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Good, Bad & Debatable Advice [Decision Making
Posted on December 19, 2015 @ 05:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One book I'm currently reading is a gardening book called Decoding Gardening Advice (2012) by Jeff Gilman & Meleah Maynard.

The book is broken up into various gardening topics such as soil, water, disease and pest control, mulch, etc... For each topic they discuss advice that they consider good, bad, and debatable about that gardening topic and provide reasons for their classification.

On the topic of soil an example of good advice is "Add organic material to all garden soil before planting". An example of bad advice is "Always us a balanced fertilizer". An example of debatable advice is "Use urine as fertilizer". You can read the book to find out exactly why they consider these imperative statements to be good, bad, and debatable advice.

I find the format of the book is quite useful, easy to read, and stimulating. Reading these short advice-and-evaluation pieces is a good way to organize knowledge in an actionable way.

I think a similarly formatted book would be good when it comes to investment advice or managing a startup. In both cases there are different topic areas we might focus on and within these topic areas we might formulate various pieces of advice about the topic and then evaluate how true that advice is.

It is important to recognize, however, that advice is seldom infallible and that even good advice can be wrong in certain circumstances. For example, the advice to add organic material to all garden soil before planting would be incorrect if that organic material is, say, pine needles whose acidity and tannins might prevent the growth of the plant you are trying to grow. Many people would have regarded the advice to use urine as a fertilizer as universally good advice but the authors consider it debatable because urine has 10 times the dose of nitrogen that liquid fertilizers usually have so if you repeatedly apply urine to the same area you could damage your plants with too much nitrogen. Also if you don't apply it right away, stale urine could accumulate diseases and become even more concentrated. All of these problems go away if you dilute urine with water, use it immediately, and throw it on your compost pile rather than directly on a plant. They would even argue that the urine-added compost pile should only be used for non-food plants. The need to add more qualifications to the advice is the reason they consider it "debatable" advice.

There is alot of advice out there on the best way to invest or manage a startup. Much of it falls into the debatable category, but some is less debatable (good advice) or more debatable (bad advice). It is always necessary to contextualize advice and ask yourself whether this is really true for my circumstance and in the way that I am proposing to implement that advice.

As an exercise you might want to google "good advice for startups" or "good advice for investing" and ask yourself whether the suggested advice is really good advice. I doubt there is any advice that is always "good" so the question becomes whether there are enough circumstances where this advice could be "bad" advice that you should really put it into a category of "debatable" advice. Perhaps all that is required for the advice to be good advice is to be more precise in the formulation of that advice so it does not apply as broadly. I think the exercise of assembling your own pieces of "good" startup advice or investment advice is worth the effort because, like gardening, it should, if reliable, lead to more success than following debatable advice when you shouldn't or bad advice that you thought was good advice.

All advice needs to be decoded by evaluating whether it is appropriate to your particular circumstance and in the way you intend to apply that advice in practice. All investment, startup or business management advice is debatable to some degree and it might be useful to raise at lease one objection to any piece of advice touted as "good" advice. Expertise is the ability to recognize subtle nuances that often make a big difference in practice.

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