Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Vowing I wouldn’t quit until I was done, I locked myself in the house and didn’t come out for two weeks. If I wasn’t sleeping, I was writing nonstop until I had finished what I was willing to call my best draft of a graduate thesis on job satisfaction for Indiana University. I had reached the point where I could go no farther on my own. I asked several friends and colleagues to read my admittedly dreary work and comment on it. They all said it was great.

As friends and colleagues, they were my allies, people inclined to look upon me favorably and judge me gently. The faculty members who would evaluate my work weren’t so inclined. Among the dozen bright, shining graduate students I entered the ivied walls of Bloomington with, I was a weed that didn’t fit in. My fellow students were young honors graduates fresh from top programs while I was a veteran not only of the Air Force but also of the bar, restaurant, and nightclub business and older than some of my professors. The committee weren’t my enemies, but they were certainly people who would judge me rigorously. Plus, I looked like this, hardly the image of a serious scholar.

I knew I needed to test my thesis under great stress so I could identify its weaknesses and shortcomings. Once I did that, I could get on with making it as bulletproof as possible. I figured out I needed the help of someone with above average levels of knowledge, above average levels of how to apply it, and a willingness to shoot straight with me. When I figured out who that was, I asked him and he said yes, After he read it, he told me it needed to be blown up and entirely rewritten. I was crushed. He said not to worry, because they blew up lots of rockets on the way to the moon before they finally got there. If I believed a thing worth doing is a thing worth doing well, then I should aim high and put my shoulder into it. I’ll help you find your weak spots and fix them, he said. And he did.

Let’s say you’re on the threshold of something big in your life.

Perhaps you have a new job offer. Maybe you’re thinking of moving far away or the two of you are talking about getting married. Maybe all of these at once, a condition 80s street psychologists labeled Fruit Basket Turnover. Some people talk over important things with friends and others with family. Some are looking for advice and some for emotional support. You probably have a few close confidantes you go to when the stakes are really high. Are you one of those who is looking for reassurance or one who wants both barrels and no blindfold? Which type do you think is most common?

Because I write thousands of words every week, I look up lots of words every day. 

It surprises nearly everyone to hear most of the words I look up are ones I think I already know the meanings of. I look them up so I can learn more about them, dig deeper, and get a fuller sense of nuance. The most extreme example of nuance I came across is the 180 words for snow and ice used by reindeer herders living north of the Arctic Circle.

Let’s take a closer look at advice.

Let’s start with this nifty online visual thesaurus I like to use. We see right away that there are two distinctly different clusters of words related to advice: guidance and instruction.

Guidance is heavy on providing direction.

We want guidance when we seek nothing stronger than suggestions and recommendations. This is what we are looking for when we solicit advice from our friends. Nowhere does this include telling us what to do and how to do it. Actually, what most of us are really looking for is someone to agree with a decision we’ve already made. Humans want the security of approval, validation of their emotional instincts, and confirmation they’re doing the right thing.

Instruction is things and actions.

The things are information and intelligence. The actions are teaching, tutoring, and enlightening.

  • Tutoring is typically associated with one-on-ones while teaching usually implies groups of students. 
  • Tutoring is not telling us what to do, either. Tutoring is informative and enlightening.
  • Tutoring is the process of providing clients with the tools they need to make their own best decisions.
Broadly speaking, teachers have to balance the needs of three groups of students.

Every group of students is easily divided into three different categories: Above Average, Below Average, and Average.

When teachers go at a speed that challenges and keeps the interest of the Above Average students, Below Average students are abandoned and Average students must struggle mightily just to keep up. When teachers go at a speed that makes sure no one is left behind, Average students get only part of the education they are paying for and Above Average students are cheated out of learning that really makes a difference. Since most teaching is geared toward the Average student, Below Average students don’t get the help they need and the Above Average students are not only shortchanged, but bored to tears, too. This is only one of many examples of why one size fits almost no one well. Think of the Swiss Army knife that performs many functions, but none of them anywhere near as well as special tools built for special purposes.

Tutors beat teachers, hands down.

Teachers have to divide their attention among all students in a class while tutors concentrate on you. Tutors get clients to their desired end states by tailoring the learning to fit the student’s needs exactly. Think of the difference as custom-tailoring versus S,M,L. Teaching is mass production; tutoring is made-to-fit. Tutees learn at their own pace, not someone else’s. Another huge benefit of tutoring is that it is private and confidential.

SWOT the hell.

You seek business advice when you see opportunities for profitability or threats to your position. Research discovers both by monitoring changes in consumer attitudes and behaviors. Above Average leaders know to identify opportunities and threats first and save the strategies and tactics for later. They know if you get the threats and opportunities parts wrong, your strengths and weaknesses won’t matter. By the way – you will very likely need some new strengths to match up with new opportunities and new threats.

Don’t look for magic solutions. 

Just like chemistry and statistics, the deep science of investigating and measuring human behavior is too complex and boring for most folks because there are no miracle diets and no shortcuts. When I write articles like this, I start with a word or concept that interests me (advice, for example). Then I follow leads, pull on threads, and see where things take me.

The next time you need advice about research, ask a tutor to provide you with made-to-fit guidance and instruction so you can learn in private how to protect yourself against quacks, tricksters, and smooth-talking salespeople.

Click here to listen to Tony Bennett and Queen Latifah ask who they can turn to.

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