Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Advice Dilemma

I enjoy love reading about (or meeting) a variety of "awesome" people, and "checking out" their advice on how to be awesome.

I was checking out some great career advice today, and it is intriguing to find that amidst so many diverse points of views, lots of the advice agrees with/complements other advice. Whats even more intriguing is that oftentimes, some advice is very conflicting with other advice.

The habits/strategies/tactics/tips that one awesome person swears by just don't work for another equally awesome person. "Early to bed and early to rise" v/s "work when you're in the mood & sleep when you're sleepy" is a classic example. In fact, some people use both of these "strategies" very effectively at different times.

I also enjoy giving advice - figuring something out, by myself or from someone else, and sharing it with others.

If there is one "absolute" lesson I've learnt about giving and taking advice, it is that "everything is relative".
The only advice that's reliably true is "it depends" - on the person, his unique motivations, the situation, the time, the environment etc.

Which brings me to the Advice Dilemma -
How can one give (or take) good, true, generic, scalable advice when everything is relative?
I can think of 2 approaches :

1. Generalise : Distill the advice down to its first principles - the underlying principles common to all good advice on the subject. Trust the audience to apply the principles effectively.
2. Specialise : Tell your specific story, and how your approach helped you in your situation. Trust the audience to pick up from the context, the lessons relevant to their unique situations.

Between these two ends of the spectrum, we have many infinite different levels of abstraction. Which is the most effective? Or is it best to use both extremes to complement each other?
Once again... "it depends".

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