The world is full of fortune cookie philosophy and bad advice. It can be very harmful and is to be avoided.

Opinions are like butts; everybody's got one


Help Help Everywhere

The world is full of people falling over themselves to give advice. There are all of your acquaintances, near and far, who will all have an opinion about how you conduct yourself at work, how you run your business, how you raise your child. There is an entire industry of self-appointed gurus, life experts and mentors on social media, trying to harvest your attention with pithy one-liners. And there is, of course, the whole self-help section of any self-respecting bookstore, full of books with one dubious idea stretched, moulded and stuffed with anecdotes to fit 200 pages.

This is the supply side of the equation. And on the demand side, we have a society full of lost souls, looking at the 1%, knowing there is something better out there for them, and yearning to learn how to get it. In this age of the internet and social media, we are bombarded by images of both the end goal (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel); and the idea that we too can get there, embodied by an endless stream of self-help gurus and mind, body and career hackers.

And, voila, we have a perfect marriage of consumers of advice and providers of it.

Except there is a big problem here. Much of this advice is utter nonsense. It is written by profiteers, people who have realised that the market of people, desperate for help and completely non-discerning is so big, it is like a gold rush, where the lost and confused are the gold. In the current environment, pretty much any message can be monetised through an airport self-help book or eyeballs on Twitter accounts. And the barrier to entry for this rich vein of cash? None. It is like homoeopathy or acupuncture. Anyone can self-declare an expertise tomorrow, and go into business. Are they all bad? Are they all charlatans? Of course not. Like homoeopaths and acupuncturists, some are excellent and provide immense value. But good luck sorting the wheat from the chaff.

The fact is, some people will literally say anything. Here are some favourites I got from a quick scroll on Twitter (comments are mine):

- Intelligent people have fewer friends. (So you're basically an outcast or a dolt).

- Losers learn and never start. Winners learn and then start. Pro's (sic) start and learn along the way. (Hard rule for life here).

- We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough. (At best incomplete advice).

- Volume and wisdom rarely coexist. (What does this even mean??).

- Uncomfortable truth: Sleeping 8 hours a day wasting a third of your life is for losers. (Pretty sure I heard Elon Musk sleeps 8 hours a day. Looooseeeer).

- Sleep at least 8 hours a day and drink a gallon of water. (Ok which one of you is lying).

- Lifting smashes running. (Again incomplete at best).

- Choose to choke on greatness rather than nibble on mediocrity. (Gagging on BS here).

Wheat And Chaff

Now I know what you're thinking. This is all garbage, sure. But anybody sane simply wouldn't listen to these idiots, so why are we even talking about this? Well, all of the quotes above - and this is literally after a 2-minute scroll on Twitter, there is an endless supply - were on accounts with a big following, of several hundred thousand. Some of the authors are Olympic athletes. Others are NY Times top 100 bestselling authors. Believe it. These are people who come with a lot of credibility, and who's publicity-seeking missives can cause a lot of damage.

You might also say that some of this is patently nonsense, and really, anyone who can't avoid this kind of mental junk food deserves what they get. Well I do say that, it's true. But this isn't actually the issue. It's the stuff that's harder to spot that's the problem. The advice that seems to make sense on the face of it. Whether a book on sales at an airport bookstore shelf; or a new diet promoted by university professors. The words therein appear to make sense, not because we know they are true, but because we lack the expertise or evidence to rule them out as false.

Again, this can be easily illustrated by a quick Twitter scroll. Things like

"never quit"; or

"why work 10 hours a day for someone else when you can work 4 hours a day for yourself".

Some of this actually rings true at a first read, and only reveals itself to be nonsensical upon deeper reflection, something a lot of people never stoop to. Worse than that, some of this advice can cause serious harm. Imagine somebody scrolling through Twitter, after a couple of beers, and deciding to ditch their career in finance to pursue their dream of financial independence by opening the dinosaur-themed nightclub they always knew the world needed. Screw The Man. Or pledging to sleep four hours a night from now on, because it worked well enough for Mrs Thatcher (who got dementia) and was recommended by a youthful Olympic athlete on Twitter.


So how do you know who to listen to? I am constantly encouraging my readers to seek inputs, and implement what they've learnt. Here are some rules to help capture the signal and avoid the noise:

  1. Filter bad sources - If you spot someone on Twitter / Blogosphere / anywhere spouting nonsense, get rid of them as a source. It may or may not be that they also say useful things; but the point is there are plenty of people out there who are smart, responsible, diligent and thoughtful enough to want to read everything they say (not to necessarily agree, but to consider). We can comfortably restrict our input to be composed 100% of people like this, and eliminate anyone we know can say good things, but can also talk garbage.

[ Good examples of good, thoughtful output would be people like Shane Parrish, Tim Ferris, Naval Ravikant, Tim Urban, there are so many ]

2. Stop to think - For heaven's sake, don't just assume because somebody (famous/rich/credible) says something, it is true. At a minimum, anything needs to be examined for context. It may be true for them, but may not be true for you. Advice is really a nuanced and sophisticated thing. reducing it to a catchy one-liner necessarily requires a lot of assumptions about who you are, what you do, what is your history, what are your circumstances. So unpack it, measure it for size, and assess. Very few things are one-size-fits-all.

3. Experiment - If something looks like it might make sense, and even upon reflection, you aren't quite sure, experiment with it. There is no harm in testing an idea; play with it, test it, get a feel, and you'll eventually know if it is right or not. As long as you're not accepting something as gospel from the beginning, you're good. Common sense and logic will do the rest.

4. Raise the bar - Think of it like this: for you to put something into your life, it needs to be proven - or at least a very high probability to succeed. With rules and advice, like anything else, if it ain't Hell Yeah it's Hell No. You don't need a new rule every minute. Be happy to let the questionable ones slide by. If you are more discerning, and only accept as life changes those things which you are sure will lift you, you'll be in pretty good shape. The burden of proof is on the advice, not on you. Remember that.

Hopefully, if you apply these four filters as people pepper you with guidance daily, you'll be able to quieten the information overload, and avoid lurching this way and that every time some pseudo expert has a brain tremor in the shower.

Good luck.