The internet has become a living, breathing, professional self-help platform. If advice on how to run your company isn't coming at you 140 (or now 280) characters at a time on Twitter, you can get it from a homespun podcast, a Medium confessional, or someone's TinyLetter personal newsletter. There's hardly a CEO, an entrepreneur, or a cultural figure these days who doesn't profess to hold some wisdom that will lead you to building a great business.

I don't think this proliferation of expertise is a particularly useful development (though it's not lost on me that I'm guilty of dishing my own brand of advice). All of this counsel isn't informing people. It's overwhelming them. What happens when you read one thing one day and the next day you read something that completely contradicts it? What's right, what's wrong, what's leading, and what's misleading?

So rather than give you advice on how to take advice, I thought I'd share my personal approach to filtering it.

Whenever I get advice, the first thing I do 
is find out if the person giving it has ever done 
the thing being suggested. There are plenty 
of "gurus" out there telling you how to start a business who have never started one themselves, like business school professors who have spent their careers in academia.

If they haven't done the thing, I dismiss the advice. I don't want theory. I want practice.

If they have done the thing, then I find out when they did it. Was it years ago? Are they still doing it 
as they describe? I believe advice has an expiration date. For example, I'm the wrong person to ask about starting a business. Why? I haven't started one for 18 years. You're far better off asking someone who started a business a year ago.

Then, if they have done it, and they still are doing it, it's good to know for how long. I put more weight into someone's advice if that person has been following it for an extended time.

For example, my company, Basecamp, has been entirely self-funded and profitable for 18 years. I'm happy to explain why I think this has been a good path, how to make that path work, and how to keep it working. I'd be the wrong person to talk about what it's like to take VC money. All my stories are other people's stories I've heard. You're better off talking directly to someone who's taken VC money.

Another thing I consider is the motivation behind the advice. Is someone with experience trying to sell you something? If so, discount 
that advice. If it's in the service of sharing and mentoring, and there's no commercial connection, invest in that advice.

Last, I tend to look at how much advice a person gives. If someone is a professional advice giver--writing book after book in quick succession--I'll take what he or she has to say with 
a grain of salt. It's hard to be good at one thing, let alone dozens of things. So when someone tells you 100 things to do, be wary.

Here's the most important thing to recognize about advice: It's relative. It's contextual. People love to share success stories, and suggest you follow in their footsteps, but most people really have no idea how they achieved what they achieved. They look back and connect dots that maybe weren't there, lay it out for you, and encourage you to do the same thing.

That's why I think you should ignore more advice than you take. Find your own way. Then, once you've been doing it long enough, maybe you can share your lessons with others--and they can decide whether that's worth listening to.
 

From the Winter 2017/2018 issue of Inc. Magazine