How to Listen to Amateurs

Beware of overlooking advice from amateurs, also-rans, so-called failures, or those who score less than others

You may hear this “meta advice”: do not take advice on ______ (fill in the blank: entrepreneurship, drawing, basketball, content marketing, etc) from those who are new, failed, low-scoring, or generally unaccomplished.

Not just because advice from such people is annoying but because it’s not useful.

I agree to a point – results matter. But so does effort. And no, not just as a consolation prize.

The Maximum Effort Effect

Pop quiz: what has longer legs, an elephant, or a giraffe?

An elephant, actually – longer hind legs. This is something you would definitely notice and know if you spent an hour not just looking at an elephant and a giraffe, but drawing them on paper with a pencil. Or rather, drawing whatever shapes you see in front of you, elephants and giraffes included.

One of the reasons that drawing is hard work is that it forces you to see things as they really are; you can’t rely on the convenient symbols or other preconceptions in your head.

I studied the art of giving and receiving critical feedback in a studio drawing class at university.  The art teacher seared this idea into our heads:

Any “maximum-effort” work of art has value.

Not economic value, necessarily, but teaching value. It’s like a silent piece of visual advice, just sitting there.

Our teacher understood that even a great artist can learn from a drawing that seems (and is) terrible, amateur, ugly, unskilled, etc. But only if whoever makes it tries as hard as they can to make it as good as they can. However that turns out. This is the Maximum-Effort Effect.

And she was right. In my class, there were bad drawings that were just lazy and there were bad drawings resulting from great exertion. If you paid attention, you could easily tell the difference. There was something to learn from the effortful attempt – maybe something that helped your own next attempt.

Similarly, there’s value to any entrepreneurship advice based on the maximum effort of the (amateur/failed entrepreneur) advice-giver. 

Maximum effort means physical exertion but mostly mental and psychological exertion. Even in sport, this is true. I played organized basketball for 15 years but one of the best pieces of advice came from a guy who never played anything but “pickup” basketball at the park: “if you want to learn to shoot with your non-dominant hand, select one type of shot (eg baby hook shot) and master it first – before attempting other types of shots”.

As in sport, in entrepreneurship, drawing, and content marketing, the effort is largely mental and psychological – you struggle to embrace patience, an open mind, consistency, deliberate reading and research, and a willingness to look foolish.

I value the opinions of any entrepreneur with these qualities, even if they have never built an electric sports car or averaged 30 points a game.