Be Careful Who You Listen To
In today’s fast-paced information-saturated world, advice is abundant, but it can be difficult to determine which sources are truly reliable.
This week, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founders of 37signals, join host Kimberly Rhodes to discuss the challenges of navigating the ever-growing sea of advice and how to choose the right guidance for your journey.
Listen in as they share their thoughts on the expiration date of advice, the dangers of following someone else’s prescribed path, and the value of trusting your own instincts.
Check out the full video episode on YouTube
[00:00] - Kimberly opens the show and introduces listeners to the topic of finding reliable business advice in today’s digital age.
[00:40] - Jason shares why he wrote Advice Expires and why he and David are the wrong people to ask for advice about starting a business.
[02:14] - David shares how the Internet’s craving for content leads to conflicting advice and the value of trusting your own instincts.
[04:16] - Ignore more advice than you take: turning the tide on the trend of collecting mentors and seeking advice from multiple sources.
[05:04] - The value of being outside the Silicon Valley bubble.
[05:44] - The importance of cultivating originality.
[06:15] - The danger of following everyone else’s formula for success.
[07:38] - How the “Pinterestization” of our culture is diluting originality in favor of popularity.
[09:48] - The mystery behind success—Jason shares why you must be mindful of blindly emulating successful companies or individuals.
[10:52] - David discusses the “Halo Effect” and how success in one aspect doesn’t necessarily mean excellence in all areas.
[11:41] - The “awesomeness tradeoff”: how the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” puts a method to the idea that you can’t be awesome at all the things all the time.
[13:12] - Kimberly raises the issue of self-proclaimed experts on the Internet.
[14:13] - Why “Rework” was so successful.
[14:50] - The importance of a select set of core ideas or key values for more effective decision-making in a sea of options.
[16:13] -Trusting your gut and the pitfalls of seeking too much advice.
[17:13] - Kimberly asks Jason and David about their approach to seeking advice and executing decisions.
[17:35] - Jason shares his approach to seeking advice and what his method depends upon.
[19:04] - David shares his preference for seeking guidance from “dead people.”
[20:03] - Reality as a mentor: the importance of contextualizing advice and learning through experimentation.
[21:44] - The role of criticality when seeking advice.
[22:08] - David shares why he continues to give advice and what people are really looking for.
[22:34] - How the book “Maverick” by Ricardo Semler influenced the unconventional ideas and served as a benchmark for determining the level of “bat-shitness” in Jason and David’s decisions when they were starting out.
[23:48] - Do you have questions for David and Jason about a better way to work and run your business? Leave your voicemails at 708-628-7850 or send an email. Remember, you can find show notes and transcripts on our website.
Links and Resources:
From Jason’s HEY World: Advice Expires
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
Maverick by Ricardo Semler
REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Sign up for a 30-day free trial at Basecamp.com
HEY World | HEY
37signals on YouTube
The REWORK podcast
The 37signals Dev Blog
@reworkpodcast on Twitter
@37signals on Twitter
Kimberly (00:00): Welcome to Rework, a podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. I’m your host, Kimberly Rhodes. There is no lack of business advice – from YouTube to Twitter to Instagram’s new Threads. Finding advice is easy, but who do you listen to and how do you know that their advice is sound? I’m joined by the co-founders of 37signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson to talk more about this. Jason, you recently wrote a piece on your HEY World about this exact subject and more specifically your approach for filtering out advice. So let’s jump right in. You mentioned the first step is not necessarily about the advice, but the person giving it. Tell us, tell us a little bit about this.
Jason (00:40): Yeah, and it’s not even the person as much as their current or and/or recent experience. So I, I just think advice has an expiration date. You know, David and I are the wrong people to talk to about starting a business. We haven’t started a business for 20 years. Like we have some ideas on how you could do it and some principles basically, but like, we’re just so far removed from that experience that I don’t think we’re the right people to talk to about it. We’re probably good to talk to about how to maintain a business, how to build products, how to talk about products, how to hire people, how to make those kind of decisions 'cause we’re doing that day in and day out. But as far as starting one go talk to someone who started one six months ago, like, that’s probably the right person to talk to.
