Adverse advice selection

January 25, 2022 — November 15, 2022

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Figure 1

Sam Atis, in Most advice is pretty bad shows the needle we might try to thread here:

I think good advice has three main components:

  1. It is not obvious
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is based on some true insight
Figure 2

1 Incoming

Justin Etheredge:

Almost all advice is contextual, yet it is rarely delivered with any context.… Without understanding the context, the advice is meaningless, or even worse, harmful. If those folks had followed their own advice early on, they themselves would likely have suffered from it. It is hard to escape this trap. We may be the culmination of our experiences, but we view them through the lens of the present.

Spencer greenberg, in a newsletter, hypothesises:

There’s a hierarchy of skill levels regarding what people do when someone comes to them for help solving a problem:

  1. Reaction: suggest what first comes to your mind after the person tells you about their challenge.
  2. Personal anecdote: say what worked for you in a similar-sounding situation.
  3. Patterns: give advice about examples of what tends to work for others in similar-sounding situations.
  4. Empathy and Patterns: listen closely and attentively, empathetically ask questions, and explain what you’ve seen work for others in a similar situation.
  5. Empathetic Analysis: empathetically ask questions, listen to their proposed options for what they might do, propose one to two other potential options, then discuss the most important advantages and disadvantages of all options.
  6. Model: empathetically ask questions until you have a causal model. Explain it to the person to see its weaknesses. Get their help improving it. Use it to predict a few things that may work, and discuss the pros and cons of each of them. Encourage the person to pick what to try first/second/etc.

DRMacIver’s Notebook: Disingenuous Advice

The characteristic features of this sort of disingenuous advice are:

  • It’s not exactly bad advice. It’s important that it could, in theory, solve the problem.
  • It tends to be quite one-size-fits-all. It shows very little engagement with the actual problem—if you were going to put in enough effort to tailor your advice, you’d probably make at least some effort to give reasonable advice.
  • It tends to be quite simple, so as to make it seem easy. It’s the sort of thing that you could very naturally use the word “just” in.
  • It seems to encourage closing off further conversation until you’ve tried to follow the advice. Reasons why the advice won’t work sound like excuses.
  • It is, in fact, very hard to follow this advice and even following the advice isn’t guaranteed to work.