Along with the Information Age came a dark side: Advice Overload. It is easier than ever before to find and follow someone else’s answers rather than sit with a problem, think critically, talk to those you wish to serve, or run a few tests. Rather than operating in a constant questioning state, many of us default to an answer-first state. Once we have that answer, we can proceed. Until then, sit and stay and search.
When faced with endless advice for how to move forward, the winning advice is the best-sounding advice. That’s why experts who write advice articles switched from offering how-to posts to publishing their over-promised kin: tricks, secrets, shortcuts, and hacks. After all, if you’re overwhelmed and need clarity, which wins: “How To Find Success” or “The One Simple Secret to Success”?
(Just as we face a growing crowd of experts telling us what to do, so too do the experts, and thus the arms race to be the biggest, baddest, wisest expert began. As one God-awful example: Spend any time watching YouTube videos and, inevitably, there’s a guy showing you his cars, ready to sell you what he knows so you, too, can “roll deep.”)
So why does that stuff seem to be winning? Well, it’s built to be the most generally applicable and the easiest thing to find. But rarely if ever is the most generally applicable answer the right answer for our specific situation, and never in history has good advice been easy to find. That’s why it’s good advice!
However, if we don’t have a clear direction or a personal aspirational that we can articulate, we’ll cling to the most enticing wisdom from the expert. We’ll idolize a pithy quote and emblazon them on t-shirts and walls (“Hustle!” or “Move fast and break things!”). Or maybe we’ll look to the past precedent within our industry or business, or else the candidate to most immediately replace that past precedent, otherwise known as the flavor of the week.
Whatever the case, when faced with Advice Overload, we seek the firmest footing we can find among the froth. And that’s a problem.
When we operate like that, we are clinging to the lowest common denominator. By following someone else’s generalized answers for what you should do, you do commodity work. You throw your own abilities and context aside and look to the guru instead of your audience, your team, or yourself.
But if we could get back to asking questions, rather than obsess over everyone else’s answers, we might do something better. If we could once again be comfortable taking a moment to think without searching, posting, asking, and glomming onto the trend, we might get back the things that we’re losing: originality, differentiation, resonance with our audience, and the ability to realize our full potential.
This is the difference between constantly seeking the land of expert advice and instead getting comfortable living in a questioning state.
In our world flooded with advice, everyone with access to the internet wants to throw you their lifesavers. And if your goal is to simply survive, go ahead and grab the closest and biggest float you can find.
But if you want to thrive, if you aspire to do exceptional work … learn how to swim.