Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 7:44 am | Fair 48º


Paul Burri: Would You Rather Have Good Advice or Useful Advice?

Sometimes good advice is useful, but not always

Would you rather have good advice or useful advice?

I hope this sounds like a confusing question because I meant it to be. I expect that in response to my question, you may ask, “Isn’t good advice also useful advice?” Well, yes and no. I’ll explain.

This whole issue came as a result of a heated discussion I had recently with a good friend of mine who is handicapped by his Stanford education and whose thinking is, unfortunately, doubly encumbered by the fact that he is a retired attorney. And I strongly suspect that another friend who is a retired doctor might be similarly afflicted.

My friend’s position was that telling someone to go see an attorney is good advice. Period. (It also supposes that because someone graduated from law school that he or she can give good advice. Do you know what they call the guy who graduated last in med school? Doctor.)

As a SCORE business consultant, I am frequently asked business questions that are very close to being legal questions. Ditto questions that relate to accounting, taxation, patenting, copyrighting, incorporating, ad infinitum. Say a client asks me a question such as this: “Should I incorporate my business or should I continue to operate as a sole proprietor?” Strictly speaking — and I agree with my lawyer friend on this — my answer should be, “I advise you to see an attorney.”

Is that good advice? Absolutely. Is it useful advice? We-l-l-l-l, I’m not so sure.

Let me give you a simpler example. Say you come to me with a paper cut on your finger and ask me what to do. I could tell you to see your doctor and that would be good advice. Unequivocally that is good advice. But I could also tell you to put a drop of iodine on it and then a Band-Aid, and that it will probably be all healed up in about a week. Telling you to go see your doctor is good advice, but I don’t really think it’s useful advice. (I guess by useful, I’m thinking practical.)

As a matter of fact, you surely didn’t need me to tell you to go see your doctor. You didn’t need me to tell you to go see your attorney either. My telling you to go see your doctor or your attorney is what I call CYA advice. (If you don’t know what CYA means, send me an email and I’ll explain it.)

So what do I do when I am asked by a client, “Should I incorporate my business or should I continue to operate as a sole proprietor?” First, I explain to the client that I’m not an attorney (or an accountant or a tax expert or a patent expert), and then I say, “Here’s what I would do based on my experience,” and then try to give him or her the most useful advice that I can. Then I tell him or her to go see an attorney.

Which advice would you prefer that I give you?

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.