A Hundred Voices: Making Sense of Advice and Opinions

By: Elizabeth Usovicz, General Manager of Transaction Commons, as part of a series she writes for ACA aimed at entrepreneurs, "Your Pitch is Just the Beginning."

Carmine Gallo, author of “Talk Like TED”, calls ideas “the currency of the 21st century.” It’s true that consistently refining and taking action on relevant ideas leads to business innovations and scientific breakthroughs.

For entrepreneurs with an innovative business concept, the process of refining a big idea and taking relevant action includes the ability to synthesize input from a wide range of sources. Input from too many sources can leave you feeling as though there are a hundred voices whispering in your head, muddying your refinement process and making it harder, not easier, to make decisions and take action. Making sense of this varied input requires having a framework for filtering and evaluating those voices.  Here are three framework components to consider.

Advice vs. Opinion

Opinions and advice are not the same, and few people are as clear on the difference as sports analyst Lou Holtz: “I give opinions, not advice.” A simple distinction is that advice expresses what your source thinks you should do; opinions express what your source thinks. Whether you’ve asked for input or it comes to you unsolicited, be clear on the type of input you’re getting.  Also consider the following questions:

  • What domain and/or market expertise does the source have?
  • What motivations or assumptions shape their point of view?
  • How much do they know about your company or concept?

Relevance to Your Canvas

Input from a variety of sources should help to refine your business model canvas or roadmap by providing relevant options to evaluate, test and implement. If the range of input is distracting or confusing, benchmark it to your canvas by asking:

  • How does this input refine your strategy?  In what ways or in what areas?
  • How does this input compare to other advice or opinions you’ve received?
  • How does this input help to move your vision for your company or concept forward?
  • If you decided to take action based on this input, what are the possible consequences, both beneficial and detrimental?

Level of Decision-Making

Input from sources can range from comments on your company vision to the specifics of an operational process. In addition to being clear about whether you’re seeking opinions or advice, and how the input can affect your canvas, it’s helpful to identify the level of the decision you’re making or the problem you are solving before asking for input. Use a level up/level down approach to identifying the input you’re seeking:

  • Are you looking for input on a decision or problem that is strategic, tactical or operational?
  • What is the possible impact of input at one level on other levels?

Being open to input doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for the direction of your startup. But it does require the ability to sift through those hundred voices for the value they can bring.