Pittsburgh Technical Council

Advice as a Rule Not an Exception

Advice as a Rule Not an Exception

Article Published: December 22, 2014

By Raul Valdes-Perez, Contributing Writer

Once I was driving along the 500 miles westward from Pittsburgh to visit my parents in my hometown of Chicago. I was nearing the entry into Illinois during rush hour from northern Indiana, along the shore of Lake Michigan. Intending to avoid the fearful rush-hour traffic, I had prepared a dinner which I planned to eat along some beach that I’d seek out, since I wasn’t familiar with the Indiana beach front. After asking for directions, I arrived at the Indiana Dunes State Park along the lake front. Rather than just pay the entrance fee and head for the beach, I opted to seek advice from the Park guard, as follows:

Hello, Officer. I’m driving from Pittsburgh to Chicago, but thought to stop to visit and get a look at your Indiana beaches and have my dinner, which I brought with me in the car. What do you suggest?

The friendly guard explained that Indiana residents would pay $5 to enter but that an out-of-stater like me was charged $10. Instead, he added, I could go to the beach that the locals frequented, which was just a couple of minutes away. So that’s what I did. I ate my prepared dinner, enjoyed the views, felt the sand (little sand in Pittsburgh!), and resumed my trip an hour later. The human interaction with the guard gave me a good feeling, I saved $10, and I had the pleasure of “going native” with the locals. I suspect that the guard was also left with the satisfaction of helping out a visitor by sharing his local knowledge. Only the state coffers were out $10.

The point of this little story is that by making such outreach routine, where we automatically consider drawing on others’ expertise just like we automatically consider eating when it’s time or we’re hungry, we can achieve these little satisfactions of a task well done, even for matters that aren’t of much importance.

What matters are below the threshold for importance? I placed a 20-item questionnaire at http://adviceisforwinners.com/tools which asks not what your problem or issue is, but aspects of it. It then grades your problem in terms of how worthwhile it is to seek advice. The point is not to take this questionnaire every time, but rather to become familiar with the circumstances that favor advice seeking.  

For example, one question is whether others will suffer negative consequences if you do the wrong thing. If your inclination is to wing it and damn the consequences, that’s fine as a lifestyle choice if your inclination can harm nobody but yourself. But if your decisions impact your family or your company, especially if you are head of either, then duty calls for you to make good decisions with your available information and resources. Other questions are whether there is time to deliberate before taking action, whether others before you have faced similar problems or yours is unprecedented in the history of the world (unlikely), etc.

People don’t ponder every day whether they should eat, sleep, get up, visit the bathroom, say hello, open a door for someone, walk through a door being opened for them, go to bed, and so on. Advice seeking can join in this routine, not because it’s done always and every day, but because it always come to mind naturally as an option, as a matter of course.

Best is if, when faced with a multi-faceted problem requiring thought, an internal mental sign pops up to ask:  Do you have the knowledge and experience to deal with this yourself, and if not, who does and could help?

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