I write a lot of business advice on the website Quora. Actually, I write a lot of advice in general, but since this is a business website I didn’t think you’d be interested in the advice I offer as a parent of a six-year-old. A lot of small business owners go to Quora and Google for that matter, looking for guidance. If I think I can help, I offer my two cents. Recently, I responded to this post: “How can I spot dangerous entrepreneurship advice? A lot of contradictory advice given, e.g. they say you just have to start up even though you don’t know business. Next moment they say most businesses fail because people don’t know how to run a business.”

THE SHORT ANSWER

Advice is actionable, not just a fortune cookie saying.

THE LONG ANSWER

Advice isn’t inherently good or bad (exceptions are dishonesty or incompetence). Your goal is to learn as much as you can since only you can decide if the advice you receive is applicable to your situation or not.

In this instance, the “advice” put forth suggests there’s a perfect set of conditions for success no matter what you do. That’s not really true. It is not solution oriented and I argue it’s not advice at all but simply an adage. A fortune cookie saying.

There are some principles you need to learn that are more science than art, but there is no magic recipe. You cannot perfectly identify good advice from bad, but you can tell advice from fortune cookie wisdom. Advice is solution oriented. It is actionable.

“Just start up” or “Don’t start without business knowledge” are true in their own way, much like fortune cookies have a kernel of truth to them, but actual “advice” would guide you into getting that much needed business knowledge.

FIND A MENTOR

You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, finding a mentor is a great place for that learning to start.

Talking to someone with more business experience than you may help you assess your own situation and help you identify whether you fall short of what you need to succeed.

So now that we can discern actual advice from fortune cookie wisdom, let’s go back to your question of identifying good advice versus bad advice. Man that’s hard in some cases. Most of the time, sincere advice is given and can’t really be considered “good” or “bad” but rather “applicable” or “not applicable”. Much like considering whether a tool is the correct one for a job—we have all used a wrench to pound in a nail, but wouldn’t a hammer have been better? A wrench is awesome for other applications but was it the most applicable tool in that case?

When looking at the applicability of advice, look at the source. Does this person giving the advice really know what they are talking about because they have done something similar to what you are doing? Did they face similar challenges to yours? If your situation is different, can their advice be adapted? If someone does not check those boxes for applicable experience maybe they don’t have the competence or relevance to your situation.

Most often you should not only get one source of advice since no other person’s past experience will be a complete match for your particular circumstances. Even if that person generally gives great advice, it is still worthwhile to hear other applicable perspectives in educating yourself in making your own decisions.

Where “bad” advice is relevant is when it’s advice that seems sincere but isn’t. Is the advice you’re getting going to enrich the giver in any way? If so, generally that advice is going to be bad, not just irrelevant. Lots of times this type of advice will be attached to someone selling something or perhaps someone who is willing to guide you but wants some ownership in the company for it. There are great reasons to give part of your company to someone, but be paranoid about it. It’s the type of decision you get to make once! In a co-owner you need someone who will live and fight and die at your side (probably metaphorically).

Knowledge is power (so saying the fortune cookie), so get some! Learn as much as you can. Get a mentor. Even better get several mentors. Better than that, make as many people into official or unofficial mentors as possible and learn lessons from them. This will help you decide whether advice is applicable to you or not.

Stack the odds in your favor as much as you can before you take a leap—there is nothing noble about taking on more risk than you absolutely need to in any given circumstance. A successful entrepreneur is not the person who takes on the most risk and hopes for big rewards, but rather the the one who identifies the biggest reward and works to undertake the least risk possible in achieving it. Learning—by educating yourself and surrounding yourself with trustworthy, knowledgeable people with relevant experience—can help you see risks and mitigate them as much as possible. Only you can decide what is applicable advice for you.