Finding comfort in contradiction

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When you run a small business, it's easy to get caught up in other people's opinions. There are countless blogs, videos, books, podcasts and other things that entrepreneurs publish about what's worked for them, what ideas they think are good, and what they think is terrible.

But you don't need to look very far before you can find two people you respect that disagree with one another and have conflicting points of view. Seth Godin writes about the importance of failing often while Jason Fried says learning from failure is over rated.

Some people argue that you should focus on learning a skill while others believe that in an age of Mechanical Turk and off shore development that you should have others build your ideas.

My favorite contradiction is where 37signals contradicts themselves regarding what you should think about your competition. Here's what they wrote in Getting Real in 2006:

Keep Up With the Joneses

Subscribe to news feeds about your competitors.
Subscribe to news feeds about both your product and your competitors (it's always wise to know the ways of one's enemy). Use services like PubSub, Technorati, Feedster, and others to stay up to date (for keywords, use company names and product names). With RSS, this constantly changing info will be delivered right to you so you're always up to speed.

Now here's how they open an essay on competition in their latest book REWORK, which was just published in March:

Who cares what they're doing?

"In the end, it's not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway. Why not? Because worrying about your competition quickly turns into an obsession. What are they doing right now? Where are they going next? How should we react?"

And then later...

Focus on yourself instead. What's going on in here is way more important than what's going on out there. When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can't spend that time improving yourself.

They both sound like good pieces of advice to me.

Both of these books are fantastic by the way, and even if you don't work in technology you should get REWORK, because it will inspire you.

It doesn't bother me in the least bit that there's contradictory advice here, and that's the point. It's comforting. Because the truth is that pretty much anyone writing anything is doing so based on their unique perspective at that moment in time.

Things change us, and they change our perspectives, and we learn and we grow. Sometimes we change our mind. And sometimes both things can be true.

Read what other people have to say, let them inspire you, take the good advice. But remember, it might be wrong and it might change.

Or, it's coming from an expert and you should really pay attention to what they're saying.