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The Future of Advice

When making your next big decision, where will you turn to for advice? More than ever, technology is stepping in to offer the wisest, most timely counsel via ever-expanding networks of friends and strangers. But how should business executives tackle today’s new rules for getting—and giving—advice? Author Michael Schrage attempts to answer that question in The Conference Board Review’s March/April 2008 issue by offering some valuable…advice.

Technology may continue to speed a worldwide information revolution, but Schrage points out that “while good advice is surely good information, good information is not necessarily good advice.” Indeed, using technology to manage information demands different sensibilities than using it to handle advice. For example, the permanence of e-mail provides us with unique opportunities to brand ourselves as advisor and advisee.

“While technology’s future may not be the future of advice,” says Schrage, “the future of advice can no longer be meaningfully divorced from the media and mechanisms that carry it. There’s never been a time in history when "advice" and "device" have been so intimate, interdependent, and intertwined. Executive advice in the global enterprise is overwhelmingly mediated, automated, or augmented by some sort of technology.” From Blackberrys to iPhones, there’s no shortage of devices to enable streams of advice.

There’s also no stopping the “networkification” of advice, which has prompted new genres of digital counsel. As the variety of blogs expands, so too the number of wikis, shared online spaces that can be either communally or individually edited and updated. Together, they move advice beyond its mere giving and taking—it becomes interactive.

Interactive advice is especially useful to those who need efficient recommendations now. For instance, at several Bangalore call centers, customer-service reps often instant-message each other while chatting with their help-line callers. As more companies adopt such practices, Schrage offers his thoughts on firms that don’t. He ponders: “Perhaps some firms simply aren’t getting good advice about good advice.”

Businesses adopting new innovations in advice technology are discovering that their efforts are paying off. Amazon, Netflix, Apple’s iTunes, and many other companies offer superb technology-enabled recommendations. “Better yet,” says Schrage, “all that good advice comes free—giving lie to the consultant’s cliché that free advice is worth only what you pay for it. In truth, that ‘free’ advice has qualitatively and quantitatively changed digital commerce worldwide.”

Advice, however, is not the same as expertise. Whereas the latter focuses on being right, advice revolves around issues of good judgment. When it comes to advice, “there is no inherently right answer, but there are almost always questions and approaches that might facilitate desirable outcomes,” explains Schrage. “As a result, experts and advisers have different goals and different roles.”

To better manage advice, Schrage predicts that tomorrow’s organizations may have a CAO—a Chief Advice Officer—to oversee the tools, technologies, and training essential to transforming good advice into great organizations. Yet, one thing will remain clear: “The future of good advice will transform the future of good management.”

For more information, visit www.conference-board.org