This video, right here, is an example of what I would say constitutes the worst business advice on the internet.
Please, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE FOLLOW THIS ADVICE!
“But Nick, that seemed like pretty good advice, what’s wrong with it???”
Let me explain why…
How the internet helps share knowledge
There is no shortage of excellent business advice out there.
We have hundreds, in some cases thousands of years worth of recorded history. And especially over the past century, a proliferation in books, lessons and case studies about successful innovations which all business people can learn from.
The internet has only continued this trend, giving people access to more game-changing insights in a second than they could consume in a lifetime.
And best of all, it has allowed people to get access to most of it for free.
What previously would have taken years of study at a university or MBA programme can now be instantly available for every entrepreneur, upstart, established business or mompreneur.
And there is a huge amount of evidence that continuing to learn new insights and strategies, whether they are directly correlated with your business activity or seemingly more random, can have a direct impact on your ability to develop creative, innovative and profitable new offerings.
But there is also a problem.
With the ease of accessing this wealth of information also comes the challenge of identifying what information is based on a valid source, and which is just made up and unlikely to work.
In “ye olden days”, you could compare it to the fabled snake oil salesmen, selling you a concoction which promised to fix everything wrong with you, without having to actually prove that it works.
You see, nowadays everyone on the internet can claim to be an expert in any subject and provide their advice to an audience of millions. This will often lead to many of them making outrageous claims about how you can become successful almost overnight by just following their advice.
And with cheap web hosting, high definition video cameras and Youtube, it is now even easier for anyone to produce professional looking videos which previously only a large, successful company could afford.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to be critical and discerning about whether someone evidence that what they are saying is backed up by a credible source.
What is the worst business advice on the internet?
Going back to the video I linked to above, by a guy called Daniel Ally, and there are two major, MAJOR problems which only becomes clear when you think about the advice critically:
- What he is saying doesn’t seem to have any evidence behind it at all, it is all just spouted as gospel
- He is not actually giving you any actionable advice at all
I was infuriated when I saw this video, as I spend my life trying to find evidence, case studies and scientific insights about what makes people have good ideas and turn those into innovations which create long term business value.
What you might call “perfect business ideas”.
And here is a guy saying you just need to find an idea that is profitable, will keep you happy for your lifetime and easy to execute.
Wow, why didn’t I think of that???
That advice is exactly as useful as telling a lonely man that he just needs to get a girlfriend who is attractive physically, emotionally available, successful in her own right and fun to be around. Problem solved!
I don’t want to pick on Daniel, but his example is symptomatic of the overall trend in self-proclaimed experts: a lack of credibility or solid sources for their ideas.
Let me show you another video of his which also displays in more detail the detachment from respectable sources. It’s all about your subconscious mind and the power it holds. I was hoping to get insights into some of the breakthrough research into understanding how your subconscious mind affects your actions which have been discovered over the past few decades.
Instead, I got this…
In my work to understand creativity from a more scientific perspective, I have studied the subconscious and interviewed a number of the most prominent experts in the field around how it relates to creativity, and all of them would be able to talk about specific studies that shed new light on our understanding of what is going on inside our own brains. There have been some amazing insights, like this one, another one here and also this one.
Now, based on the fact that you’re on this website, which is all about insights into creativity and innovation based on evidence, I hope you agree with me that those insights seem a little…vague…
And they are. Because they’re based on bullshit.
What Mr Ally is spouting as ways to improve your business performance is based on a Philosophy called “The Law of Attraction“, a pseudoscience which essentially boils down to “think positive thoughts and they will manifest themselves to you”.
Researchers have severely criticised it about it having no basis in reality or evidence to back it up.
And yet thanks to the internet, if you didn’t know any better, terrible advice like this might look just as valid as that coming from a scientist, a management consultant, lawyer or independent financial adviser.
Is it just the internet that created this problem?
Let us look at another example, from the pre-internet era, to see how terrible advice has existed forever.
Here is an infomercial from the 1980s, from a real-estate investment guru called Tom Vu.
It’s almost so hilariously bad that it becomes ironically good.
Once again, the advice doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. It displays all of the hallmarks of a get-rich-quick scheme. In fact, in one of his infomercials he actually proudly exclaims that it is indeed a Get-rich-quick scheme, “because what is the point in getting rich slowly?”
But this didn’t stop a large number of his students suing him for misleading and false advertising when his system couldn’t deliver the results he so lavishly promised.
This is just one example, but there are hundreds of other examples of flashy con artists who couldn’t back up their claims, because they were not based on supportive evidence.
How to make sure you don’t fall for bad advice
While there are no hard and fast rules for being able to spot an obvious liar, here are some tips to help you determine if someone’s advice is worth listening to:
- What are their root sources for their advice? Sources you can trust would usually include:
- Peer reviewed Scientific Journals (like Nature or the Creativity Research Journal)
- Well respected business journals (like Harvard Business Review)
- Public interviews with successful business leaders (although sometimes be cautious as they may also bend the truth)
- Detailed, openly laid out case study from their own process which lays out all of the information, including both what did work and what didn’t work (if you can only see successful outcomes and no failures, ask whether it is likely that there were no failures along the way)
- Do they refer to them or list them openly? If not, then the sources might as well not exist.
- Are there any experts in the field who have researched the validity of their advice and disproven it? (although take this with a pinch of salt, a lack of negative studies does not mean that it will work either, perhaps it just hasn’t undergone the necessary research yet).
- For the industry in which they operate, do they have any necessary qualifications (I say ‘necessary’ because in some cases qualifications are required, like medicine and law, whereas others are based more on experience, like consulting and business)
- Does the person say they have a “proven success system” that they can sell to you, without illustrating what it will take to get the system to work? Then ask why the system needs to be kept secret.
- Do they rely on showcasing a small number of success stories, like one or two students or case studies which worked out well, while ignoring or covering up a much larger number of cases which didn’t work?
- Does it seem too good to be true? Then it probably is
- When in doubt, ask yourself: What evidence am I being given here?
[I know that this has been a bit of a rant and not like many of my other blog posts on creativity and innovation, but I strongly feel that this concept of listening to experts who show evidence is something which is sorely lacking for many people in the innovation advice industry, and I want to help rectify that.]
So over to you now.
What has been the craziest, stupidest or just plain worst business advice you have either received in person or seen on the internet?
Let me know in the comments below.
Latest posts by Nick Skillicorn (see all)
- Podcast S2E39: Bem Le Hunte – How we need to innovate our university education system - September 17, 2019
- Podcast S2E38: Duleesha Kulasoorya – Exponential Technology is already here - September 9, 2019
- Top 1000 companies that spend the most on Research & Development (charts and analysis) - August 28, 2019
- How your company strategy may be sabotaging your innovation ambition - August 12, 2019