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Saturday, February 08, 2020

The Bitch Seat

A wise old man -- or possibly anyone who thinks he's a wise old man -- once said, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one."  And while that is most certainly true, it does raise the issue of when and if taking others' advice is a smart thing to do.

Being the contrarian I am, I have a tendency to reject almost any advice people offer, especially that of the unsolicited variety. Believe me, if I want someone's opinion, I'll be sure to ask him for it. Until then, I seem to be doing just fine on my own and find myself unwilling to endure some random lecture that's almost guaranteed to be off-topic and ill-conceived.

This is not entirely a personality defect of mine, although that probably plays into it. Not as much, however, as decades of experience which has scientifically confirmed my thesis that the best advice is no advice at all.  At this point, you may be wondering what constitutes my science -- and well you should, considering that what I'm writing here could conceivably resemble the very type of advice I so heartily eschew. So here goes:

Back in the day when I as in advertising, marketing and strategic brand consulting, clients who were too fearful about making decisions would convene expensive, time-consuming research groups in order to move forward with decisions that afforded executives just enough plausible denial. The thinking was that if the research affirmed a decision but resulted in total failure, the executives could always blame the research while keeping their own jobs.

Most of those focus groups and discussion panels were ridiculously predictable, to the point where we could predict everything about the respondents before they even walked in the room, down to what they would say and where they would sit. It was especially easy to tell when the conference table was oblong, because there were only two end chairs: one for the moderator and one we called the Bitch Seat, which was always occupied by the loudest, bossiest respondent who would drone on disproportionately to the others around the table.

Not only was the person in the Bitch Seat the loudest and most domineering, he was also the most typical of the worst at providing responses, mainly because he was less concerned about offering constructive observations than he was about proving his own value.  And that's the problem I have with people offering advice: Too often they care less about helping you out than they do about proving themselves better, smarter or more knowledgeable than you. So they offer you horrible, misguided advice.

Think about it. When was the last time someone advised you about how good your decision was? I guarantee you it doesn't even begin to compare to the number of times you've gotten reasons "why it won't work," or "what you've overlooked," or even "I tried that and the odds are against you."  For some reason (usually ignorance and insecurity), people have a really tough time admitting they don't know enough to advise you, fearing that to be a sign of their own weakness.  Even worse, they try to pump themselves up by finding fault in your proposals, taking great pride in having "saved you from a real disaster."

I can't tell you the number of times I watched incredibly powerful ideas and proposals get blown apart from the Bitch Seat, where just one misfired remark initiated an avalanche of endorsements from the Sheep Seats (those sitting alongside the table, basically wanting to go along with the rest of the group).  All it took was one insecure loudmouth to start the ball rolling and within minutes, the room turned into a creative Jonestown.

Hey, you want to move ahead in this world? Do your own research. Find your own facts. Make your own decisions. You want to be guided by good data, not people's insecurities. 

Of course, you can take my advice.  Or not.

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