Warning: Not All #AdviceThatSticks is Good Advice!

[Audio Version]

This month, August 2016, LinkedIn invited its contributors to share blog posts inspired by the theme: #AdviceThatSticks. The prompt reads:

"Think back to the best — or worst — piece of advice you’ve ever followed. What did you learn from it? Would you follow that advice again?"

Instead, I want to talk about the theme itself.

The idea that:

  • good advice sticks with us, while bad advice is quickly debunked and fades away.
  • we learn advice.
  • we have free will to follow or dismiss advice.

All of these ideas are fundamentally flawed.

To understand why, we must look at the science of memetics. Richard Brodie, author of Viruses of the Mind, explains:

"The science of memetics is based on evolution. Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species by natural selection utterly transformed the field of biology. Scientists are now applying modern evolutionary theory to the way the mind works, the way people learn and grow, the way culture progresses. In so doing, the field of psychology will ultimately be as transformed by the scientists researching memetics as biology was by Darwin.”

Darwin’s theory is often misrepresented as 'survival of the fittest,’

In fact, as you can see by the explantation above, Darwin's theory focused on 'natural selection.'

This is a very important distinction.

In Darwin's theory and in memetics it is not the socially ideal, most glamorous, or smartest gene or meme that survives, but the gene or meme that is naturally reinforced most often.

In other words, it is not the best, most enlightened, or most empowering advice that sticks with us. No, it is the advice, good and bad, that is reinforced the most.

These reinforcements can come from our family of origin, teachers, mentors, bosses, and the main stream media to name a few.

Brodie goes on to explain that:

"...memetics has uncovered the existence of viruses of the mind"

Just like viral infections and computer viruses, harmful memes can spread like wildfire.

For example, my mother always used to say and model, "If you want something done right you have to do it yourself."

This was well intentioned advice. She thought she was teaching me a difficult truth that would set me apart and ensure I got ahead in life. Sure enough it stuck with me, because it is a widely held belief in the aggressively independent US culture and was reinforced in many situations by many different people.

When I set out to start my first business, I was still unconsciously running this program or virus in my mind.

As a result, I tried to reinvent every wheel, failed to ask for or accept help, grew extremely frustrated and eventually burned out.

I had no fun, no fun at all.

When I set out to start my next business, Rebel + Connect, I knew that I didn't want to and absolutely couldn't do it alone.

I teamed up with Rachel McGehee and Summer Weirich. Not only do we have more fun working as a team, but we each bring a unique perspective and skill set to the table.

Another meme that gets reinforced often in the US is "It's a dog eat dog world." This advice steams from that same misunderstanding of Darwin's theory as “survival of the fittest” vs “evolution and natural selection.”

Somewhere along the line, all three of us had heard this expression and bought into it. We had also seen that ruthless competition is causing countless forms of suffering across the globe. We wanted our business to be a force for good and have set out to build it on a foundation of collaboration instead of competition.

We actively affirm "If you want something done right, hire an expert."

This meme informs the way we build relationships with collaborators and clients.

We work in the areas of program development, travel management, and event planning, as they relate to the design and implementation of custom company retreat for remote teams.

We do not claim to be experts on leadership, team building, or health and wellness, though we all have experience in these fields of study.

We do not claim to be experts on travel services or any one destination, though we have all traveled a great deal in our lives.

We do not claim to be experts in event planning, though we all have experience attending and planning events that have worked and events that haven’t worked.

We do not claim to be remote team management experts, though we have all worked and continue to work remotely and have a personal understanding of the unique human challenges remote workers face.

Our clients are the experts of the companies they lead.

Our collaborators are experts in their respective industries and niches.

We are experts in helping our clients think outside the box, rebel against the norm, and connect with their own unique vision for a company retreat that addresses the unique human challenges of remote work by integrating cutting edge social science, individual company values, community outreach and philanthropy, proximity to natural beauty, and immerssive travel adventures.

Despite our best efforts to promote team work and collaboration, symptoms of these cultural mindset viruses still pop up from time to time.

So when LinkedIn asked “Think back to the best — or worst — piece of advice you’ve ever followed. What did you learn from it? Would you follow that advice again?”

I knew I couldn’t offer a simple answer.

Rather, I feel compelled to tell you that I have followed good and bad advice in my life. I have done so consciously and unconsciously.

I learned that it is much easier and metabolically less expensive to stay inside the box of societal norms, but that it is way more valuable to blaze your own trail and embody your own truth.

I learned that every piece of advice has the potential to lead you astray and guide you home if you are willing to pay attention to the thoughts that are motivating your actions.

I learned that even when you want to make a change and consciously set out to do so, personal development is a on-going process that requires practice.

As the buddha says,

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

The only thing I would add is to also be wary of your own reason and common sense. You never know what memes are working behind the scenes.

Guard your mind, open your heart and let your experiences be your primary teacher.

That is my advice to you and I hope it sticks!


Rebel + Connect creates custom retreats for remote teams. A Colorado based company owned and operated by Charlie BirchRachel McGehee, and Summer Weirich, we operate remotely and service clients from all over the globe. Join us as we create cultures of meaning and celebrate human connections in a digital world!

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