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Helping people help themselves (have you met my friend Google?)

By May 21, 2013November 19th, 2013Uncategorized

I love to help people, and that’s one of the great things about having a blog. If I discover a solution to a problem, I can post it here. Google will index it, people will search for it, and most of them will find a workable solution to that problem.

The downside is people sometimes feel like “hey you put information out for free, so you must have lots of time on your hands, so I can just email you and ask you more questions.”

I don’t have lots of time. Most people have no sense of that. People just want help, and if they find someone helpful they cling. I understand, and sympathize.

My PDF for Lawyers blog spawns a fair number of email questions. Probably 90% of the time the problem isn’t one I’ve encountered, or would be likely to encounter. But if I can help quickly, I’ll give it a shot

That means I fire up google and type in key words. To come up with a focused search I think “how would the average person with this problem describe it in a search?” That’s the kind of thought process the person who asks me the question should be better at than me. I have to think like them to get a good search.

Anyway, I type in some words and get a result. Then I check the search and see if the results seem off. If so I modify the search slightly. If not, I copy the best result into an email and send it them.

For example the other day I ran into a friend at the coffee shop and he saw me typing on my iPad Mini. He said that he didn’t like his Mini because the battery life was too short. He asked if I thought something was wrong with it, and I said yes. The iPad mini should get 10 hours of battery life. He thanked me, but I could tell he wasn’t sure what to do about the situation. I had some theories, but if I started telling him what they were he’d never remember and it would all sound kind of intimidating.

When I got home I did a quick Google search and found an article on Apple’s troubleshooting forum precisely on point. It took me about 30 seconds of searching and evaluating to figure out that this article had a 90% chance of solving his problem, or guiding him in the best direction to solve it.

I don’t mind answering people’s questions if I can do a quick 30 second search. I usually let them know that’s how I found the answer—to implant the notion that it’s something that they could’ve done themselves. What I DO mind are vague email requests “to get together so I can pick your brain.” If I accepted all of those requests, which are totally innocent and well-meaning, I’d have a lot less time to write blog posts. And less time to answer short email questions that most people could easily answer themselves.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.