(01:20): And so what you’ll often hear though are people, um, and we’ve probably been guilty of this too, you know, spouting off about how to do something that they themselves haven’t done for a long time. They might be right, they could be accurate 'cause some information is evergreen or just, you know, kind of perpetually accurate or useful. But, um, I still think that current and present experience and recent experience is a better indicator probably of, um, like actionable advice or useful advice, uh, in most cases. So anyway, that was sort of the gist of it and it’s, it’s kind of come up because I’ve been spending more time on LinkedIn and you just see people just, you know, and again, us included sharing opinions, sharing points of view, and then I kinda look back at what they’ve done. I’m like, well, they haven’t done this forever, um, you know, it’s like, why, why? You know, why are we listening to them about that? So that’s where, that’s where that was born.
David (02:14): I think part of the problem here is that the internet just craves content and one of the ways to generate content is to have opinions about all sorts of things. Have advice to pass on that might, as Jason said, not have come from an actual experience that you had. Now that’s not to discount again, that there are people who just analyzes things for a living and they can have great insights on those things. But as Jason mentioned too, this notion of wisdom, um, is, is very difficult because on any given topic, at least any interesting topic, something that has multiple people opining on it, you’ll find someone spouting wisdom saying A and someone saying negative A, like you can literally find every side of almost every issue being, uh, presented by people. And I think that’s where it comes down to, what can you actually do with this advice?
In most cases, I find that the people who really like our advice, maybe that’s from the books, maybe that’s from a blog post or something, it’s not so often that we’re telling them something new, is that we’re giving them permission to follow essentially their own advice, essentially their own gut instinct. Oh, I already felt that working remotely was a great idea, so now you’ve given it permission to do so because you’ve done A, B or C and you did it this way, ergo, it can’t be totally outta left field. Someone, somewhere had some success with this advice. So I’m now confident following my own voice. And I do think that is a service. I do think it is often difficult for people to trust their own instincts, um, especially
Kimberly (04:10): Something similar, Jason, that you wrote about to what David’s saying is that you should ignore more advice than you take.
Yeah, there’s something that comes up a lot around, um, y’all hear about like mentorship. People are like trying to like literally collect mentors, like trading cards that, you know, and, and they’re trying to, like, if I put together this person, this person, this person, this person, this person, I will have like the the advice bullpen that can tell me exactly what to do in any case. And, and sometimes I’ll see that they, they actually don’t make progress until they can like line up this one person or this mentor. And there’s too many people asking other people for
(05:04): We were so far outside the Silicon Valley world that, um, we were not exposed to that world. We could see it from afar, but we weren’t soaked in it. And sometimes it’s hard when you’re soaked in it and you’re soaked in this advice from this, you know, collection of players or whatever, uh, to to see anything other than what they see. So I think there’s something really beneficial from just like doing it your own way and not asking too many people how, how you should do it. So that’s kind of what I mean by that as well. I mean, again, all this is contextual. Sometimes you do need some advice and you’ve never done something before. But I, I would say in many cases there’s a real benefit from approaching it with fresh eyes. And I would encourage more people to do that.
David (05:44): I think it’s just basic math. If you take all the same inputs as everyone else in your circle, you’re gonna get similar outputs. You’re not gonna get so much originality if you’re following all these prescribed paths. And that’s the other thing I find interesting. People are so eager to listen to someone who did something unique and what, what was it that worked for them? It was being unique. I remember seeing this, uh, breakdown of like, oh, what are the five traits that identified the successful entrepreneur? Is it that they all get up at, uh, 5:00 AM and they take cold showers or they eat this way or they exercise or they don’t exercise. And the baseline was, there was nothing. There’s nothing you could deduce. If you could deduce popularity or success to a formula, anyone could run it. So of course that’s not true. And very often if you do just follow in this path and you take in all the same sources, you’re gonna be just a worse off copy.
(06:45): You have to find a way to cultivate originality. And that doesn’t mean you can’t take advice, but if you take it from the same sources all the time, I think you’re gonna end up off. This was one of the reasons I originally really liked, say stoicism, for example. Now I do know that almost already does fall into the cold shower, 5:00 AM kind of bundle, uh, startup pack of, uh, tech, uh, entrepreneurs. But at the time that I got into it, it didn’t feel like that. It felt like it was actually a counter to extreme hustle culture, just work the maximum, all these other things, um, worry about the competitors, be paranoid in fact about the competitors, that this was a complete opposite outlook on life and could be an outlook on business. And that’s what it was for us and certainly for me. And we got different outcomes.
