Many folks who give out what is labeled "bad advice" are unaware that their success is mostly due to randomness. Thats why that sort of advice lacks true insight - the giver did not become successful because of something they did, they just happened to be standing in the right spot when the bullets went flying. Its also why the advice seems super obvious - because the giver cant tell that their success is just a random selection and does not come directly from their own choices. There advice amounts to, "just stand there and hope you dont get taken out, thats what I did!"

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I liked this a lot! Just published something inspired by it here: https://forge.medium.com/theres-no-such-thing-as-good-advice-bd5dbaf9d450

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Jan 1, 2022Liked by Sam Atis

A major, and hopefully relevant, gripe I have a long had about public advice is that it is too rarely conditional. I do think there are situations where “work harder“ it’s good advice, we could debate whether it is 1%/10%/80%, but the more productive framing would be “what kind of person would benefit from this, now?”

Maybe one heuristic is “If you have had an early success, but recently a failure, and this goal is not dominated by noise, you should *try* working harder for *one week* and evaluate the outcome”. As an example I finally got a personal trainer after believing my energy level was insensitive to exercise - turns out I just wasn’t doing enough of it.

Being human, I had a strong prior that exercise should be helpful. The cause and effect relationship is not nearly as noisy as entrepreneurship, and the reason I was not trying harder was pretty clear: it’s not fun and it is too easy to turn off a YouTube video.

But this is already way too complex to get across in a verbal public interview. Anything more complex than a single if/then statement would also get pretty dry for a written article. I don’t really have a solution to the problem that the algorithmic complexity requires to give good advice might simply overflow the capacity of most channels through which we receive it

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Nov 13, 2022·edited Nov 13, 2022

I view a lot of the advice as more bland, generic and not useful rather than actively bad (which seems more like a terminology difference than a substantive disagreement). People are often incentivized to write it because they can get attention and rewards for giving advice, because they're famous and popular enough. Or because e.g. giving advice for other CEOs may convince investors that they know how to be a CEO. So I think the main reason they write bland and generic advice is because they don't have any special insight to share, but they want to write advice anyway. Similarly, a lot of mediocre books exist because people have reasons that they want to be an author other than having something novel and important to say.

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People are genuinely wising up that maybe, advice are social strata specific ("Clear Pill" thinking):

- Platitudes don't work for those who are average or below average https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiuDfKLPTtU

- Genuine advice are good, but often provided for the wrong reason https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiuDfKLPTtU

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When people give advice publicly, it also suffers from social desirability bias. People say stuff that sounds appealing. I think this is particularly the case with dating advice. People are often unwilling to speak candidly especially if people are hostile.

"It’s also very unclear that it’s even possible to take this advice - conscientiousness is almost certainly partially genetic, so I’m not sure you can just jump up to the 99th percentile in hard-work just by willing it" Why not? If you truly have free will, you can change your behavior willingly. Similarly, despite your genes, you can be in an environment so outside the norm that the environmental effect dominates. Heritability is the proportion of variation attributable to genetic differences. All people are how they are because of genes and environment. You cannot have one without the other. Imagine a rectangle. No width means no rectangle. No length means no rectangle. Heritability is SOMEWHAT like comparing all rectangles. If most rectangles are wide but short in length, then you could have a low area if you are short in width and short in length. However, if you believe you can expand length willingly, you should be able to expand length so far that you achieve 99% percentile in area.

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I think there are a few layers to advice:

First, I'm pretty sure there is a limited set of "stuff" that is valuable to success, so it's basically impossible to come up with truly novel general advice. That's why I'm not so critical of whether advice is insightful or not: It might not seem so for you, but it could be for me because I either hadn't heard of it before or (far more likely) because I didn't think to apply it to this situation. Take your example of one-on-ones being useful. To me that's not insightful, it's just a different flavor of Rubber Duck Debugging or grandma's constant reminder that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to talk through it.

I look at general advice as throwing stuff at a wall and seeing if anything sticks: Something will work for me and something else will work for you.

But general advice is only the tip of the iceberg, most advice has to be specific to the person and the problem to be useful. And you'll never get that from a book or Youtube video or blog post. I think this is closely related to your concern that advice needs to be actionable. Specific advice is still going to be related to one of the set of useful "things," but it's going to give you an idea of how to apply that "thing" to your specific circumstances.

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Really liked this, one thing I would add (that may be implicit) in giving advice: Make sure it's specific to a situation/person, and not broad (e.g. "How to be successful").

So for the grad school example, this would be how to help someone who is feeling unproductive in grad school (and may not be helpful for anyone who is feeling unproductive);

For Anki, it is probably more effective when tailored specifically in how to effective remember knowledge (and not for example just "being more productive").

(The irony that I'm reading your blog instead of focusing on my grad school research is killing me.)

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Dec 23, 2021·edited Dec 23, 2021

Depends on what you define as success, folks

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