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Knowledge is Power

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About a month ago, in an article called “the deep dark secret behind ask leo” I shared a secret that, in all honesty isn’t that deep or that dark.

It started when someone asked me about what it is I do for a living.

I surprised myself and came up with something that felt pretty … well, kinda profound…

“I answer people’s tech questions, and sneak in some education when they’re not looking.”

I was reminded of that again after I recorded last week’s video about my not-really-favorite question: “It doesn’t work”.

It got me to thinking about the fundamental conflict that’s present when anyone tries to help you with technology.

It’s simply this: what you want, and what you need are very likely to be two different things.

What you have – is a problem.

What you want – is a solution.

But what you probably need … is some education.

Here’s why…

often with just a little bit of education not only will you likely get a solution to your problem, but you’ll also be less likely to need help with a similar problem in the future, or at least set things up so that the next time you need help it’ll be both quicker and more accurate.

Ultimately, you’ll be that much more self reliant.

You’ll need me – or people like me – just a little less. And for the record, I’m OK with that.

The education doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It could be as simple as the correct term for something, or understanding the difference between a web site and a program – things I mentioned in last week’s video.

Or remembering to clear a browser cache when you experience a certain type of problem.

There are plenty of opportunities.

And therein lies my challenge.

Not just to sneak in some education with the solution. And not so much that you’re left even more baffled than before, but something that might help you again in the future.

Look for it.

Look for opportunities to learn a little.

Heck, it’s why I’m in this industry – there’s not a day goes by that I don’t learn something, and that – to me – is exciting and wonderful.

The more you know, the better this stuff works. And the better this stuff works, the more exciting and empowering and fun it can be.


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15 comments on “Knowledge is Power”

  1. The problem i have when assisting folks with their computer problems is they appear to pay attention to what you are doing and listening carefully to what instructions you give, but when things happen again later on, usually by doing the same mistake, you get that call to come again, “my computer’s not working.” If you are busy or put them on a bit of a delay, they are quite willing to wait. It usually turns out they did listen before, and knew how to fix it, but would rather you do it. (¯`·._.·ns¢ävË·._.·´¯)®

    • Very true George, but the problem is often that you learned what to do at the time, but 6 months later when the problem recurred, you have forgotten how it was fixed last time.

      If you use something every day (or at least frequently), you remember how it works, the problem lies with things you only use occasionally and have forgotten how to use them when the time comes.

  2. Because I absorbed over time a pretty good understanding of how computers work, and started helping friends solve their computer problems, I’ve wound up being the “tech support guy” for a dozen families. Each time I solve a problem, I try to tell them what caused it and how to fix it should it — or thing like it — happen again. Seldom works. Why? I’ve come to the conclusion that the “wiring” in people’s brains is just different, and with many people, when it comes to computers, they are simply “learning disabled”. The male partner in 3 of the families I support is a graduate engineer with many years of engineering experience. These are smart people. One is a chemical engineer and teaches chemical engineering. But when something goes wrong with their computers, they haven’t a clue how to fix it, no matter how many times I show them what went wrong and how to fix it. I find they can’t grasp the basics of the computer’s modus operandi; that it has an “operating system” that is different from the “applications” they run; that the programs and files they create are stored on a hard drive and the hard drive is not “memory”; “memory” is something different; that you connect to the Internet with a “browser”; etc. I don’t think it’s possible to get around the “brain wiring” issue.

    • I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that explanation at all. My belief is people are inherently LAZY. For example: How hard is it, when first introduced to someone, to remember their name? But how many people, 5 minutes later, have forgotten? Their brain CERTAINLY has the capability to remember a single name, but the fact is, they simply didn’t TRY. They didn’t make the effort. Or people who say: “I’m just not mechanically inclined.” So what!! Have they ever really TRIED to look carefully at something mechanical, and truly put forth the EFFORT to see how it works? Probably not.

      Now I’m not saying that a person who runs into a technical computer problem is going to remember how to fix it again, when it comes up in say, 6 months. But there is something very basic they COULD do: TAKE NOTES. But heck, why do that? THAT takes effort. They know, if only subconsciously, they can just call you again. When you consider how powerful the human brain is, I say people are just lazy when it comes to things that don’t interest them.

      I learned computers on my own. I read books, online articles, watched videos, and read instructions. I taught myself 4 windows OS’s, Quickbooks, MS Office, Sketchup, as well as several gadgets, starting with my first digital camera and I-pod. Can I remember everything I’ve learned? Not the things I don’t do regularly. But for those things, I TOOK NOTES!