(07:38): This is how Rework, for example, got to be the book that it was, that was telling a bunch of people, if not outright the opposite than something quite different than what they would be getting from someone marinated in the vibe of a certain place. And I think that is one of the real dangers of online is that it takes this notion of, for example, Silicon Valley or San Francisco as it was when the physicality of that place really mattered and then it spreads. Its across the whole world. You see this in, in, in a bunch of different fields. I saw a great writeup on, um, architecture for example. Why do independent coffee shops look the same all over the world? Well, part of the reason is that like Pinterest and Instagram and other mediums like that, homogenizes, the culture homogenize the thinking and it homogenizes the in from an outlook of like the quote unquote best aesthetic wins.
(08:37): And that’s true in its perhaps original form. But then when that best is aesthetic has been duplicated 500 times by the time your coffee shop number 1,142 that has the same rustic look, you’re like your, your cheap copy. Even there was something to the original. It’s almost like, uh, the old cassette tapes, right? You have the original, you, you do a copy to someone else and then you do a copy to someone else and then do a copy to someone. By the time you’ve done 10 of those copies, it doesn’t sound as good. It sounds like something very different. So I think this sends of doubling down on originality leads to the same place that Jason’s talking about is you gotta double down in your own gut. You can’t take advice from all these people and then expect that you’re gonna get what they had. The people you want advice for had something unique because they were unique at the time they did it. So there’s a real barrier of how much you can pass on. Now again, this is all sort of a little hypocritical, maybe like we pass on lots of shit. Um, lots of advice, lots of opinion all the time, but you still have to filter it through that sieve.
Jason (09:48): One, one more thing I would add there to tie to this too is that, is that I think there’s a pretty good chance people really don’t know what the hell worked for them. They don’t really know what it was. A lot of it has to do with the product of timing, uh, with, with other people spreading the word in a certain way that you have no control over. It’s, there’s so many subtleties that have to probably line up properly for something to work out, which is probably why most things don’t work out because so many small things have to come together to work out. And it’s, it’s easy to kind of, uh, write the story 15 years later and look back and go, it worked because of this. It may have been something completely different. So in the same way, people will often look at successful companies and go, if we just emulate what they did, or they’ll look at a company, I shouldn’t say look at a company and assume they’re successful and emulate what they did, but it might turn out that what they’re doing isn’t working at all. It seems like it’s working, but it’s not actually working. And you wouldn’t even know that. And there’s a lot of mystery in this. I think that’s the other real honest point about it. It’s a big, big huge mystery why certain things work and other things don’t.
David (10:52): There’s a great book called The Halo Effect that goes into this where you can measure company not all these metrics. And what people find is that you take a company that’s successful, it could be Apple, it could be Tesla, let’s just take those two examples, right? There are polar opposites in very many ways when it comes to culture and how to deal with innovation and how to, they’re opposite, right? But they’re both successful. So people will have a tendency to think, oh, because let’s say Apple is successful at, well, they’re successful, a lot of things. That also means that the way they run HR is amazing. Why wouldn’t it be because they’re a successful company? That might not be true at all. Like most things, if you did sort of a graph that trended like, how good are you at this and this and this and this, very few things are just consistently awesome at everything.
(11:41): In fact, most of the time companies and people are awesome at certain things because they trade off other things. This is to, just to plug another book we keep talking about is, uh, the Blue Ocean Strategy. Blue Ocean Strategy really puts a method to this idea that you can’t just be awesome at all the things all the time. To in fact come up with a novel product, you have to decide what you’re gonna suck at. Tesla is a good example there, right? I think we’ve talked about this before, but build quality, they’re just gonna say, we’re gonna suck at that. People don’t really care. They don’t really care if they’re slight overspray on the paint or whatever. They care about some other things. They care about range, they care about charging networks, they care about all these other things. We’re gonna nail those things. We’re gonna be amazing at those things and then we’re gonna choose to suck at these other things.
