Steve Blank This advice could make or break your career

There is no manual on how to evaluate and process the "suggestions" and "advice" of a boss or mentor. However, how you choose to follow these recommendations can accelerate your learning and make your career a success. Here is what to keep in mind:

I had a team of students working on a mysterious client problem. While they were getting ready quickly, I suggested they talk to someone who, in my opinion, was an expert in the field and who could help them learn much more quickly. In fact, from the second week of classes, I suggested the same person several times – one-on-one, in-class and in writing. Whenever the different members of the team smiled, nodded and said, "Yes, we will get there." Finally, eight weeks later, as they were preparing to cross the country to meet the customer, I reminded them again.

Upon returning from the trip, I asked if the counselor I had suggested was helpful.

I was a bit surprised when they replied, "Oh, we have been trying to contact him for a while and he has never answered." So I asked:

Based on our conversation about the lack of response from your advisor John Doe, please send me a copy of the emails you sent him.

Thank you


The answer I received was disappointing – but not totally surprising.

Dear Steve,

Unfortunately, I think our team drew poorly due to communication problems. It was our responsibility to contact John Doe, but we failed.

We did not attempt to contact him until week 8 before our flight, but the email was returned. We were caught in the work during the trip and did not follow. What we should have done was to clarify the email address with our teaching assistant and try to contact him again.

Best regards,


An extra credit for finally recognizing that they had ruined everything – but there was more than that.

Combine outside tips with your own ideas
After thinking, I realized that this team of students was missing an opportunity to learn. They were heading to the real world soon and they did not know how to evaluate and process "suggestions" and "advice". Ironically, since they were really smart and in a world-class university, they confused "intelligent" with "I can understand everything by myself. "

Throughout my entrepreneurial career, I have been constantly bombarded with advice – from bosses, mentors, friends, investors, and so on. I was fortunate to have mentors who were interested in my career and, as a young entrepreneur, I tried to pay attention to what they were trying to tell me. (When I arrived in my first business after four years in the military, I did not have the advantage of thinking that I knew everything.) It made me better – I learned faster than buying all basic knowledge and being able to combine the data from others with the ideas that I had.

Have a process to evaluate suggestions and advice
Here is my answer to my student team:

Dear team:

Throughout your professional career, you will receive tons of suggestions and advice. Mentors – people you do not work for but who care about your career, as well as your line manager and others in your chain of command.

  1. Treat tips and suggestions as a gift, not a distraction
    • Suppose someone has just given you a package packed in a bow bearing your name.
    • Then think about how they feel when you ignore it and throw it to one side.
  2. When working at full speed to try to do your job, it's pretty easy to assume that other people's tips / suggestions are just hijackings. It is a mistake. Sometimes their follow-up can make or break a career and / or relationship.
    • The first time your boss or mentor assumes you were too busy to follow up.
    • The second time, your boss will begin to question your judgment. Your mentor will doubt your willingness to be coached.
    • The third time you ignore your boss's suggestions / tips, you limit your career. And if you are a mentor, you have probably damaged or ended the relationship.
  3. Everyone likes to suggest "suggestions" and "advice". Consider them as belonging to four categories:
    • Some bosses / mentors offer "suggestions" and "tips" because it makes them feel important.
    • Others have a set of contacts or ideas that they are willing to share with you because they believe that they might be useful to you.
    • Some leaders / mentors have skills in pattern recognition. They recognized that the project you are working on or the problem you are trying to solve could be helped by connecting to a specific person / group or listening to how it was resolved previously.
    • A very small subset of bosses / mentors has extracted some of the best practices and / or wisdom from these models. These can give you shortcuts to the information they have taken years to learn.
  4. At the beginning of your career, it's hard to know if a suggestion or advice is valuable enough to spend time following up. Here is what I suggest:
    • Start with "Thank you for the suggestion."
    • Then you can ask, "Help me understand why is it important? Why should I talk to them? What should I learn? "This will help you determine the category of advice you get.If this is a direct leader and other people in your reporting chain, ask him:" How should I prioritize this? Does this require immediate action? "(And in most cases, no matter what category it is in, do it.)
    • Always tell the person who offered you a tip / suggestion to share what you have learned. thanks to them

If you are open to outside counsel, you will find people interested in the long-term development of your career. These are your career mentors. Unlike coaching, there is no agenda or specific goal, but mentor relationships can result in a lifelong learning dialogue of several decades. Here's what makes these relationships a mentorship: you have to give as well as you get. As you learn from them – and from their years of experience and expertise – what you have to give back is just as important: to offer new information to their data.

If your goal is to be a founder, having a network of mentors / advisors means that you will not only be aware of current technologies, markets or trends, but you will also be able to identify trends and bring new perspectives. for your next start.

Lessons learned

  • Suggestions / tips at work are not distractions that can be ignored
    • Understand the type of suggestions / advice you receive (noise, contacts, diagrams, ideas)
    • Understand why advice is given
    • S & # 39; s grant on priority in tracking
  • Not understanding how to respond to advice / suggestions may limit your career
  • The board is a starting point for your own ideas and a gateway for mentoring
  • Treat tips and suggestions as a gift, not a distraction

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