      One other thought about those 3 men you mentioned: They’re all in technical fields, which is another reason why I believe they are certainly smart enough to “get” computers. But you also said they are smart. Maybe they’re just using their smarts in a way that gets their problem fixed, without putting forth the effort: Using you. And not to take a jab at you, but maybe you just didn’t teach them well. I do believe people learn different ways: Some like reading and taking notes, others need things explained and see how they are done, and others are more “hands-on”- they need to do it themselves a few times in order to learn it. Maybe you weren’t teaching them in the manner they best learn. But just not being “wired” to understand computers??? Not buying it.

    • I think Don T. is on target. Some people just can’t absorb it. I also think some people were made that way over time because they didn’t have someone to help them in their formative years. While Tom may be right on some people (they’re too lazy to put in the effort), I think there are a lot of people who just can’t get it.

      To go to a totally different field, I taught race car driving for some years. All students were highly motivated to learn but some just couldn’t get it. The combination of reflexes and skills required just didn’t come to them. Didn’t make them a bad person or lazy, their skills just lay in a different area.

    • Actually the solution is quite simple. It’s twofold:

      1. Don’t jump as soon as they have a problem. Do the repair on YOUR schedule, not theirs. If they have to wait a couple of days to get it fixed they will be a little more careful. The inconvenience should be mostly theirs, not yours. When my father-in-law pooches his laptop I just take it home and give it back to him two days later even if the fix takes only 30 minutes.
      2. Disk imaging. I’ve made it very clear to family/friends that any computer I maintain must be configured to my specs. That means a C partition with only OS and apps. All personal folders (My Documents, etc) are located on D. I’ll spend 30 minutes max trying to fix a system. After that the image goes back on and if the user saved any files on C then that’s just too bad.

      There’s an interesting phenomenon. When safety devices are used, people tend to get more reckless. In one study, motorists drove an average of 3.35 inches closer to a test bike when the rider wore a helmet. Another study showed that a person in an ABS vehicle actually has a 45 percent greater chance of dying in a single-vehicle crash than someone without ABS. Unskilled drivers apparently drive more aggressively thanks to their false sense of security. If your users know that you are there to pick up the pieces in short time then they will likely take more risks with their computers.

  3. It’s a spin on teaching the hungry person to fish rather than just feeding him, with all the implications.

    Leo … I, for one, like the way you do what you do but am always up for more info (education). Providing the ‘why’ before you get to the ‘what’ establishes the basis so the solution is better understood, and I’d assume most of your readers appreciate this. There will always be those who simply want a series of keystrokes to make their problem go away, but I like to think most folks want more than that.

    Keep up the good work … computers seem less formidable with you around.

  4. When I first started in my career path after an apprenticeship of half the normal period, my first fantastic supervisor told me one thing ” you will learn something new everyday and if you don’t ????????? !!!!!!) his advice is true to this day.

    I’ve been using computers since the mid 80’s and I do learn something every day, and thanks to ASK Leo a lot of that mud becomes clear water. Back up is still Mud even with all of Leo’s great help and input.

    Part of my problem with using certain functions of computer program is how they are written and how to interpret what the vendor is telling you to do. Sometimes just a quick look see, step by step, do this turns, mud into clear water.

    Thank You Leo

  5. I also help friends and relatives with their pc and many times with things I have learned from Leo. What I sometimes find amusing if not annoying is when I have repaired their machine and explained why it happened that after a few month and the same problem comes up they say: “What have you done to my computer”?

  6. Dear Leo,
    Though you have never answered any of my questions(and I am certain there are good reasons why) I really like the simple way you explain things. But beyond your explaining computer challenges clearly-helpfully, the way you come out as a person(granted I have never seen you in person; you being there in the US and I here in Kenya,though I wish I could see you in person because to me,you are my unsung hero when it comes to activating peoples’ computer skills and for free at that)is very appealing.

  7. Sometimes I try to educate a person on what should be done for a tech problem. But they don’t believe me. They called me to fix their computer because I’m the tech expert, but then when I tell them what to do to prevent the problem in the future they think I don’t know what I’m talking about. After another friend tells them the same thing then they believe it. It’s hard to get a person, who is not a tech person, to believe what I say and then follow through.

    • I think it’s all about the metaphors you use. Or the picture you paint in their minds. That’s why Leo’s articles are so helpful, he manages to paint a picture that people can understand.

  8. I am not a tech expert and I know I am not good at remembering how someone solved a computer problem for me. So I have developed a simple solution for future problems of the same type: I write down what went wrong and every step involved in the solution. I keep this information in a file folder labeled “computer.” This saves me the trouble of remembering information needed infrequently and avoids having to bother someone else to get help.


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