Getting The Most Value Out Of An Answer

Say someone asks you a question. They walk up to your desk, send you an email, ping you on Slack, whatever. The answer needs to be beefy. You could answer with your mouth, respond to their email, or DM them back. That’s totally fine and probably the most socially acceptable way to answer. But also probably the lowest overall value.

Mike Crittenden has a scale of value:

  1. Answering one person’s question in a direct message (so only the person asking the question benefits)
  2. Answering one person’s question in a public channel (so anyone else following the channel that day can benefit)
  3. Answering one person’s question by documenting the answer and sharing the link with them (so anyone searching the docs in the future can benefit)
  4. Take action (fix a bug, add automation, etc.) to make the question obsolete so nobody ever asks it again

#4 is great in terms of documentation and customer support. That’s really the ticket to incrementally making excellent docs. But it’s only relevant sometimes. If someone asks you “what’s the average air speed velocity of a laden swallow?”, you can’t, like, fix swallows, no matter what kind.

#2 is fantastic in contexts like Slack. More public channels and less DMs is good company culture.

#3 is my favorite. If you’re going to do some thinking and writing, give that thinking and writing a URL. That’s why companies put up public forums, if they can afford to staff them (see Netlify). You’re essentially building a huge SEO and on-site search hive of answers. It’s not without some dangerous pitfalls (customers finding old information), but the positives likely outweigh the negatives.


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