ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stupid About _________.

“We’re all ignorant, just about different things.” ~Mark Twain

You probably know by now that I love technology. In fact, I love it so much that I make a point of knowing the fine details of all kinds of computers, smartphones, cameras, MP3 players, etc.

But I’ll be honest: I hate cars.

I don’t care how many cylinders are in the engine, I don’t care what material the seats are made out of, I don’t even care if it has a CD player. As long as it gets me where I need to go, that’s good enough for me. The cheaper the better, and if I have to give up a few features, fine. Just give me a heater and air conditioner--the rest is optional. Therefore, when I look for a car, I look for the thing that will cost me the least initially and further down the road (no pun intended). Now, any car expert out there is probably shaking his head by now and thinking up a list of cars I should check out to prove me wrong that I can be satisfied with the least the auto industry has to offer.

See that blank in the title? Fill it in for yourself: you may love technology (that’s probably why you’re here), but you could hardly care less about ______ and have little passion to know the geeky details about ______. Well, guess what? That’s how the majority of people feel about technology.

It is inevitable that if you know a great deal about something, as soon as someone you know has a question about that something, you’re the first person that comes to their mind. And this is good for both of you. You yourself get to talk about the topic you love and help someone out in the process. If you do well, you may even earn a little cash on the side. But unfortunately, if you find yourself playing the role of tech support, you also run the risk of building a reputation of being somewhat over-the-top and delivering too much information, and maybe not even the right information at that. Example:

“Hi, I’m trying to transfer this MiniDV tape to my computer...think you can help?”

“MiniDV! What you really should use is a flip cam. You can get flash-based camcorders that shoot in 720p for a couple hundred bucks these days, and then all you have to do is plug the built-in USB head to your PC, copy the files to your hard drive, and you’re good to go.”

Perhaps it’s a bit over-simplified of an example, but you get the idea. Simply put: if asked a question, answer the question. You may know of 10 better alternatives, but if you weren’t asked for alternatives, don’t launch into products and spec sheets. In fact, even if you are asked for products, don’t give lists of specs to people who are coming to you because they themselves are clueless about Product X, Y, and Z. The same spec sheet may make you drool in amazement and turn away someone else for being too complicated. Sadly, this is one thing Apple does deviously well. 'Deviously,' because they know just how to list all the practical reasons why someone should want their products, only they don’t offer products worth wanting (if you understand the tech behind it). Don’t be an Apple and recommend bad products of course, but do be practical. Specs can translate directly to practicality, if you know how to do so. It can take some time, but it’s a skill worth learning. Remember, this is something good for both you and the person you’re helping, regardless of if you get some money out of the deal. It’s just plain a good feeling to know you’ve helped someone get the right product–for them. That product may not be the one you personally would choose, but that’s because it doesn’t suit your needs. Not everyone needs the absolute latest that technology has to offer; something more tried and true might be a better fit for the less knowledgeable and adventurous. Focus on the other person and not yourself. Don’t overload anyone with your knowledge, just address the question at hand in a clear and pleasant manner.

Remember, the bottom line is to help someone with your knowledge, not impress them. Everyone is stupid about something, and when that person is you, you don’t want someone to talk down to you or bog you down with information, you just want guidance. Learn from those experiences so that when it’s your turn to be that guidance for someone else, you’ll be able to give them exactly what they need.