But The Halo Effect has this tendency to make people think that like everything a successful person or company does must be good by the virtue of the fact that they’re success. Absolutely not. And the interesting thing is, when it is a bit of a mystery, right, you think that, oh, it must be Apple is so successful because, uh, Steve Jobs was just such a great manager. I don’t know, could be. Maybe that sort of slightly assholey style of being really – like that was the secret. But it could also just be that it was a side effect of the singular vision and, and all these other things. And it was essentially just a byproduct, and if you could do without the byproduct. Like as the saying often goes, if you’re just clump being an asshole, like that doesn’t mean you’ll be Steve Jobs
Well, I’ll link to uh, David’s book club in the show notes.
Jason (13:35): Yeah, I mean some people have more experience perhaps and to play with it more. And other people are just really good at getting the message out. And they’re actually, what they’re expert in is they’re expert in making themselves appear to be an expert. Uh, so that that’s, that’s a skill too. Uh, and, and be believable and, and all that stuff. So, you know, I don’t know. I mean, the other thing is like, I’m not a credentialist. I don’t look at people and go, what’s their background and, and what if they have a major in and they’re only experts because of that. So you have to be open-minded, uh, around that. Um, just because someone doesn’t have a particular background on something doesn’t mean they’re not really good damn good at it. But yeah, I think when, when something is brand new and people are calling themselves experts, it’s a little early.
David (14:13): And I think this is one of the, again, we’re falling into the same perhaps halo pit here. One of the reasons why Rework was a success was it was not Jason or I sitting down like, let’s write a book and come up with a bunch of ideas on how to do things. It was more like a field report. Hey, here’s a bunch of things we did over the past 10 years. We think in our analysis of our own situation that these were the most instrumental pieces of advice. Which is also one of the reasons why when you say, or at least when I try to give advice, I don’t try to give advice to anyone else but myself. I try remind myself about what it is I would like to take away from the experience that I’ve been through, getting to this point. Just that I remember the things that are crucial when we do something new.
(15:04): And this is the thing about advice and collecting advice, Jason, this point about collecting mentors as though they’re playing cards, right? There’s this, um, materialism collect more and more advice. If I just read five more blog posts and a few more books and like I’ll just have more and more and more. That’s not actually the hard part of becoming good and effective and successful in my opinion. It is figuring out what is the small handful of values or principles or practices that I need to remember when I need to use them. That’s what’s so difficult. If you have 10,000 ideas in your head of oh, you should do this, you should do, how do you even know how to pick it? How do you even know where to go? Being able to focus on like, do you know what, I have 50 core ideas that drive how I make decisions and so forth.
(15:58): It’s gonna be more effective. And to some extent perhaps it doesn’t matter even so much which 50 you pick just you pick 50 and you don’t have 10,000. So that’s another argument for just why you shouldn’t listen so much to so many people. You’re gonna fill your head and you’re gonna fill it then with doubt. Jason, you had another great post, um, a few months about if you want more uncertainty, just ask more people, right? If you wanna feel even less sure about whether you’re going in the right direction, just ask five more people cuz they’ll give you five more different directions. Oh yeah, I think this, I think that now at some point you gotta commit to your gut, which really is the compression algorithm we have for wisdom. It is your gut. Like we can’t always articulate why do we want this, why do we want the other thing? And I think this is actually what we find quite often. We can’t fully explain or articulate to other people why we think a certain decision is correct or not. And sometimes that’s being seen as like, that means that decisions aren’t scientific. If you can’t back it up with a articulation of exactly why that is, no, no, no, it is because there’s a compression engine of wisdom that is our gut is telling us what it should be based on 30 years worth of experience.
Kimberly (17:13): Well I am really curious before we wrap up because I think there is some value in getting advice versus also moving forward and executing and going with your gut. Like where do you guys fall in that? Are you asking advice of others or are you really just like blinders on and moving forward? Do you have people that are always your go-to people for seeking information?
Jason (17:35): I would say like for me it just, it depends on the topic and the criticality. Uh, I think that’s a big part of it too. Like there’s a lot of things, it doesn’t even matter if how much more accurate we are about it or whatever, or how many people you talk like you just kind of do it cuz it needs to get done and you move on. So it’s not like you apply, you don’t wanna apply the same, you know, degree of, uh, scrutiny or whatever on every decision. So I think it, it depends, um, when it comes to product decisions, sometimes I just wanna bounce something off someone to see how it comes back. It’s not so much what would you do, but more like what do you think, uh, of this is another way to do it. Um, sometimes it is how would you handle this or what, what do you know?
