Some time ago this "ultimate cheat sheet" circulated through my various social networks. A couple of my friends asked me what I thought of it. My intuitive reaction was a negative one, but I needed to think about why I felt that way. This, in my mind, unraveled into a deeper theme, which I thought worth sharing.

But first, some context.

I am currently in my second year at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Prior to that, I spent six years working in a financial services firm. I left because I wanted to explore the broader world, and get back in touch with my deep passion (solving big problems with the help of software, which has the incredible ability to provide unprecedented leverage to almost any human activity – software is, after all, eating the world). Stanford allowed me to do it in a community of people who have great ideas, are ambitious, and surprisingly diverse (if you know where to look).

Throughout my first year I've taken classes that immersed me in the world of business, and particularly early-stage ventures. I went to panels, where novice, seasoned, successful and failed entrepreneurs alike shared their experiences and gave their advice to wide-eyed business school students. I went to lunches with people who had something interesting to say. I extracted the essence of more than a hundred cases I've covered in class. I read articles that my classmates sent me, scavenged the Web for advice given by founders, CEOs, salespeople, and everyone else. As a result, by the end of my first year, I had an impressive cheat sheet of my own. I keep it in Evernote, titled "business advice", and despite being written in concise, bullet-point form, it now exceeds 20,000 words. So it remains useful, I organized it into about 50 themes over 5 major categories.

As I was restarting this blog, I considered sharing the entire file with the world. Why not? After all, it's a compression of more than a year of advice, given to me in various forms, ranging from very personal to heavily broadcast.

The problem with the advice I so diligently collected, and with James's advice, is that it's useless. It's useless, because it's compressed so much that it becomes almost impossible to apply. It lacks any context whatsoever to be put in practice. It is more than just "dead knowledge". It's knowledge that's been dead for years and is now shriveled, dehydrated and turns to powder as soon as you touch it.

In fact – and this is what was bothering me so much when I read the post – I believe that such advice has negative valueA big problem is that cheat sheets like this give their readers a false sense of security  – a belief that there is "the" right answer. There isn't. The astute adage "Ask ten people for advice and you'll get eleven opinions" is spot on. Every one of these rules is an outcome of a thought process or an experience. Each of them is a black box – whose inputs are the pros and cons, the context that the author faced, and the set of things he valued, and the output is a decision. And so to present these one hundred and three processes (or more, if these rules were came out of several experiences) as rules totally misses the point and encourages the reader to question the world around her less, rather than more.

I have no intention on picking on James. In fact, I am grateful to him for coming up with his 100+3 rules. I was staring at my own advice for more than a year and failed to see what was wrong with it. I needed to see someone else's advice to really get it.

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There truly is no free lunch. Yes, reading a book saves you time. But it's no lossless compression scheme. Reading a bullet point of advice might save you the 2 years (and \$) of business school and 1 year of going out and trying, and failing. But by reading a bullet point, you sacrifice the mental focus that you would subject yourself to if you actually had to read that case, think about that issue, then discuss it with your classmates, then hear the guest speaker's synthesis (which by now has all this wonderful context that you'll hopefully remember, even partially), and then write it up as a bullet point in your own "business advice", and then try it in the world, and fail, and finally internalize what it means.