I had a strange and somewhat disturbing experience the other day. I wrote an article to a “private” blog that I belong to concerning the problem of how — or how not to — offer advice to people asking for it.

Paul Burri

Paul Burri

There is a phenomenon that I call the “restaurant fallacy.” It goes like this. A person comes to me asking my advice about his dream of opening a restaurant. When I ask if he has any experience in operating a restaurant, he says, “No, but I’ve eaten in hundreds of them.” That’s like saying, “I’m a qualified airline pilot because I’ve flown coast to coast many times.” Or, “I’ve had hundreds of surgeries so I am now qualified as a surgeon.”

No thanks, I’ll take the next plane. No thanks, I think I’ll get a second opinion.

So here I am sitting with this person who wants to open a restaurant and has absolutely no restaurant experience. Before I go any further, let me pose this hypothetical question: Has anyone, anywhere in the history of the world ever opened a restaurant without any restaurant experience and made a success of it? I suppose so. I’ll give you the possibility that it has happened a few times — against all odds. So because of that one lucky accident, should I encourage the person to go ahead with his idea? Or should I advise him to capitalize on whatever other talents and experience he has and to explore those opportunities?

That was the gist of my blog. I said that if I valued my personal integrity, it was my moral responsibility to tell the person the unvarnished truth about his chances in the restaurant business and to discourage him from getting into something that has all the odds against success.

Here’s where it gets interesting. A few days later at a meeting with a group of fellow advisers, one of them took me to task about my blog in which I had used the words — according to him — “brutally honest.” I was surprised when he said that I had used those words since I always try to choose my words very carefully. I politely answered that I didn’t remember saying “brutally honest,” but that if I had, it could be taken as being too strong a phrase.

There was a certain amount of back and forth as to whether I had used those words. Just then, another member of the group chimed: “I read the blog, too, and you did say ‘brutally honest.’” As gentlemen, we agreed that after the meeting we would check the blog for the exact wording I had used.

Guess what? My exact words were “unvarnished truth.” Nowhere in the blog were the words “brutally honest.” My associate apologized.

Suddenly I felt like the innocent man cleared after being convicted on the testimony of two upstanding eyewitnesses who both claimed under oath that they saw him shoot the victim.

More important, I can’t help wondering if we are all in such a hurry, so overwhelmed with information and so inundated with media that we have forgotten how to read carefully anymore.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at pburri@west.net.