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The Deep, Dark Secret Behind Ask Leo!

I was exchanging email with someone the other day, and he asked about my business and what I do.

What I came up with on the spur of the moment so perfectly captured one aspect of Ask Leo! that I took myself aback. :-)

You’d think that after nearly a dozen years of doing this, I’d have a pretty clear “elevator pitch”. Indeed, I do have a pretty good “why” that I captured earlier this year. But that’s different than a “what”.

The answer I shared crystallized something important about how I do what I do …

… my ulterior motive, if you will.

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Answers and education

My statement was this:

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

It’s true. You might think I’m here to simply answer questions, and that is the basis for this site and the information I produce.

But my real purpose here is to educate . . . even those who don’t know they want an education.

Answers versus explanations

ConfidentialYou may have heard the term “mansplaining”. Wikipedia currently defines it as “to explain something to someone, typically a man to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”

It started me thinking about what I do, and how everything I write is, in one form or another, an explanation of some sort — even this article. I try not to do it in a condescending or patronizing way, but with a wide variety of readers who have a wide range of proficiency, it’s a challenging line to walk.

But it reminded me of something else I also hear from time to time:

“I don’t care how or why — just tell me what to do to make it work!”

You want solutions. I get that. The how or why that fascinates some1 is so much noise to you.

Or is it?

Knowledge is power

If the problem you’re facing is the only problem you’ll ever face using technology, then just telling you what to do without explanation would be entirely appropriate. There’d no real value in going further. Click here, type that, and you’re done.

Unfortunately — and I think you know this — technology is rarely that simple. You will encounter problems again. Be it not understanding how to do something or being stymied by a computer that isn’t behaving as expected, there will be problems. There will be bumps in the road. Some will be large, some small, but it’s inevitable.

I want to empower you to navigate those bumps more confidently and solve some on your own.

And when you do need to reach out for help, I want you to be able to ask the right questions in the right way so you’ll get the answers you need.

That’s where sneaking in some education comes in.

Knowledge is confidence and independence

If every time you have a question I give you only and strictly the answer to that particular question, then the next time you have a question, you’ll need to ask again.

On the other hand, if each time you ask a question you also learn just a little about how things work and why they do what they do, chances are you may very well be able to answer your own questions as they come up.

You won’t be as dependent on people like me to help you through your day.2

In fact, you might be able to pass it along — pay it forward, if you will — by answering someone else’s questions.

That’s my ulterior motive.

That you’ll need me less and less.

I guess it’s not a secret any more.

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Footnotes & references

1: I think it was in a Dilbert comic.

2: Guilty.

3: Yes, in an ideal world, I’d answer and educate my way out of a job. Not likely, of course, but if it happens, I’ll cope. :-)

56 comments on “The Deep, Dark Secret Behind Ask Leo!”

  1. Great Dilbert reference!

    Humor goes a long way in education. My Organic Chemistry book had a cartoon with a caption to explain an isonomer (a mirror image molecule) that said everything has a mirror image, except ghosts.

  2. I enjoy learning how to solve problems myself before I go looking for help. When I am stuck, your site is my first stop. I look to see if you have covered that problem in a past article and I have learned a lot from your your articles. My only problem is my age. It won’t let me remember today what I learned yesterday so I find myself looking for help more often than I feel I should. That is frustrating so I really appreciate having a site to go to when I need information. Thanks for all the great articles.

  3. I appreciate that you don’t just answer the “what” question but also include the “why.” My goal is to be educated enough to troubleshoot problems without having to always call on outside help and your newsletters, forum and Facebook page definitely has increased my computer knowledge tremendously over the last several years.

    Thanks for the education!

  4. I’ve always been a fixer. My motto has always been “If I can’t fix it, it ain’t broke.” (poor grammar intentional) It’s always been my belief that if you understand how something works, you can likely fix it when needed. I think the same goes for this computer stuff, and that’s why I like what you do, and the way you do it. The explanations are very helpful, sometimes necessary. Thanks for what you do, Leo.

  5. Fully agree with your comments Leo. I’ve asked you a few direct questions, as well as found lots of other solutions among your pages and those of other forums. Actually, nearly every forum I’ve visited for help, I’ve been able to return afterwards to help others.

