Advice & The Recency Effect

A few things that bother me with the echo chamber of social media and the idolization of ‘experts’.

The Recency Effect

Most advice you get from someone will only come from a pool of concepts floating at the top of their mind—ideas they’ve been thinking about recently. This is known as the recency effect:

The most recently presented items or experiences will most likely be remembered best.

This isn’t necessarily bad; often times a new insight from an innovator is very timely for everyone who keeps their finger on the pulse of an industry. This is partly why tech news outlets are important—for accelerating new ideas.

But for those trying to make their way to the forefront of their industry, this insight might not be of much applicable value. Let’s imagine you’re just starting out and you have your first moment of clarity…

A metaphorical glimpse into the history of Elon Zuckerchuk.

You’ve just experienced insight 1 and you’re seeing progress, but you know it gets harder. In your search for wisdom, you start following a leader in your space, Elon Zuckerchuk.

Every tweet or blog post he publishes these days is about 4 and how much it’s helped his company grow to the world-changing powerhouse it is today. “Wow,” you say to yourself, “I need to apply that knowledge to my business!”

So you reach out and ask for advice, implementing the solutions he suggests right away. While it may help, you’ve completely missed out on learning about Zuckerchuk’s previous poor insight (2) and how he fought his way back (3).

The knowledge gained from 2 and 3 is probably way more valuable to a young company like yours. The knowledge from 4 might be useful, but only helps your company further down the road.

Be mindful of your own context, as well as the context of the advice you receive. Sometimes great advice for the general public may be very bad advice for you.

They’re Just People

Two industry titans at their nose-picking, sidewalk-tripping best.

Your mentor is just a person—they’re not perfect. Maybe they have a tendency to trip over the sidewalk? Maybe they pick their nose from time to time? So what!

Or, more applicably… maybe they teach people something they fully believe in — but ultimately discover is wrong — after six months of weathering bad results?

It happens!

This is why it’s important to form relationships with your mentor or hero; rather than blindly following their advice, you should be a part of their feedback loop.

Be relentless at asking questions, and ask them to explain something if it’s not perfectly clear. You might even help them steer their ship clear of danger and turn a huge mistake into a small one.

Next time you find a striking insight from your hero, Elon Zuckerchuk, think about it in the context of where you are at the moment and how it applies to you. Understand that even your mentor could be wrong about something, and be skeptical of their opinions before believing them yourself.