Recipes are for cakes, not careers

There is a lot of advice on the internet. When implementing a recipe for something, it pays to be mindful of the context to which it applies.

Advice on how to cook a dish applies to a context with a finite set of variables and governed by deterministic rules. However, when you consider advice on business, leadership, career, or self-improvement, you enter a far more complex domain. What worked for someone at one point in time might not necessarily work for you right now.

Paolo Belcastro explains how advice’s efficacy is context-dependent in the latest issue of his newsletter:

YouTube videos about changing your faucet and recipes for a Pavlova are fine. Most of the time, in those situations, you can put yourself in conditions very similar to the ones described and achieve similar results.

Things become much more complex in more abstract domains when you have little to no control over the conditions of the experiment; therefore, plain recipes become irrelevant.

Paolo recommends to “cautiously manipulate” the advice literature for domains such as leadership and management.

As someone trying to establish a secondary source of income through my writing, I go through a lot of business advice material. Nine out of ten are personal anecdotes shoehorned into sloppy approximations of frameworks and systems.

Most “how to start your own successful business” advice should be called “how I won the lottery,” as Darius Kazemi points out in his talk from XOXO Festival (2014).

That’s not to say there is no point in seeking advice. Reinventing the wheel is inefficient, and there is a lot to learn from the experiments history has already run. But you need to be careful. All advice, frameworks, and prescriptions–my own included–should never be taken at face value but treated as something to criticize and verify.

No one can give you a recipe to build a good life or a successful career. You have to write your own, through reflection, criticism, and trial-and-error.

Cover image from Sara Cervera on Unsplash.

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