  6. Leo,

    I concur with you 100%. As a Tech Solutions Trainer, share the same sentiments. You are doing a great work and thank you for coming out that way.

  7. Leo, I never think you are being condescending. It is great that you answer questions and educate us so we don’t have to ask again. :) Maybe.

  8. Thanks Leo, keep doing what you are doing, I don’t know of anybody else that renders such services.
    Keep trucking my friend, I appreciate every news letter, I save them all.

  9. Perfectly stated! You’re one of the best and I have learned so much about computers and technology by reading your articles. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  10. Yes Leo, I agree with you. However, in my case I actually do know a lot of the how, why, and whatever. However, often times I just don’t know the key strokes to accomplish/fix something. And people who write software, especially Microsoft, aren’t always (very seldom actually) logical in their approach.

  11. I spent my entire working career doing what you described and now look back with pride at the many individuals who surpassed me in their occupations. Keep the education going, Leo.

  12. I enjoy messing around with the computer and always want to know WHY and not What makes it work. I feel I’m missing out on electronic technology as it progresses faster than I can keep up with. Your answers up me a bunch. At my age I feel I’m just getting started and have it end before I’m ready. Thank you for having your web site and teaching me…more lattes a coming!

  13. Leo,
    I highly appreciate what you are doing. Truly, ignorance is not a bliss! Yet, I have come to find out that knowledge is not all that is cut out to be. Even so, my “mansplaining” will not fit in this comment. Regardless, perhaps you could email me and request my “mansplaining”– I would be glad to oblige because, the knowledge that I now have and would like to share with you could be of much help to you. By all means I am not selling anything. Google + or Facebook or Twiter, etc can tell you all about me. Thanks for all the valuable info that you kindly share with all! :-)

  14. Leo,
    I have been working with computers since 1983. I consider myself a troubleshooting expert; however, when reading your newsletter I always learn a little bit that I didn’t know.
    Not once did it feel condescending or an “everybody knows that” attitude.

    You are providing a great resource to many that may not have the skills or knowledge to get the most out of their computing experience.
    Please don’t stop!

    Ken. Edmonton Canada

  15. My father always told me that the best question you can ever ask is “Why…?” and to keep asking until you get the real answer.

    To those who just want the “fix”, you too should keep asking why, as it does as Leo wants – to empower you.

    Thank you Leo, a man after my own heart. I now enjoy teaching and empowering.

  16. Hi Leo. You know, as minister of a lively country church parish I do the exact same thing when I preach ha-ha! I am now 70 years old and my very first computer was a Commodore Vic20. For many years computers have been an essential working tool. For a long time I was a subscriber to Fred Langa’s Langalist, and he was my most trusted “go to” for the information I needed. Since he retired you have filled that gap for me. Thank you for the tremendous support over the years – you have helped me more than you can ever know. Living in the far south of New Zealand’s south Island I am a long way from technical help, and so your newsletter and the occasional answer to a tech question, has been, and continues to be, wonderful. Again, my grateful thanks. Kind regards, Peter.

  17. I subscribe completely to your explanation and have done that my whole life. My wife, of course, rolls her eyes. And my son, when he was eight and there was a discussion about sex and I realized he knew what the story was, told me he never asked me anything because “You give long answers to short questions.”

    • Long answers to short questions – I’ve been accused of that. That’s why I say that I try to “sneak in” the education when people aren’t looking. :-)

  18. Hi Leo,

    Just want to say how much I enjoy your newsletters and I too think it is important to know the whys and what you need to do to fix the problem. Yes, Leo you are an asset to this computer and thank you so much for your time and effort as I know computers can be so frustrating at times.

    Just curious how many people know what or care what a hyperlink is as it can sure be of value but most just do not care and especially the people my age or at least the ones I am around as they would rather play cards or Mexican Train than learn basic computers.

