Lucy Kellaway on advice

In the process of sounding like Robin Hanson, she refers to:

…something important about advice in general. From the issuer’s point of view, admonitions are not meant to be followed at all. In fact, they are positioning statements that tell the world about the values the issuer would like it to think they hold.

From the recipient’s perspective there is no question of following the advice anyway. As John Steinbeck pointed out “Nobody wants advice – only corroboration.”

From the FT there is more here which you should read.


Nice … in other words, the giving of advice is really about signaling, while the receiving of advice is really about confirming one's priors

Too strong a claim, though "sometimes" sure. (I notice old people advice is sometimes "what I'd wished I'd done," which may or may not be useful to the young.)

So, when I see that a friend's motorcycle's oil level is too low, and I give them the advice that adding more oil soon would be good, to keep the motor from being damaged, this is signalling?

Sometimes, I really wonder how many people live in a world where empirical conditions lead to empircal results.

But then, when I give the advice that the Mercatus Center should revise all of its research based on the flawed work of Reinhart and Rogoff, I guess that is a form of signalling - mainly concerning what scholarship and its responsibilities entail, compared to buttressing policy goals.

Thanks, I was planning on reading that anyways.


George Washington practiced his handwriting by copying the Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. Included was this gem: Give not Advice without being Ask'd & when desired do it briefly.

Who asked you, windy guy?

Cute? Yes. True? No.

When I pompously pettifog, I expect respect and contrition...

Yesterday I asked my dad for advice on which online tax program to use. I was thinking TurboTax, but he said hr block. Now that I know he was merely unconsciously attempting to improve his reproductive fitness, I feel good about ignoring the advice and sticking to TurboTax.

Today I went out to lunch and asked the waiter what I should get. I wanted to follow TC's advice from his book in interpreting the waiter's response so as to optimize my decision. However, between both the waiter's positioning statement, which indicated little more than his own apparent belief that expressing pro-BLT attitudes would affiliate him with high status culinary opinion, and the even more difficult task of unraveling the Straussian "advice" in TC's book, I wound up just giving up and leaving hungry.

lolz, that actually made me lol

Comment of the month for March 2014!


Link requrires registration. How annoying. Anyway: "Advice is a dangerous gift" - Gildor in reponse to Frodo's statement "Go not to [economists] for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."

My advice is that you should never give your email address to read an article.
Oh, look, she's right.

And my advice is to always make up an e-mail address.


I'm suspect of aphorisms in general. They're often created solely on the basis of linguistic aesthetics. When it comes to advice, beware alliteration, assonance, rhyme or anything that increases the ideas memetic powers by infecting a persons mind with mnemonic beauty.

I'll never trust soh cah toa again!

Don't you think you're all over-selling the signalling/status concept? I don't doubt that it's one factor of many to consider when looking at any issue, but taken too far it amounts to nothing more than a belief in human insincerity. No thanks.

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