(18:16): It just depends on what gaps and what holes you need to fill in. And then other times I think David and I just like, we often will just make a call because it’s hard to determine how, if, if the outcome wasn’t really gonna change it. Sometimes you’re just determined to do something, you have a feel you’re just gonna do it and you can go through the motions of trying to like, feel like you’ve, you’ve rounded it out by asking a bunch of other people and it’s sort of like, you know, dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s and making sure you ticked all the boxes so you feel comfortable in making the decision. Uh, but, but that’s almost, that’s kind of a, it’s a bit of a mirage really. It’s not really probably what you needed to do. So we’re pretty comfortable just making calls sometimes and if they’re wrong, they’re wrong. Um, it’s on us then. I mean, I don’t know that that it’s, it really does, does depend. I know I just want all over the place, but that’s really kind of how it is in my mind.
David (19:04): I’d say for me, uh, my favorite mentors to go to are dead people because dead people will have written something down that have survived beyond them, right? They can’t dazzle you anymore with podcast appearances or any of these other high bandwidth modes of communicating. They have to dazzle you with their insights written on paper or stone tablets or however far back you want to go. But when I think of the sort of dead people that have had the biggest impact, it is sometimes thousands of years back or sometimes just a few hundred years back. And then you can have an internal dialogue with that material and try to apply it to your situation, which requires you to contextualize it. When you take a piece of advice, you just saw a tweet yesterday, it feels like it’s already contextualized, it happened this week, it’s in this zeitgeist.
(20:03): And that means there’s less of you in it. If you take a piece of advice that was given 2000 years ago, it’s not gonna translate perfectly. You have to do the translation. And in doing that translation, you personalize and contextualize the advice to the point that it’s not really the original anymore. And that’s the point. The point is that it’s comes from, uh, from something else. So I really like that. And then the other mentor I prefer is reality, which is, as Jason say, it’s not so, or not even trying to get to the quote unquote right answer, but get to the cheapest way of testing a answer, a hypothesis. Let’s throw the ball at the wall and see how it bounces back. We could argue endlessly and try to calculate the exact trajectory that the ball and what is the squishiness of such a ball?
(20:57): What is the force I’m throwing it with? There’s all sorts of ways of trying to be academic or intellectual about it. Or you can just fucking throw the ball, just throw the ball, it’ll bounce back. And if it wasn’t the right trajectory or whatever, you throw it again, this is one of the, i I thought this metaphor, um, in regards to Angry Birds. I dunno if you played that game, but you, you pulled sort of the trajectory of this bird and it, it flies, right? How do you figure out exactly how to throw, you throw one bird, your next bird throw is gonna be so much better because you saw how long the first one went and how it hit and the force and so forth. So getting into that rhythm of throwing the ball more often, as Jason say, it depends on criticality. If you only have one ball and unless it hits, you’re done.
(21:44): Yeah. All right. Ask a few people. Most balls are not like that. Most decisions are not like that. You get to calibrate. You throw the ball, you figure it out. You, you get to throw it five more times before it’s, it’s over. And what I find is that the time spent sort of listening to reality is so much better and more corrective than the time spent trying to listen to other people. Yeah, I once threw a ball too. Yeah, dude, whatever. I mean, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter. So lemme get point back to the point of why I continue to give advice despite all this is that sometimes people just need encouragement. And I think advice is actually that more than anything, it’s not even so much about what’s exactly inside that piece of advice. It’s encouragement that like, no, you should do it.
This was one of the arguments for why we wrote the book about remote. There were a bunch of people who sat with the same instincts that the open office wasn’t working very well for them. It was not a great way to get work done or, or whatever. And we just gave them the encouragement that, hey, do you know what you, you could do it this other way. You’re already thinking about, oh, wouldn’t it be great if that was an option? Oh, it is an option. I think of that when I look back upon all the decisions Jason and I have made. A lot of it came initially from a kickoff book called Maverick by Ricardo Semler. So Ricardo Semler – add this to the book club
Kimberly (23:48): I love that. Well, with that we’re gonna wrap it up. Rework is production 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website at 37signals.com/podcast. Full video episodes are also available on YouTube and Twitter. And if you have a specific question or you need some advice from Jason or David about a better way to work and run your business, leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 or you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.