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The Value Of Free Advice

…is zero. In fact, it is less than zero because we typically don’t want it. And, sometimes we find it flat out offensive.

Here’s a personal example:

A few months ago I was having a bad day. It was one of those days when nothing seems to go right. I was tired and frustrated and just wanted to get home and relax. As I turned down my street I noticed a cute little lemonade stand run by two adorable ten-year-old girls. As I approached the stand, I read the colorful cardboard sign that hung from their table. Written in red marker were the words, “FREE ADVICE.” So, I kept driving right past the girls and their stand.

As I drove by I could hear them yell, “free lemonade and free advice!” I smiled and made a gesture to imply that I didn’t have time to stop, which was a lie. Frankly, the last thing I wanted after suffering through a rough day was free advice from a pair of ten-year-olds. I felt bad about avoiding the girls when I got home, but here’s the thing: I still don’t want free advice.

Had the girls been selling their lemonade for a quarter (without mention of the advice), I would have stopped, given them each a dollar and downed my two Dixie cups of store bought lemonade. I love supporting the entrepreneurial endeavors of the kids in our neighborhood. I have no doubt that I would have listened to their counsel with a straight face and thanked them for their kind help and delicious beverage. It probably would have put me in a better mood.

Here’s why they lost me. No one wants unsolicited, free advice. In fact, we barely tolerate advice when we ask for it. However, we will put up with advice if we pay for it. We may not believe it or follow the advice, but we will tolerate it as an exchange of value.

This is because what we really seek is validation or confirmation that our position/belief/thought/outlook is correct. Justification is one of the seven deadly sins of decision-making. As human beings we decide, then we justify our decision with some sort of rationalization. It’s not the other way around.

This rationalization process gives us the feeling that due diligence led us to the best possible decision. It is enabled by the cognitive psychological concept, confirmation bias, which is defined by ScienceDaily as “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.”

Who knows, maybe their advice would have been, “Don’t let those bastards get you down,” which would have been well received. Because I had been dealing with bastards and they were getting me down. Very insightful girls, thank you.

The next time those girls set up shop, I promise to stop, buy some lemonade and give them a little advice on merchandising their business… for a fee of course.


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