Contest: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

(Update: Check out all the great advice in the comments section)

Getting the right kind of mentorship is a very important factor in the success of most successful people. Yet, unfortunately, we often see youngsters not getting the right kind of advice, either because they’re too shy to approach potential mentors, or don’t know whom to approach, or think they know everything. To highlight the importance of getting mentors, we’re asking our readers to give examples of great mentorship – by telling us what was the best piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten. And, if possible, mention the name of the mentor too. Post it as a comment to this article, and we will highlight the best ones in an upcoming article on PuneTech and elsewhere.

The contest ends on Monday, 5th September 2011 at 6pm.

Update: Amit Naik and Lokesh Parakh are the winners of the contest. They get a MentorEdge T-shirt, and a free ticket to a MentorEdge Pune session if they’re interested. Actually Anil Paranjape’s entry was the number 1 choice of the judges, but he does not win anything since he is already a mentor at MentorEdge.

Note: The contest (described below) is over, but you can continue adding advice, because good advice is forever…

To encourage you to help with this cause, MentorEdge, a program for connecting startups to successful mentors, will be giving away 2 T-Shirts to the best entries and free mentoring as part of the next event.

MentorEdge is an initiative of the Center for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM-Ahmedabad, and is an event that happens every few months in many cities in India, including Pune. The basic idea is that senior, experienced people from the industry, especially those with experience relevant to startups, are invited to be mentors, and startups apply to get face-to-face, one-on-one slots with the mentors, so they can get advice, feedback, or schedule further follow-up meetings with specific mentors. The event usually lasts half a day and each startup ends up meeting at least 5 or 6 mentors.

The next event in Pune is on 10th September. If you are a founder of startup and been generating revenue for more than 6 months, you should definitely consider getting some mentorship through MentorEdge. For a list of mentors, see their website. To apply look here

Whether you’re interested in MentorEdge or not, and whether you’re interested in a T-shirt or not, please leave a comment with your advice on the best advice you’ve ever received.

23 thoughts on “Contest: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

  1. “When you’re writing something, assume that the reader is not going to put very little effort into reading it, far less than the effort you put into writing it.”

    It’s obvious sounding advice, from my PhD advisor David DeWitt, but it works wonders in practice, and it is amazing how many people don’t heed this when they write.

    Basically, assume that when a reader starts reading, s/he:

    • Has been thinking about something totally different just before starting on your article, and hence will have no context
    • Will skim through your article. S/he’ll probably just read the title/heading and the first sentences of the paragraphs and just glance over the rest
    • Will not bother to look up words that s/he does not understand
    • If a sentence is ambiguous, then s/he will take the wrong interpretation

    So you have to put an extra, extra effort in your writing to ensure that your main point goes into your reader’s head against all these obstacles.

    Keeping this in mind when writing emails, and blog posts, and making presentations, or even pitches and arguments in meetings has been tremendously helpful to me throughout my career.

  2. The best advise I have ever been given was by one of my professors (Dr. Jungsheng Long) when I was in a CS masters program at UNC – Charlotte.

    I found Dr. Long to be absolutely brilliant. He knew a lot of stuff, about almost every topic. I thought that it was impossible for one person to know so much. I tried to make an attempt by spending some time everyday reading up stuff in my field, but soon realized that I was fighting against time.

    Fortunately for me Dr. Long’s office was next to my research cabin, and we would often have lunch together.

    Once I asked him, how he was able to keep up with so many things. Here’s his advise, which I am sure many students and professionals will find useful.

    ————– Advise ————-

    He said that the amount of things we are expected to know is far greater than the amount of time we have to read about them. The trick to overcome this problem is to:

    1. Be very strong in understanding the fundamentals of everything you read or try to understand.

    2. Make a practice of constantly making connections among the concepts you come across, even if the concepts are from different fields.

    2. When reading new stuff you should not read everything. Read the beginning, a few pieces in the middle, and the end. If your fundamentals are clear, and if you are good at making connections among concepts, then even though you have read only part of the work, your mind (and imagination) will be able to fill in the blanks.

    If you can spend some time mastering this technique, then you will find it very easy to stay on top of all the new information and concepts that come up in your field.

    Off course, this concept will not work if what you are seeking are concrete facts. However, a lot of our reading as professionals is to keep up with new things in our field. This advise works as a charm for such reading.

    Before ending, I have to say, that even thogh I have benefited tremendously from this technique, I have NOT mastered it. However, that is not a fault in the technique itself… it is probably because of my own limitations.

  3. The best advice I’ve ever got-

    There is no way you can plan everything. When starting up, you can foresee some of the things that could go wrong. But do not spend much of your energy on trying to take care of what might go wrong. In all probability, they might never do. Think about what could go right and move in that direction.

