I've been thinking about the odd problem, and what can be done about it. I've found that more active participation in a group can lead to more information, but that new information can actually stifle further participation. Here are some of the problems I'm thinking of, as well as some possible solutions.
Being the Dumbest Person In The Room
The best way to learn is to "aspire to be the dumbest person in the room." Being the smartest person in the room is comfortable - you can feel smug and important as you deign to dole out information. It's also the surest way to avoid learning anything. Surrounding yourself with people who are better informed than you are is a great way to keep learning, but it can take away your confidence in what you've got to say.
- Keep quiet for fear of saying something stupid
- Keep quiet because all those other brilliant people will probably say it soon, and better
- Don't write for your own ego, write to share information
- Accept that publishing anything on the internet is one of the best ways to invite constructive criticism for what you think you know
Too Much Information
As you improve your learning style and professional relationships, it's easy to get snowed under in the wash of information. It's hard to talk about anything, because more new things keep happening, and people keep talking about the things you're crafting opinions on.
I don't think bullet points are going to do this subject justice. I'm scheming up a series on information management.
Assuming Everyone Else Already Knows What You Know
As you surround yourself with smarter people and plug in to good sources of timely information, it's easy to convince yourself that everything you've got to say has already been said, or is common knowledge.
- Keep quiet to avoid insulting anyone's intelligence
- Veer to the other extreme and parrot common news (which is why you probably won't hear product release news on my blog)
- So what if others have said it - say it differently, or quote them and add some commentary. It's better to sing off key than not to sing at all.
- Find a variety of outlets. For me, Twitter has been a great place to blurt thoughts or interesting links without unnecessary word-crafting or worrying if it's old news.
I spent the week at a Silverlight 2.0 TAP (early adopter) class in Redmond. It was in incredible week, packed with briefings and labs and contacts for more information if needed. I know much more about Silverlight than I did six months ago, but now that I'm under NDA as part of the Silverlight 2.0 Beta - and as a participant in Vertigo's NDA as well - it's a lot more difficult to speak publicly about what I know and am working on. Heck, I've re-read these few sentences a few times just to be sure I'm not leaking anything.
- Annoying comments like "Oh, boy, I know some great new secrets. Sorry, can't tell you! Bye!"
- Clamming up totally because it's easier to keep quiet than to keep secrets straight
- Talking about stuff you're not supposed to (of course)
- Deal with the inconvenience of having to censor yourself and write about what is currently public. Scott Guthrie's blog is an inspirational example of providing helpful information without giving away stuff at the wrong time.
- Write drafts posts or notes now for publication when it's okay.
I'm Too Busy Now, I'll Blog It Later...
It's easy to get so caught up in your work that you feel you can't take a second to talk about the challenges you're facing, and how you're solving them.
Why "I'll blog it later..." is the wrong solution:
- The current challenge will be replaced with another one. If you don't write about what you're doing as you're doing it, the intentions are liable to stay nothing more than intentions.
- You'll lose the context. It's hard to tell a good story or cover the technical details after the fact. It's best to write about it when it's fresh.
- Blog commenters will likely give you better solutions. Nothing worse than posting about some heroics you pulled off only to hear that they were totally unnecessary.
- If you're totally unable to compose a post, at least write up a draft with some code snippets. Posting clients like Windows Live Writer make it easy to write up notes in a draft and save them for when you get to them.
- Artificial deadlines for blogging to compete with real life deadlines. That's part of the reason for why I'm making an effort to post three times a week. Otherwise, ever present deadlines can keep me from doing what's important in the long term.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Any better solutions?