Don’t ask for advice

An important, but counter-intuitive, strategy we found essential in this style of research is to avoid simply asking people for advice. When you ask for advice, you’ll often get vague, unhelpful answers. Instead, you need to observe what the top performers in your field are actually doing differently. Act like a journalist not a protege. This can often yield surprising insights about what actually matters to move forward.

~ Cal Newport from,

I’ve found this to be the case as well.

There are some people who give advice well. There are far more people who can give useful answers to good questions. Asking, “what do you think I should do,” isn’t going to get you useful guidance nearly as often as asking, “how did you do that.” You simply must do the hard work of figuring out whom to ask, and what to ask them.

In a recent conversation on the podcast, Thomas Droge brought up the idea of seeking younger persons to be your mentors; maybe not a formal mentorship relationship, but to be open to being a sort of stealth protege (my interpretation, not his words.) These two ideas dovetail: If you try to ask a younger person, literally, for advice, that’s not going to work well nearly as often as asking, “how did you do that?”



The main difference between innovators and the rest of us is that innovators ask more and better questions “and they are more driven to find answers and embrace them, even if the answers are first not what they wanted or expected to find,” Lang writes. “They have less in common with Einstein, frankly, than with young children.”

~ Farnam Street,

It’s common to talk about, (write about, read about,) how questions are the key to pretty much everything. But, I agree with this article. It’s not just about the questions, it’s about the curiosity, drive, tenacity, and possession to find answers to the questions. What makes someone an innovator, a rising star, is their ability—or if they’re really exceptional, their affliction of being unable to stop searching for the answers—to dig and dig and dig and learn and learn and learn. For innovators, all the hard work is front-loaded while the part that looks like the innovation is simply the obvious last step.