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Grist: The Rising Cost of Bad Advice

by Adam Hanft

Given all the bad advice out there, business owners need to develop a healthy skepticism of the experts, recognizing that doing so requires more than just an inquiring mind.

“Hey Doc, you’re supposed to be operating on my right knee, remember?” It’s not exactly a confidence-booster, but the National Patient Safety Foundation recently came to the grim conclusion that medical errors have become so pervasive that patients had better take an active role in protecting life and limb.

But it isn’t just the hospital room where fatal mistakes happen. (You’re reading Inc., after all, not the journal of the AMA.) The conference room and the boardroom are equally vulnerable to the dangers of depositing your unequivocal trust in those who are supposed to know better. As I see it, there is an epidemic of bad business advice out there. Today’s business buyer (or, more tellingly, business “patient”) needs to be every bit as vigilant as the ex-college athlete waiting for arthroscopic surgery.

Trouble is, the caveat emptoring isn’t happening nearly enough. Once outside experts have been hired, their wisdom (generally without any accompanying wit) gets adopted — if not sanctified — pretty much at face value. Sure, the buyer may ask a few questions for show, but these outside “solution-providers” rarely get the same grilling as the internal staff. The usual outcome: As insiders grouse about the glow of the fair-haired outside maven, the starstruck CEO happily pays big bucks for the same information that he or she has already ignored (or scoffed at) when offered internally.

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