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Have you ever made a bad decision? Looking back, was it avoidable, if only you had sought out advice? If not, then congratulations: you are uniquely blessed. If so, then welcome to our club, a large one indeed.

Avoidable bad decisions happen to everyone, and they keep happening to some. Why? Parents and teachers train us to apologize when causing harm and to give thanks when accepting help. But nobody trains young people, when they have an important decision to make, to ask themselves if they have the knowledge and experience to handle it, and if not, who does and can help.

For diverse reasons of faulty judgment, emotion, social relations, and even biology, people do not try to bring the knowledge and experience of others to bear on their problems and challenges, in the service of better decision making.

One reason for this failure is a fear of appearing weak. Another reason is that schoolwork trains you to do problems on your own without consulting anyone, which is considered cheating. Still another reason, a modern one, is that people think that consulting books or the web are good enough, neglecting that often good advice critically depends on one’s circumstances and goals, which vary greatly from one person to the next. Good books and web articles can convey principles and specific examples, but not address the great variety of people’s situations.

However, I believe that the main reason that people do not proactively seek advice from others is that they just don’t think of it; it’s not a practiced habit. Even when people do take the initiative of seeking out advice, they often don’t do it well; it’s not a practiced skill. For example, they might seek advice from only one person in order to avoid the confusion and stress that result from getting contradictory advice.

To become a skilled advice seeker, and thus make better decisions, it’s also helpful to understand that advice consists of much more than solutions to a problem.

Let’s consider the case of a mother who wishes to rejoin the workforce after a long absence. Advice can consist of potential solutions – information about a specific opening – but it can also provide pointers to helpful people (someone similar to you who went through what you did), readings, or events.

Advice can reveal dimensions of a problem that you haven’t considered; for example, you are not rushed, so rather than just respond to openings, instead identify where you’d like to work and plan how to get in. Advice enables you to proceed with confidence that you’ve considered the available options, and deepens social engagement that can be drawn on in the future for mutual aid.

Some take-aways:

  1. When you have a complicated problem or issue, consider whether seeking advice is worthwhile.
  2. Advice seeking is a skill that can be honed by learning its principles and best practices, such as how to identify who’s a good advisor.
  3. One’s life challenge is not to go it alone, but to artfully bring to bear the world’s knowledge and experience on whatever you are undertaking.

Get advice and prosper.

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Raul Valdes-Perez is CEO and co-founder of OnlyBoth Inc. whose software discovers noteworthy benchmarking insights from data and writes them up in perfect English. He authored the book Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work, published in October 2012. He co-founded the business software company Vivisimo in 2000 and led it as CEO and chairman through 2009, then becoming executive chairman until the acquisition by IBM in 2012.

He was named a 2007 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (North Central Region), top ten reader favorite for Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine, and twice a CEO of the year finalist by the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Earlier, he was on the Carnegie Mellon faculty. He received seven research grants from the National Science Foundation and published 50 journal articles and book chapters.

Raul received a PhD from Carnegie Mellon in 1991, where his advisor was the Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon.

For more information, please visit

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this. In America, we’re taught to be self-sufficient–asking for help is simply not an option–but that’s a lie. Collaboration and brainstorming are wonderful things. This is one of the most useful posts I’ve read lately, particularly since you summarized the three take-away options. God bless you.

    1. Thank you. I think there are cases and environments where advice seeking is normal and even expected: medical problems, legal problems, and research centers, where the value of expertise, and the consequences of wrong decisions, are recognized. The challenge is to take these behaviors and generalize them to other aspects of life and work. That’s what I’ve tried to communicate, as well as to practice in my own life.

  2. Thanks Raul! yes we don’t like to appear vulnerable and “weak” when it is a true sign of strength to acknowledge when we need others in our lives to help us navigate life! Brene Brown, social work professor, has done incredible research in this area of vulnerability. Thanks again!

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