Janet Clarey posted a link to a great blog post by Rajesh Setty entitled Why some smart people are reluctant to share? Setty’s insights resound with me, not because I think I’m smart — quite the opposite, actually — but because the more I learn, the more I’m aware of my limitations.

Setty tried to determine why “smart people” are often reluctant to share their knowledge with others. His conclusion was:

Smart people want to give their best and as they learn more, they learn that they need to learn a lot more before they start sharing. They learn some more and they learn they need to learn some more. What they forget is that most of the expertise that they already have is either becoming “obvious” to them or better yet, going into their “background thinking.”

I agree with the points in Setty’s post completely, except in I’d substitute the word “experienced” for “smart.”

Setty’s line “Smart people want to give their best” seems to be something of a passing thought in his post. I’d like to give it more attention, because I believe conscientious experienced folks have a fear of giving bad advice.

Zeldman had it right when he said “If your old work doesn’t shame you, you’re not growing.” Experienced people look back at their younger, inexperienced self and either chuckle at their own gumption or get rosy-cheeked from embarrassment. I’m more of the rosy-cheeked guy. My old work shames me all the time, and it often causes me to hesitate when sharing my work or giving advice to others.

This may sound funny to some of you… anyone who follows this blog probably knows I spend a lot of time doling out technical advice via places like the SWFObject and eLearning Technology and Development Google Groups.  The truth is, I question myself in almost each and every post I write. Why? Because I’m experienced enough to know that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick and cocky with an answer. Maybe there’s a different solution I haven’t heard of. To paraphrase Setty, maybe I need to learn more first.

So why do I even try to give advice if I have a fear of giving bad advice? Because I want to learn more. I often find that helping others is the best way to teach myself. I’ve learned a ton through helping others, and find it rewarding in many ways. Except when I’m wrong, and then it plain sucks.

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  1. I have struggled with this not so much from a fear of sharing or failing, but as a freelance instructional designer/eLearning developer when does what or how much I share impact my livelihood.

    A good example is one of my clients, major financial institution, does a major portion of their compliance training via WebEx or LiveMeeting. They record the sessions for anyone who may have missed the “live” presentation. A couple of months back they were experiencing issues running these recordings (WMVs) via their streaming server due to bit rates. This was brought up during one of their internal developer meetings which I participate. I spoke up with suggestions for software to modify the bit rates of the native recordings to operate within the parameters of the streaming server. All was good until one of the developers piped up asking me to write out step-by-step instructions for this process.

    I turned that suggestion down. I spent the time learnig the software and studying quality issues of audio/video and its relationship to bit rates, frame rates, etc. I basically don’t want to give away the farm.

  2. Philip,

    Loved this post.

    The concept of “the more you want to learn, the more you should share” nails it on the head.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Philip,

    Read this very carefully, being always anxious when giving advice in a similar way as described here. Last paragraph is so true: learning so much by trying to help others is worthwhile even if sometimes it hurts when having given wrong or incomplete advice. Beware: I’m not pretending being smart or experienced at all.

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