Yesterday, I asked whether educational content in all its forms or broad-based guidance can be considered “advice”.
As someone deeply interested in the field of advisory work, I was looking for ways to explore the boundaries of what “advice” really is.
I got some interesting responses, including this from Jeremy:
Eh, maybe. But if it’s one-size-fits-all, it’s probably bad advice.
I would assume that good advice involves some amount of listening, dialogue, empathy etc. Hard to do that “at scale”.
And Danilo (edited slightly for formatting):
Yes, since advice is generally understood as guidance to perform a future action.
But each form of advice is different, and one of the elements we can use to classify or assess the value of the advice is the level of expertise the advisor has in the correspondent field.
At the extremes we have:
- Advice from someone with no expertise = opinion
- Advice from someone with high level of expertise = expert recommendation
You asked about educational content, and that presents us with another element we can use to assess advice: the level of personalization.
At the extremes we have:
- Advice for a given audience or group of people trying to create a similar outcome = educational content or curated resources
- Advice for a single individual or organization = situational, tailored, client-specific advice
A great analogy on the meaning of advice
What prompted this thinking in the first place was a quote I read by McKinley Valentine:
Think of advice the way you think of medicine
That is, medicines are prescribed for specific people in specific situations. They’re not meant to be universally applicable. Sometimes a medication is for people in your exact situation, and it just doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, and you have to try the next option down the line,
If someone has high blood pressure, you would prescribe them medicine to lower their blood pressure.
And then maybe you’d tweet “Hey a great medicine for people with high blood pressure is Notrealazone*” [this is not how you practise medicine but it’s a metaphor, bear with me]
And then someone with low blood pressure would reply: “Oh my god that is terrible advice, Notrealazone would literally kill me.”
And then there’d be a big debate between people with high blood pressure and people with low blood pressure about whether it’s a terrible medicine or not, and they would both be so sure they were right (because it really would be bad/good for them). But as you can hopefully see, it would be a completely stupid and pointless argument, and there’d be no value in either side successfully converting the other. It’s very clearly good for some people and bad for others.
There are a few absolutes: arsenic is always** bad medicine; “if you are nice enough to your abuser, they will stop being abusive” is always bad advice.
And some advice is dangerous enough for a decent-sized minority that you shouldn’t blare it publicly without warnings.
But pretty much everything else is just not helpful for everyone. So if it’s not helpful for you… you don’t have to get defensive and weird about it, or justify yourself, or talk people into seeing it the same way you do. You can just say, “if that doesn’t end up working for you, here’s a different thing that worked for me.”
So. A better framework. Advice = medicine.
This example really nails it for me. It feels like any broadly-stated guidance is just that.
True advice, in my view, is applied to a particular person or situation.
It’s based on the recipient’s specific context and situation. It brings expertise to the table. Or at least, a desired point of view.
Ideally, it should be solicited advice. Nobody likes the other kind. But that’s another topic.
So how does this change or confirm your views on advice?
What other edge cases come to mind?