    On I have a blog of my own and no it does not have to do with computers and no I take no credit for any of the pictures and there are over 34,600 of them and again all these pictures are not mine at all. This blog has to do with something we all have to have every day…

    See if it was not for all these nice people on tumblr I could not have that blog as I am not a photographer by any means. Back to computers most of the people where I live my age just do not care and one said ” I wish we did not have them and could do everything the old fashioned way. ”

    Yes, I have rattled on too long and I do have one final question and that is I receive powerpoints by e mail from a friend, and at the time I have over 1,000 of them, I use windows 7 and when I get these e mails I transfer them to a flash stick to give me more room on my drive C and I also have the software Sandboxie. What is the best and fastest way to transfer the information from drive C to drive E ??

    Just to show you how much I think of you I also belong to the Kim Komando club and I answer far more questions than I have as it just seems I always figure out the answer and a lot of the time when someone has a question and I do not know the answer I go to Ask Leo ! I also feel a person could try a little trial and error as it would not hurt anything.

    Thanks for all your help Leo as you are very much appreciated.

    You know why the man threw his alarm clock off the ten story building ?? For the answer Ask Leo !

    • Unless I;m missing something, transferring from C: to E: is as simple as dragging and dropping the files from one to the other using Windows Explorer. That makes a copy by default. Hold down the shift key when you release the mouse and it’ll actually *move* the files – making the copy on E: and then deleting the originals on C:.

  19. HI LEO

  20. You never stop learning…that’s what I hear. So, I will always need “Leo”!! A lot of us actually depend on the Ask Leo newsletter, as someone else’s question is often one we want the answer to also. The first thing that comes to mind if I want to see if something works, or how, I know I can “Ask Leo”. Thanks for being here, you will not be phased out anytime in the near future.Or perhaps the next 20 years!

  21. Reminded me of the story about Stalin when he was asked a similar question and took a while to come up with an answer.

    Shortly after he came to power, and before his likeness was plastered all over the Soviet Union, he decided he wanted to visit with his mother. Stalin hadn’t seen, spoken or corresponded with her for more than 15 years. So he sent a car and a couple of squads of guards to pick her up and bring her to the Kremlin.

    After her arrival, he gave her a tour, showing her that magnificent citadel, including the austere little cubbyhole that was his office. Later as they sipped tea, she asked him, “Well son, just what is that you do?” Stalin, who never held any government position, recited the only title he ever had, which was something like, “Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Moscow”.

    Knitting her brow, she continued her inquiry, “So, you’re a secretary?” Thinking it over for a while, Stalin asked, “Mother, do you remember when there was a Czar?” “Of course,” she replied.

    “Well, now I’m like the Czar.”

  22. Leo: You put your finger on exactly why I treasure your writing and tell everyone who will listen that if they would just hire Leo to do their instructions or support or manuals, they would get an immediate boost in sales and satisfied customers. (Disclosure – no relation to Leo). The worst place for horrible instruction is the dropdown menu you get under the Help tab in many consumer programs. Even including Open Source programs. For example, if you are befuddled by an entry on the TOOLS menu that says “MODIFY THE HXML CONFIGURATION” and you go to the Help window, they may tell you CLICK HERE TO MODIFY THE HXML CONFIGURATION. I’ve actually seen this happen and so have most people I would wager. Some people are just missing both copies of the Explaining gene but why are they allowed to handle help and support? It’s a mystery.

  23. Leo,

    If I just wanted things fixed, I’d hire someone who could do a better job that I can. But I want to know both how and why. You do a great job of showing how and why. I’ve learned so much from you, and, I think that in most cases (computers being so much easier to work on than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago) I can do the job just as well as a professional. Thanks.


  24. Teach a (person) to fish and you feed them for ever …

    Every teacher walks a narrow path between giving fish and teaching how to fish; some students want their fish caught, cooked, de-boned and pre-chewed for them. I believe you achieve a good balance between instructing (“Do this”) and educating (“you need to do it in this way because …”).

    The last person who got this balance exactly right got nailed to a tree. The rest of us just do our best. Your best is pretty good. Thank you.

  25. Your help over the years has made it possible for me to care for my computers, and to help friends and family with their computer problems. I don’t keep you a secret, but for some reason most are unwilling to learn what is so readily available from you. Maybe I’ll start charging a fee – if so, I’ll gladly share!

