not a fan of tossing out a good idea based on a slippery-slope argument.

    On the other hand, I completely agree with the notion of failing forward. Staying stuck because you refuse to learn, grow, and move on just isn’t useful behavior at all!

    • Tom Lowery says:

      More of my two cents, Meg! To your first point, I would say that confidence comes from self-assurance that you CAN learn or grow, not that you you already have. From very early on, thanks to my grandparents, I was always confident even in the face of failure. I knew I was smart and learned fast from experience of doing so. Even when I didn’t know how to use software, I was confident I could learn it quickly. That’s not faking it – I had an ability – I just had to exercise it.

      As to you comment about a surgeon, of course someone has to be first. But in the case of a surgeon, my point is that you would not want a newbie to operate on you unless a) you knew he was unpracticed and b) there were other more skilled surgeons in the room to guide him. That speaks to my point of being honest. “Yes, this is my first surgery, but I am well trained and these are the skilled surgeons who will ensure success.” That’s being honest and providing a foundation upon which the patient can make an informed decision, as opposed to simply being told, “I’ve done it – no problems.”

      Thanks for you note!

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