Re: Tired of Giving Free Advice

Subject: Re: Tired of Giving Free Advice
From: Ed Manley <EManley -at- Solutionsplus -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2002 10:53:31 -0600

I give free advice all the time. I also ask for free advice all the time. By
"all the time" I mean that both occur multiple times daily.

Part of my responsibility to myself and to my company is to grow my skills
and capabilities. I have to do that daily, while still performing my regular
job. So, when peer or stranger asks my help and/or advice, I give it to the
fullest, limited by situation and common sense - and expect that when I need
the same they will act in turn. That's pretty much the foundation of this
list.

I am currently extending my capabilities by learning XML, UML-based modeling
and Modular Documentation Management practices, in order to implement MS
SharePoint Portal-based Knowledge Management practices, all while getting my
company's software development documentation done. I absolutely have to
multitask, have to make the most of every opportunity to learn something
new. I must be able to get to the heart of the issue rapidly, and reading
books is rarely the way to learn quickly. Asking questions is. Consequently,
I am not one bit hesitant to ask the author of an article for information.

At the same time, I realize that we are all in this together. That author is
no more working for fun than I am. None of my activities that I would
describe as fun include a computer, and I assume that to be true of my
peers. So I look for synergies, motivating opportunities to give back to
that person I am asking help of. What are the motives and goals for that
author to write that piece? A student working on a thesis? A freelancer
writing for paid publication? A medical professional working toward required
yearly continuing education? A researcher seeking peer collaboration? A
vendor touting a product? Most commonly, perhaps, is this an individual with
a vested interest in the success of the topic?

They all have different goals. Perhaps the easiest to understand is the
freelancer. With no clear ties to the topic, no vested interest but a
paycheck and perhaps attribution, about all one can offer the freelancer in
return for services is money.

Just about all authors (extend that to all sources of information) but the
freelance do have an interest. If I ask Doug Rosenberg for more details
about Use Cases, he can bet that when the time comes for us to hire
consultants or buy software I will remember Iconix. If I ask Scott Ambler to
help teach me Agile processes, he knows that I will promote those Agile
methods, not only in my organization but in numerous professional groups and
discussion lists. He has a vested interest - consulting contracts, in making
sure that I not only understand and promote AM, but that I recommend his
company when I am asked for my input in such things. Elna Tymes at LTS (a
stranger to me found on this list) likely has a different reward...when she
has a problem she expects me (us) to help if we can, just as I (we) expect
the same of her. That's what professional and peer groups do.

Someone like Bill Hall at Tenix is more difficult. He has written about
modular documentation experiences in his company, and I want more info from
him. He's not a consultant, so I can't promote him. I can't pay him. His
company is in Australia and there is nothing I can do for him here in the US
of A.

Will he give of his time to help a stranger for no possible benefit? Yes, it
turns out, he will. He has been quite willing to give detailed suggestions
and answers. Other than saying "thanks" there is apparently little I can do
in return. He has been quite honest in stating that he is busy, when that's
been the case, and offered to get back to me when he can.

Then there are folks, a well known AM practitioner and author, for instance,
who auto-responds to every emailer stating that he is too busy for
questions, but if I should want to hire him call this number. Not a chance,
friend...don't sit by the phone waiting.

This goes to the heart of the original question - how much time am I willing
to spend on folks who cannot in some way advance my cause?

I know many successful businessmen who will (and do) answer that without
hesitation. They will tell you "Not one damn minute!".

I know many more who give of their time and resources (to a reasonable
extent).

Note that twice now I have qualified my opinion on giving with "to a
reasonable extent" and "limited by situation and common sense".

Anything can be overdone, and it behooves the asker to understand what
"reasonable" and "common-sense" means to the askee.

Perhaps it boils down to your personality...your personal feelings of
confidence and invulnerability. If you believe yourself to be invincible and
all-knowing you will very likely believe in self-sufficiency, wherein you
ask and give no quarter.

My boss, the owner of this fine company, would no more ask for help
understanding XML than the man in the moon - and we know better than to ask
him for anything. But when the time comes to convert our messaging to XML he
will call on me to get it done.

If, like me, you feel that, at least where time, advice and help is
concerned, the more you give the more you get, perhaps you will spend more
time helping others, and quietly expect that they will give back to you. If
they don't, there's nothing wrong with "Next!" and move on.

The thing I am suggesting, here, is that we consider the goals, needs and
motives of the source from whom we need. If I need information from a
mercenary (freelance writer) I am completely out of luck - neither my
company nor my salary will allow me to pay for that information.

If I need information from a peer, however, strange to me or not, I can most
always find some opportunity for repayment in kind.

I suppose I cling to the hope that we all believe that we are in this life
together, and to clichés such as what goes around comes around.

If there is any truth to those concepts then we can afford to be generous of
our time and knowledge.

Have fun,
Ed

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