    I must admit that I kind of like it when people say “Oh, good you’re here, I really need you to fix my computer.” And I think “Thanks Leo.”

  26. I attended the first classes in Computer Programming in my last year of Mechanical Engineering at the Univercity of Toronto in 1945. It was a mainframe, cuz the little guys had yet to be invented. It occupied only 3 standard rooms. Little did we know!

  27. I attended the first classes in computer programming at the University of Toronto in 1945. Believe it or not, it was in FORTRAN!

  28. My very first computer was an Epson PX-8, bought for $1,000 in Hong Kong in 1984 — similar to a Tandy, and an NEC.

    In those days it wasn’t called a “notebook”, but in effect it was, although it only had an eight-line flip-up b/w screen, and saving a file involved writing (VERY slowly!) to a micro-cassette — 12 files to a cassette. It had WordStar on a built-in ROM, and I am still using a version of WordStar to this day. (Yes, I am essentially a DOS man, with now thousands of files in WordStar — wish I knew of a quick and easy way to convert them to a format that would run in Windows, as it won’t run on 64-bit Win7, 8 or 10….)

    Having a small, “cute” — as some people termed it — computer in those (fairly) early days caught my interest and imagination. And within 6-7 years, as a freelance magazine feature writer I was writing articles introducing and explaining first the BENEFITS of computers, and also what was going on “under the bonnet” — as well as what to do when they went wrong. One article, I remember, explained what the FAT did, and how it could get messed up.

    Over the years I began to find computers and their OS’s, over-taking me — so that now I turn to resources like Ask Leo for information and help. And very glad I am to have them. Because I entirely agree — you don’t just learn for yourself, you want to impart your knowledge to empower others. I guess it is something like the “teacher gene”, because I am (also) an English tutor now, whereas a close relative, who knows more about the innards of a computer than I do, having been a radio technician, struggles with my questions, and I only really learn from him by a process of osmosis.

    So Leo has it down pat — useful advice that neither talks down to you, nor “boggles you with science”. Reading Ask Leo, I am almost back to where I first started in the eighties, reading Peter Norton’s columns (in book form).

    That was fascinating stuff, which excited me, as it provided an IN to understanding, and with knowledge comes power. Some people love to share that knowledge to empower others. I am indeed grateful I happened to stumble across Ask Leo recently….

    Martyn, in Hong Kong.

  29. Reminds me of the time in graduate school when I got into it with a fellow classmate who thought the new Windows was wonderful because you didn’t have to know any of the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff. I told him to wait until he experienced his first problem; he would change his tune. We got so hot on the issue that we were asked to shut up or leave the classroom and continue in the hall.

  30. Your explanation comes close to the expression “you can give a cat fish or you can teach it how to fish”. The latter part being better than the first part.

  31. Leo, you do a wonderful job of explaining and educating. Don’t shorten or leave anything out on my account. Please keep on with the whys and wherefores. I am 79 years old, own 3 computers which are my prized possessions and I love to learn. I subscribe to quite a few of tech advice newsletters and yours is my favorite.

  32. Leo, there are people who just want to know how to work it and there are people who want to know how it works. You and your readers are the latter.

  33. Not only have I read and agreed with your article, I have also read many of the comments above. I have always thought you to be an excellent teacher and communicator, and the comments above show I am not alone in that. Thank you.

  34. I think I’ve asked one question, but I’m here for the education. I enjoy solving problems of all sorts, whether computer related, building a jig, or simply figuring out how to haul a 50’ birch log up a hill. I like Leo’s approach, the education bit, wherein he provides context and explanation; instead of a set of “do this” steps that usually fail. Teaching us to fish and all that. If the first attempt at a solution doesn’t work there’s information to help me understand and look at the symptoms in different ways, leading to alternate solutions. Some folks are impatient and just want a fix, I get that. But
    I relish the unexpected excursions on life’s path, a chance to learn, or maybe pass something along.

  35. I come to the Ask Leo site as soon as I find something I can’t fix……… I can’t thank you enough for your solutions and/or education as to why something might happen. I like to know the `why’ in case there is something I need to change at my end of the computer. Thank you Leo for sharing your experience and knowledge. Have a good day/evening


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