When you think of mission trips, do you think of playing soccer with the kids in the village? Or perhaps flannel graphs? Well how about a mission trip that involves hanging a new PA, video and lighting system? Sound interesting? One church did just that.
Last time, I gave you the first two secrets of acquiring knowledge. I’ve employed the crazy tactic of reading the manual and reading online help for years and learned a ton. But sometimes, the answer you’re searching for is not there, or you are still not getting the results you want. At that point, you have to expand your search radius.
Contact Tech Support
This goes overlooked more than it should. It’s true that some companies have terrible phone support (we’re looking at you, Blackmagic…) but others are stellar. I’ve had some tech support staff help troubleshoot problems that turned out to not be theirs. One even contacted support at another company and helped me solve a tricky problem between platforms.
I have learned so much by talking with good tech support reps. Often times, I learn not only about their product, but about a protocol, system or just how something works. Good tech support teams are invaluable and when you find them, you want to keep their number close.
Use Your Network
I put this last for a reason. I’m a big fan of having a network of people I can call when I get stuck. But I usually only call on them after I exhausted the above options. The reason for this is simply time. Most often, I can find an answer quicker in the manual, online or with Google than I can from a friend. My friends are great, but they’re also busy. I don’t expect them to drop everything and help me solve a problem.
Sometimes I’ll shoot a quick text to a friend with a question, but if I don’t hear back right away, I’ll work through the previous steps. Many times, by the time they get back to me, I have my answer. There are times that I can’t find an answer, or the question is so specific that I really do need advice or counsel from a friend, and that’s really the best use of your network.
If I want to know how to invert a selection in Photoshop, I’m not going to ask my friend Ken—even though he could surely tell me. I can find that on Google in under a second. But if I’m trying to decide if I should upgrade to Photoshop CC or stick with CS5, we’re going to have a conversation. See the difference?
Bonus Round: Use the Search Box
This is something else I get all the time; someone will ask me, “Hey, I think you wrote an article on thus and so a while back. Do you know where it is?” Chances are, the answer is no, I have no idea. I write well over 200 articles a year and have been doing so for 7 years. Even if I did remember writing the post—which I probably don’t—I couldn’t tell you the URL.
But, Squarespace has this great search tool. The search box is right over there on the right, and you too can do exactly what I’m going to do; type some keywords into the search box and see what comes up. Again, you could email me and wait 2-4 weeks for me to do a quick search on my site and send you the result, or you could do it yourself. Not that I mind hearing from all of you, but you can probably get the answer faster on your own.
So that’s it. That’s how I look so smart all the time. I learned a while ago that I don’t need to know all the answers, I just need to know where to find them. Today, that’s easier than ever. And you can do it from your phone. To be fair, I am really good at seeing how a whole bunch of disparate information fits together in a cohesive whole. That’s a natural talent that I’ve worked hard to hone. But you too can learn this skill. It all starts with a quick glance around the old inter-webs.
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I get a lot of questions from other tech leaders. And I’m OK with that. I really do enjoy helping people and solving problems. But I’m only one person, and I’m a busy one at that. Sometimes, emails and twitter questions can pile up and go weeks without being answered. I generally get to them eventually, but I feel bad when it take so long.
In the interest of spreading the wealth (of knowledge), I’m going to share with you the secret to acquiring knowledge. Learning new things has been one of my keys for staying employed, and I think it’s one thing that makes me good at what I do. So here you go; some of the secrets I’ve employed to learning more about this crazy trade.
Read the Manual
Yes, I know. Most of us pride ourselves on being able to take any new piece of gear out of the box and start using it without reading the manual. Well-designed equipment will even make that possible—at least to some extent. But when you start getting into the technical details of how to do something, often the fastest way to figure it out is read the manual.
I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered from people by simple downloading the manual for the product they’re having trouble with and reading it. Sometimes, I even cut and paste the relevant section in my answer.
Often, you will even discover cool features of a product that you didn’t know existed by reading the manual. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish this box would do …” only to find it does because I read the manual.
I will acknowledge that many manuals are not worth the paper they’re not printed on (everything is a PDF now, right?) I’ve seen a manual for a mixer say, “The PFL button engages PFL mode,” and nothing more about it. Well, now that’s super-helpful isn’t it. I sort of figured pushing a button labeled PFL would do something related to PFL. And if you’re familiar with what PFL is, you probably don’t need that less than helpful sentence. But if you don’t know what PFL is, you need to go searching.
Use Online Help
More and more software is coming with built-in help that is actually useful. Just the other day, we were trying to figure out how to run a particular report in our new system-design software. We knew what we wanted was possible, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. So I hit the big ? button. It took me to online help section that eventually led me to the solution.
More and more, companies are using YouTube for really helpful instruction videos. I was trying to learn some new to me lighting software a while back, and discovered a whole slew of videos from the creator of the software. My learning curve shortened dramatically.
Again, I’ve done this for others. Many times, when I get a question about software, I’ll either launch my copy or download a demo and look for help. It’s amazing how many times the answer is right there. But sometimes the answer is there, but it doesn’t work. I was trying to convince a Blackmagic routing switcher to work the other day and while the manual told me what to do, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. In that case, it’s time to pull out the big guns.
Use the Google
Google is probably the single greatest technical resource for a technical director today. You really should learn how to use it. Seriously. I’ve had questions come in and I’ve literally typed the question into Google and sent out a response based on my findings.
See, here’s the thing. Chances are, someone else has already needed to do what you’re trying to do. And they’ve probably already written something about it online. And Google knows where it is. Now, you could email me and ask, or you could just go to Google. Google is faster, by the way.
Google has become really good at taking in natural language questions and giving you good results. I was going to give you an example, but I do it so regularly that it’s become like breathing; I don’t even think about it. Just try it.
Someone asked me once if I had any online resources for training volunteers. You know what I did? I used the Google (and reminded them about this cool site called ChurchTechArts). When someone asks if I’ve heard about an obscure product, I use the Google. Do I remember where an article by someone is on a particular topic? Use the Google.
Next time, more top tips for acquiring knowledge!