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My Big Mistake was Listening to Everyone

2022-05-19

One week ago, around 9 pm and right after putting the kids to bed, I got a *ding*. An email. You know, the same ding we all get 200 times a day.

But this was no ordinary ding.

It was the annual grant decision from the Academy of Finland. Typically this particular ding during this particular day leads to misery, cynical thoughts about the state of the world, and some serious pondering about earlier life choices.

But…This was no ordinary ding.

I had won.

After five times applying this one, hundreds of hours of work and countless recommendation letters, tears and sweat – I had won it. At that moment I realized what I’d been doing wrong all those years earlier:

I was listening to everyone.

Take Advice but not all Advice.

Once I was intentional about where to source my advice from, things changed for the better.

Not all advice is born equal.

And most people don’t know any more than you do. They’re just good at making s*** up and they’re confident. So you end up believing everything they say.

And that, my friend, is a hazardous road.

Repeat my mistake and you’ll end up in a mess of conflicting advice. Because many of the people you listen to don’t know what they’re talking about. In my case, I was listening to people with a lot of “tricks”, “hacks”, “shortcuts” and ideas on what to focus on in a winning grant application. No, I’m not saying that those people are incompetent or even that their advice is necessarily bad.

But I am saying that you’ll end up with too much advice! And then it’s impossible to decide what to follow.

Conversely, if you focus on who to pay attention to, you’ll end up in a better place with far fewer decisions to make.

So here’s my suggestion:

Assemble yourself a personal advisory board.

Then listen to them.

Here’s how:

#1. Start a Personal Advisory Board.

There’s a reason the top companies don’t have hundreds of people on their advisory boards. Ten is all you need.

And the best bit? It doesn’t matter if you know them personally or not. You will be simply gathering their best ideas from their public work or thought processes. It doesn’t really matter what’s the topic you’re looking to demystify: Creating a business, public speaking, selling garden gnomes as a side hustle, anything!

Find 3-4 people who you personally look up to in your pursuit. Think holistically. Just “big figures” in your head.

Then think of another 3-4 people who you believe have unique thoughts on the matter. To diversify your thinking, to learn how to think. Yes, how to think! Anything you do in life is a result of your thoughts, and thus the quality of your thinking is a decisive factor in everything that’s coming for you: wins and losses alike.

And finally, find 1-2 people you can personally talk to, to bounce ideas with!

#2. Stalk your Newly-Established Advisory Board.

Remember, you don’t need to know these people. Except for the 1-2 people you want to be talking to.

Find a way to follow them. No, not that way. Online! And luckily that’s easy these days as our lives are online. And if they’re big enough names, they typically publish everything online for people to follow anyway.

Go, find, and digest their work: blogs, podcasts, audiobooks, anything, including their OUTPUT as well. What did they build that was successful?

Study all of that.

Write all ideas down somewhere. Don’t worry about structure, just take notes.

#3. Systemize Personal Philosophy Development.

If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget it.

Use any note-taking mechanism, but use one. I use Notion.so.

But here’s what you will do:

  1. You already have this: the “unmatured advice” section. The place where you drop your thoughts, ideas, and random advice you pick from your people. Anything that resonates with you, drop it there.
  2. Revisit that area weekly, to see if there’s anything worth keeping there. Consult your best friend in this part, Mr/Ms Gut. Because you’re developing YOUR philosophy here. Not someone else’s. So make sure you only keep what feels correct to you.
  3. If your gut feeling about a particular piece of advice/idea/thought is overwhelmingly positive, rewrite it into a mature thought or guideline. And move it into another section that over time develops into your personal philosophy library.

And finally, talk those ideas through with the 1-2 friends you can talk with. To get some feedback, tangential ideas, and just to solidify your thinking by teaching your beliefs.

Listening to Everyone is a Trap

Look, there’s nothing wrong with just going with the flow and enjoying the world as it comes.

But if you want to consciously develop your thinking and get better in something, establish an advisory board for yourself. Find world-class performers – it’s easier now than it has ever been!

Listen to what they have to say.

Get a second opinion from Mr/Ms Gut.

And go crush it!

About the author 

Simo Hosio  -  Simo is an award-winning scientist, Academy Research Fellow, research group leader, professor, and digital builder. This site exists to empower people to build passion projects that support professional growth and make money.

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