One of the best books I’ve read recently is Advice is for Winners, by Raul Valdes-Perez. It’s all about how to get advice for better decisions in work and life. I’ve written a deep review on it:
It’s a great book whether you are an advice seeker, or serve in a trusted advisor role. It helps you with either role, because the author shares an in-depth look at what holds back people from taking advice, as well as the qualities that make an advisor more effective.
On a personal note, I’ve had to learn how to seek advice with skill, back when I first joined Microsoft. I started out in Developer Support and it really was a team sport. It was rare for any individual to have all the knowledge to address the complex issues that came our way. Instead, the key was to be very good at finding the answers and expertise around the world. It’s true that two-heads are better than one, and there is a lot of power in the collective perspective – if you know how to use it.
When I joined the Microsoft patterns & practices team, I had to learn how to be good at both seeking out experts as well as giving deep advice about how to put our platform together and make the most of it. One of the biggest challenges I faced on a daily basis was conflicting advice from qualified experts.
At the end of the day, I learned how to use test cases to find and validate the answers and solutions. To do this well, I need to use scenarios and context both to weed out generic or irrelevant advice, and to be able to test advice. Interestingly, the key to finding a solution often involved being able to "repro" (reproduce) the problem or challenge.
Once you could "repro" the problem, you could share it with others and get their heads in the game. Also, often while trying to create a repro, you would find out what the real problem was, or at least, get clarity in the decisions and assumptions.
Sometimes, trying to reproduce the problem wasn’t practical, so instead, the goal would be to understand the context or scenario as best you could, and construct a skeletal solution in incremental steps. This way, when somebody tries to duplicate the solution, if something doesn’t work along the way, you can usually backtrack to the basic steps. Effectively, you can gradually build up from a working foundation, and when a part of it, doesn’t work, you can isolate it, and troubleshoot what’s different about the particular context (such as security context, or configuration, etc.)
Back to the book … in Advice is for Winners, Raul provides a great distillation and synthesis on the art of getting advice with skill. What I especially like about the book is that it very much matches what I’ve learned the hard way about giving and getting advice. Raul does a fantastic job of helping you get over any limiting beliefs or mindset that might hold you back from seeking advice. He also does a great job of articulating what holds us back from getting the advice we need.
The backbone of the book is an actionable framework for getting advice that’s principle-based and easy to personalize. If you aren’t sure how to approach people to ask for help, this framework will help you get over that. If you aren’t sure how to deal with conflicting advice, the guidance will help you get over that, too. If you aren’t sure what scenarios to even seek out advice, Raul provides very specific examples and stories. To bottom line it, what you don’t know, can hurt you, and building your advice seeking skills can be a powerful investment that pays you back for the rest of your life in exponential ways that you can’t yet predict.
For a "movie-trailer” style book review of Advice is for Winners, see Book Review: Advice is for Winners.
Becoming a skilled advice seeker might be one of the best capabilities you can build to improve your personal effectiveness.