  4. Difference between Ustad Zakir Hussain & tons of other better artist is, Ustad knows how to sell himself.

  5. I think the last two comments (by @Rohit and @sagar) point to an extremely important aspect of success – perceptions of people, and selling/marketing yourself/your product are very important. For example, as an ex-employee of Symantec I know that the company wanted to sponsor events like ClubHack, but could not because the company PR would not allow them to be associated with an organization called “ClubHack” (since the word hack has a negative perception amongst non-techies).

    Similarly, there are lots and lots of really good classical musicians, many with more talent than the famous guys. But it’s people who can combine talent with selling/marketing skills are the ones who will succeed.

    And, as the Zakir Hussain example points out selling isn’t just about a company or a product. You need to sell yourself also effectively – even if you’re not selling a product.

    The best way to learn selling/marketing would be to find a mentor who has been a sales or marketing person (or a CEO of a successful company) and then you’ll be amazed at how much they’ll push you to become shameless and do self-publicity. Must do for all the techies here.

    1. Just my 2 pence, but wont a person who has actually owned and made his/her own start-up grow into a successful company be more effective as a Mentor as compared to a person who has been employed as CEO of an already successful company? This especially in the context of entrepreneurs.

      1. @Karbhari, it is not necessary for every mentor to have all the skills/experience that you’re looking for. A CEO of a successful company might not be able to help you with initial startup troubles and how to grow a company from tiny-to-medium-to-big. But s/he would definitely be a good mentor for sales, marketing, and other such things. Of course, having one mentor who has all the skills would be great, but finding a mentor with whom your wavelength matches, and who has time for you, and who has the right kind of domain knowledge is not an easy process, and you will probably have to settle for a combination of mentors with differing skills.

        1. A CEO of a successful company *might* (please note I am stating ‘might’) be great in sales and marketing for that company because the resources are much more easily available, the budgets are there, the pockets are deeper and the brand already exists. But will the same CEO be a good mentor for a startup which has a very very tight budget, very limited resources and the brand has still to be built. Will this mentor be able to give the right advice …?

          1. @Karbhari, *might* or *might not*. Depends upon the exact situation. My main point is this – you shouldn’t disqualify a CEO of a successful company just because he hasn’t done a startup himself. That’s all.

  6. “Think simple”,
    “Never held yourself back if you found something going wrong, speak out”,
    “Learn to say NO!”,
    “Promise and deliver, rather than over-committing and failed” manager used to tell me these.

  7. I remember 2 years back when one of our prof. told while writing report for final year project

    “State your message in one sentence. That is your title. Write one paragraph justifying the message. That is your abstract. Circle each phrase in the abstract Write a paragraph or two for each such phrase. That is the body of your report.”

  8. “Do what you want to do with your full heart. Don’t think about people would like it or not. But after 2-3 failures you should know what people will like.”

    This was told me by the author of this blog. And this can be implemented in any field and walk of life.


    1. I would like to add something to this…

      “regardless of how you start, you most likely will change path… ”

      Even if you think that what you have in mind is the best thing since sliced bread, trust me, you will slice it in different ways, or maybe even change the bread altogether as you get feedback from users, and your understanding matures.

  9. 1. A wrong path vigorously followed is better than the right one in a vacillating manner

    — Randy Steck, the project manager of Intel’s legendary Pentium-Pro processor which forever buried the RISC vs CISC debate back into the academic world!

    2. When you’re conflicted between following your head and your heart, follow your heart

    — Swami Vivekananda (no, he didn’t tell me this directly ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. The best advice that I got was from my boss was โ€“ โ€œone dot meets another dot to assume a form of meaningful pictureโ€. It can be correlated to daily affairs as โ€“ convert goal into strategy, convert a vision in strategy, strategy in action plan and action plan in tangible and measurable action items. Then have a robust feedback mechanism between them to dream, wish, fight (and finally) achieve goal โ€“ well everything depends on our choice of goal.

  11. 1) Do not be afraid to fail – almost every successful person has failed at multiple things before becoming a huge success. So Aim high and forge ahead – failure is only one of the many possible outcomes!

    2) The only way to really understand something well is to try and explain it to a group of smart people. All your assumptions will get challenged before you are done and you will have a more complete understanding than you did before.

    These are more life lessons rather than advice but then “Experience is the best teacher” ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. In 2001, my VC firm, eVentures had just shut down because the LPs had turned off the tap. At this juncture, I was seeking advice from wise people as to what to do next. My VC career looked very interesting/fulfilling, but it had come to an abrupt end.

    At this point, a seasoned Valley VC sent me a very helpful mail. He said that: The VC business had sucked in a lot of ex-management consultants and i-bankers like me in the dot com boom. If I wanted to be a good VC or startup advisor in future, I should go back to using my engineering skills, not only my MBA skills, and work in a product environment and help build a real product. This steered me in the direction I was already thinking — joining an early stage software product co. I finally made up my mind to join Herald Logic, a startup in IITB’s incubator, that has got a great product and many customers. Though monetarily not probably the best, I have always been content and proud of the period I spent in this company with my co-founders.

    Wise advice at the right time can make an amazing difference.

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