On Ad-vice

On Ad-vice

Balazs, a talented engineer approached me back in 2007 with an idea he had for outsourcing funding to the crowd, as an alternative to angel investors – 2 years before Kickstarter took the crowdfunding model mainstream.

I didn’t like the idea, because I couldn’t image that I would pitch in $20 together with hundreds or thousands of others to help launch something… I always imagined(!) that when it comes to funding I am more like a VC than a … whatever.

So I did a thorough analysis proving beyond the shadow of the doubt that it’s a logical impossibility (my expression of choice at the time) that this model would EVER work. Not only did I not help Balazs launch the initiative, I persuaded him that he should not do it at all!

What happened in simple but significant terms was that I projected my own limitations onto somebody else’s life and then simply rationalized them!

True story – unbelievable.

Now that we are at the topic of limitations I can throw in here that when Ebay already proved beyond the shadow of the doubt that auctions work for pretty much everything, I still couldn’t believe it and thought that they will surely fail. Why? Probably because I just don’t get auctions.

I have more of such stories but I stop embarrassing myself for now.

So here are a couple of considerations / reflections about advising and using input for decision making in so called “highly uncertain environments” which is another word for life:

1. Be aware: The individual IS de facto limitation. Everybody’s limited! What’s more, the only thing people can express is (their) limitations. So when you’re considering advice or giving feedback, be aware of whom it’s coming from or whom you’re giving it to. Know the guy. Know his patterns! This is more important than what he’s rationalizing. Same thing is true about you! Chances are you don’t know the guy or – be honest! – yourself – so forget about the concept of “your opinion” and keep an open mind. Nassim Nicholas Taleb used an example that’s relevant, although he was using this for a different point: don’t ask the doctor what you should do, ask him what he would do. Purely for illustration in this particular context I’d add to this the following: don’t ask a doctor who advocates chemotherapy for advice on alternative treatments (most doctors wouldn’t hesitate to undergo the treatment themselves). Another one: don’t ask a bureaucrat about ethics or leadership (fact based analysis won’t deliver that)…and most importantly: just because your adviser has what you want (like a specific experience), doesn’t mean that his advise on how to get it or use it applies to you (most likely it doesn’t).

2. If you are asked for advise about ideas, don’t focus on why it won’t happen! You simply don’t know if it’ll happen or not irrespective of identified risks, constrains and perceived realities! Focus on how, in your limited opinion, it may happen! Same if you ask others for ideas: “this may sound stupid, but what do you think it would take to make it work?” So if for instance a guy who can’t draw an Audi logo wants to launch a product design company, don’t shoot him off, introduce him to designers! If you can’t add value, don’t advise!

3. Forget (abstract) mathematical or statistical logic! Seriously! The world works on a different logic – the kind that helps for example the con artist and the victim (or the bad adviser and the loser) always find each other. There is a large element of stuff in this logic which from a sterile mathematical point of view will SEEM stupid.

3.a Don’t forget the Stupidity Quotient (SQ)! You must count with it in all industries, but especially in b2c! Assume that when it comes to anything “mass”, the more stupid something appears to the personality, the more chances it has for success. Think about consumer behavior! Look at twitter (the 99%)! Look at the sharing craze (cats & dogs, motivational quotes, etc.)!


Laszlo Kovari is a writer and the founder of Prakhsis, an organizational development company that has been a pioneer in the concept of organic organizations. As a "consigliere" he has worked with founders, managers, CEOs and board members at startups, mid-sized companies and some of the Fortune 500 across North America and Europe. Laszlo is based in Prague, Czech Republic, supporting clients across Europe.

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