In the connected world of today it’s easy to find an answer that works for you. But is it the right answer?
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a parent, it’s that whatever the answer you’re looking for, you can almost always find it with internet search. Google produces so many results for your search that if you scroll through enough of them, by the laws of statistics you will eventually find the answer you are looking for. In the middle of the night, up with a screaming sick baby, you can either reassure yourself that this is normal, or drive yourself into panic over a number of potentially life threatening scenarios.
The same applies at work. It’s easy to get stuck on a project and type your dilemma into a search engine, jumping enthusiastically onto the first answer that solves the problem and makes you feel better. So how can we quickly and effectively find a good quality answer?
Who is behind the name?
When we type our question into forums, even reputable ones, we don’t really know who is answering. We might be able to see their public profile, but we don’t know if that is valid. Is it really a seasoned professional answering your question, or is it someone flying by the seat of their pants, trying to get their name out there as an expert?
One exception to this is the Stack Exchange community. Starting with Stack Overflow, a programming community, and branching out to many more, Stack Exchange allows users to vote on answers, providing some basis for accepting any particular answer. Users also gain points for having their answers up-voted, or accepted by the questioner. The more points a person has, the more trustworthy they should be. The points are known as “reputation” for a reason! There are Stack communities for engineering, project management, chemistry and many more, even one for sceptics! Another exception can be using the forums on LinkedIn, as you can click through to a profile and check the person’s endorsements and recommendations.
If we get an answer from someone, it is worth taking the time to check them out. Look at their LinkedIn profile, check if they’ve written any papers or journal articles. Try and establish if they truly have the knowledge they are passing on to you. If you find someone great, contact them and thank them for their answer. Maybe ask a follow up question and clarify you’ve really understood their point. Remember people answer questions on their own time, and be grateful for the support you receive.
Wherever it comes from, whether a reputable (or otherwise) forum, an industry website, a blog, an online journal or another source, we should take the time to validate any answers we get. We should treat the response as a starting point, not the end point. Check the answer against other websites or text books, talk it through with a colleague, and make sure it makes sense. The internet is only a tool, and the results are only as good as the person using that tool makes them.
Many companies have knowledge sharing tools. Assuming you have looked here before you even went to the internet, now you have a good answer, pass it on. Put it back into the system and save others the time and effort you had to put in.
When you find a good source, remember it. Make a note and go back to that source rather than the whole internet. Over time you will build up a library of websites that are worth looking at, and will reduce the time you spend checking the results from an internet search.
Where do you find your answers from? Do you have great people to talk to, or websites to visit? Share them in the comments and let us all know!