Are Search Engines Good Enough?

November 24, 2012

On Intuit’s The Fast Track blog, the blogger Eva Rykrsmith reveals that with two tools “Google and a laptop” she figures she can:

“… do the research myself, collect all the relevant data points, and come to a reasonable and logical conclusion independently. This technique is quick, simple, accessible, and—the main reason I stick with it—it usually works wonderfully well.”

After considering my book’s Chapter 2 (What Advice Does For You), Eva lists six benefits of advice and reconsiders whether search engines are good enough.

I think that search engines can actually provide most of these benefits, except social engagement, which strengthens human relationships for future mutual aid. It’s just that they don’t provide those benefits so well, because good advice, except for straightforward tasks, depends critically on one’s circumstances and goals, which vary greatly from one person to the next.

Some very general examples of such tasks:

  • What college should I attend?
  • What major should I study?
  • In what geographic area should I start my career?
  • Should I change jobs?
  • Should I change careers?
  • Should I get more education? Part-time or full? Online or off?
  • Should I buy a house now?

If making good, effective decisions is the goal, rather than, say, exercising one’s freedom, making one’s own mistakes, and living through the consequences, then advice helps and search engines are not good enough.

Why Small Businesses Need Advice

November 16, 2012

Consider the challenges that a business faces: Serving a market and identifying new ones. Product or service development and innovation. Recruiting and retention of good people. Physical and information infrastructure. Government regulations. Taxes. International sales. And many more.

Note that both large and small business face these challenges. In fact, small businesses face almost all of the challenges that large businesses face.

The difference is that small businesses lack the internal expertise of larger ones, as well as the money to hire outside consultants. So small businesses get by with the expertise they have and go it alone. Or, they seek out informal or formal advice from peers, business acquaintances, an advisory board, or anyone with knowledge and experience to bring to bear on their challenges and a willingness to lend an ear.

As CEO of Vivisimo Inc. from its founding (three people) in 2000 through 2009 (about 80 people), our company and I faced these challenges, made acute by the fact that Vivisimo had never taken on outside investors, so the financial stakeholders were largely all internal. Outside advice, both informal and formal, was critical to our success.

Small businesses, as well as small organizations like non-profits, are in special need of improving their advice-seeking skills, which enables making better internal decisions at no extra cost beyond time and dedication.

Book published!

November 9, 2012

After three years of research, writing, and editing, the book has just been published and is available through Amazon for  paperback and Kindle and Smashwords for eBooks.

I’ve been asked a very interesting question:  Anyone can benefit from advice, understood as bringing the knowledge and experience of others to bear on your problem, while acknowledging your circumstances and goals. In view of this, what is the right audience for your book?

I think that the most suitable readers are those who have some experience with this chain:  knowledge + experience + thinking ⇒ decisions ⇒ success OR failure. If you’ve not made any decisions in your life that are complicated, then you’re unaware of the roles that knowledge and experience play, and are oblivious to how bad outcomes can flow from faulty steps. For many young people, their first such experience is with applying to college after high school, or looking for a summer job after freshman year.

So one way to answer the question is: The book is for college sophomores and above, or for people with equivalent life experience. There is lots more to say about the best audience, which I’ll leave for another post.