Where do you get your advice?

According to todays Times, Al Gore turned to Johnny Carson for advice on his image and, yes, his jokes (Heeeeere’s Al, Thanks to Carson – New York Times.) Imagine how the world would be a different place if he had gotten (and used) better advice. Talk about leverage.

I’m stunned by how often corporations, organizations and individuals turn to celebrities for advice. We embrace diet books and tv shows and movie stars and well-known consulting firms and on and on, hoping for the glimmer of wisdom that will make a difference.

When I appear on the Motley Fool radio show, they ask me for my stock picks. Hey! I don’t own any stocks. And even if I did, what could I possibly have to say that would matter?

The thing about advice is that you need two things to make it work:
1. it has to be good
2. it has to motivate you to actually do something

The reason that people turn to celebrities and big organizations is that the patina of fame and authority makes it easier to sell yourself and your colleagues on taking action–on actually doing something with the advice.

If McKinsey said to close the plant, then it’s a lot easier to sell your board. If you had gotten precisely the same advice from precisely the same 26-year-old Harvard MBA but she’d been in your strategy group instead of at McKinsey, they’d ignore her.

The thing is, famous advice isn’t always better (it’s often not better, as we’ll see in a moment) and it’s more expensive and it allows you to beg off actually understanding what’s going on.

It’s not better because in order for the famous person to get to the point where she could give you advice, she had to fit through a number of filters. Johnny Carson was famous largely because he was consistent and inoffensive. You might believe that those are good characteristics in a politician, but George W. demonstrated that taking advice from an unknown Texan pre-felon named Karl Rove was far more effective at reaching his goals than relying on some tips from a comedian. That’s because Rove’s advice was better. Because Rove understood the dynamic of the political marketplace without compromise.

I think most organizations don’t buy nearly enough advice. They go 97% of the way, do 97% of the work, make all the investments… but then they get too tired and too stuck to actually do the high leverage stuff that works. So yes, buy advice. Buy a lot of it. But most important, understand why the advice is good advice, really understand the dynamic behind it–then you won’t have any trouble selling the idea, because it’s not the advice giver that matters… it’s the advice.

If Gallagher or Will Ferrell show up, tell them you’re busy.