Answers are Cheap; Advice is Not

Answers, facts, solutions, data, statistics have never been cheaper.

We used to have to go to the library. Or flip to the back of the textbook.

But now we visit Wikipedia. Or Google it. Or ask Alexa.

Answers are objective solutions to technical questions.
  • What's the capital of Montana?
  • Who was the 27th President of the United States?
  • What are the criminal arrest demographics in New York City?
  • If one train left New York for San Francisco at 6am.....?
  • When is and what's the path of the next solar eclipse? 
  • What report does our corporate policy require we complete for this...?
  • What headlight bulb belongs on a 2003 Chevy Malibu? 
Though they may be complicated, answers and solutions are exact. They have end points, where the question or problem is definitively satisfied. Like a final exam with 100 multiple choice questions.

And with artificial intelligence, robots, and machine learning, answers are becoming even cheaper, more accessible, and in-demand.

But advice is expensive. It costs a lot.

It requires investments of time, sweat, research, wisdom, trial-and-error, failure, experimentation, study, learning, networking, coordination, disassembly, re-assembly.

Advice is what you ask for when exact solutions do not exist. It's what one seeks to help make a decision when information is not clear, when values compete with each other, when the effects are less than predictable, when rules do not apply, when there is no identifiable end-state.

Think about who you ask for advice:
  • for intimate relationship troubles.
  • for cooking a new dish.
  • for picking a college.
  • for settling workplace conflict.
  • for choosing a restaurant in a strange city.
  • for medical treatment options of a loved one.
Chances are you ask people who have experience. And if they don't share your personal values, priorities, or beliefs...they know how to ask questions to draw out or demonstrate which of your values, priorities, or beliefs affect or are affected by the potential choices. (I also use the word interventions instead of choices or decisions, as it more accurately accounts for perpetual adaptations to change rather than finite resolutions.)

Navigating the complex and uncertain world relies of the advice of those who've gone before us. You probably ask for advice from those who have "been there; done that." They appreciate the interplay and various "systems" at work.

So as objective data becomes cheaper and more abundant, judgement continues to be in short supply. The "collector of knowledge" is becoming less valuable. Answers accelerate while cost plummets. But advice will continue to be both expensive and time-intense. Mentorship will remain a vital aspect to human growth and development, irrespective of technical, industrial "progress."

Make sure you understand what you're asking for...and where to go for the best response.

And what about when someone comes to you - to tap into your experiences:
  • How do you use your experiences to help those who come to you looking for advice? 
  • Do you impose your own values, priorities, and beliefs on them? 
  • Do you pose scenarios to help guide them according to their own values, priorities, and beliefs?
  • Are you helping them grow as a critical, unique, adaptive, creative problem-solver? 
Knowing the difference between answers and advice is akin to appreciating the difference between something that is complicated and something that is complex.

Maybe our first questions should address those differences.....



Your Opinions Doesn't Matter...To Me is about trust and credibility in whether someone's opinion should matter to you.

Leadership is about Values; Not RIGHT vs WRONG explains why both camps have leaders - and hints about the lessons we can learn from those who lead opposite our stance.

Credibility & Influence: The Bridge to Fostering Change in Others is a piece that argues why knowledge, education, or experience only matter when you hold credibility and influence among those you're trying to impact.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedIn


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