What’s your Network IQ?
If you’re an entrepreneur, then you know what it’s like to receive unsolicited advice. Your family, customers, friends, vendors, and the guy next to you in the grocery store line are all willing to offer you advice regarding what you could be/should be/shouldn’t be doing with your business and investments. They’re all willing, but are they all able? To learn how to benefit from advice, you have to learn to assess and access your Network IQ.
Every entrepreneur has had the experience of receiving advice from someone they respect and admire very much, but then feeling – indeed, fearing – that the advice is the wrong advice. It’s important to remember that advice comes from assumptions, and assumptions come from experience, or lack thereof. So the best way to filter advice is to consider the assumptions and experience of the person giving it.
For instance, if your mother has never had any experience running a business, and she makes a statement about what you should be doing with your product offering, take a moment to consider what experience she has that might apply. If your product is jewelry and she has always been known to be stylish, she may have something to offer. If your product is software, and she has never turned on a computer, then unless she’s offering advice on how to reach people who are terrified of computers, the advice is not likely to be helpful. If she offers advice on keeping yourself balanced and sane while trying to run a business, then perhaps you should listen.
Everyone in your personal network probably has something to offer, but you must be proficient at filtering the offerings to get at the truly useful nuggets.
Differentiate between Opinions and Facts
I love this quote: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” I have no idea who originally said it, so I can’t credit it. But I love it, because people have a tendency to accept as fact ideas that just pop into their heads. Maybe the idea popped in decades ago and was never challenged, and maybe that idea popped into their head moments ago, but if it was never challenged and confirmed, it’s just an idea. What’s worse, people offer these ideas/opinions as advice – which is generally taken by the advisee to be a fact. In an ideal world every person would analyze his or her own ideas and find out if they were fact, untested hypothesis, or fiction. But apparently, that’s not a reasonable expectation.
You have to do the assumption-checking for them. How do you do this without hurting someone’s feelings? One approach is to do the assumption-checking without them knowing. But maybe they really do have experience to back up that idea. In that case, saying “That’s a really interesting idea – one that I’ve not heard of or thought of before. What experience did you have that led you to that suggestion?”
Analyze your Network IQ to improve it.
You need a network of support and advice to make it in business. So analyze your needs for advice against your current network. Compare advisory needs (financial, strategic, product selection and merchandising, human resource challenges, organizational management and design, marketing and branding strategy and execution) against the people in your network. Identify each person who has experience you require. This doesn’t buffer you from receiving bad advice, but it does help you learn how to quickly assess the advice you receive and decide how much of it to take.
And what about the areas for which you have no good advisers? This is your opportunity to improve your Network IQ. Seek the advice you need, whether it’s through an educational experience to improve your own ability to advise yourself, a paid adviser, or someone in your social network who is willing to offer support on an ad-hoc basis.
Managing Network IQ: The Business Owner’s Responsibility
Nobody can know everything necessary to be successful in business. This is the primary disadvantage small businesses have when compared with large businesses. Large businesses can afford to hire specialists with a track record to manage discreet areas of the business. Small business owners can compete for knowledge, but you must be very savvy about how you do it. It’s not incumbent on you to know everything, but it is incumbent on you to manage your Network IQ and access the best, most relevant advice from the most qualified people. Small business owners who do this well don’t stay small for long.