Expect Discussions, Not Answers



  • I was reading another thread in another community and found people upset (mildly, I'm sure, but nonetheless) that a topic had "derailed" and gone off in a different direction. Now I understand that we don't want thread hijacking and it can be hard to avoid in public communities especially as, in real life, conversations derail and go off in different directions. This is actually an important aspect of communications and not a bad thing, tangential conversations often lead to new things.

    However, it struck me that there was a fundamental problem, and often is, with how people perceive "derailment" in threads. First of all, the topic in question was asking for best practices which, of course, are not universally agreed upon. Since there can be no perfect answer to what a best practice is (at least in most cases) and it is really a topic for discussion rather than one with a simple, straightforward, singular answer isn't a discussion about what is and isn't best practices to be expected and, in fact, desired? The "derailment" in the case at hand was actually two people debating best practices and getting some good details brought out. It was rather useful.

    In this particular case I feel that people who didn't understand or take an interest in that portion of the best practices chose to label the discussion as "derailed" because they didn't like the tone, or didn't care about the outcome or something to that nature because, in reality, it was very much on topic. This is what I have seen happen a great deal in threads - someone makes recommendations and the merits of those recommendations (the very heart and soul of a discussion community) are questioned and people debate answers, recommendations, best practices, etc. Everyone gains from this as people learn from each other, ideas are tested, new ideas are brought up, etc.

    I think that people often think that they can ask a complicated question "What is the best... product, RAID level, OS, manufacturer, language, color, etc." and that a simple, undisputed answer will result. It will not, that is silly. What we will get and the best thing that we can hope to get is a good set of ideas, theories, examples and, most importantly, discussion around that question. Some questions are black and while like "What does the X command do" or "What registry setting does Y" but mostly questions in discussion communities are there to spark... discussion. And that discussion is a good thing, not a bad one. That is where we learn. That is where the value to everyone lies.

    Derailment can happen, but most of the time what I have seen is the term derailment used to attack ideas or to silence discussion that some people wish not to see. It is unfortunate, in some ways, that OPs (original posters) cannot really control where a discussion that they spark will lead, but in most ways this is a good thing. People asking for advice are rarely well positioned to direct a conversation around that advice. Quite often I see OPs frustrated by people ignoring them when exactly the opposite is happening and a critical discussion around their exact needs is taking place. The OP just doesn't want to know how or why or for there to be ambiguity and wants a simple answer to a non-simple situation.

    When being worried about derailment ask yourself if a topic is really derailing or if an important conversation around that topic is actually taking place.



  • I have seen what you are saying, on quite a few different forums. I really don't mind Thread Derailment because most of the time I've seen it end in a resolution anyway. You pinned it right here: "This is actually an important aspect of communications and not a bad thing, tangential conversations often lead to new things."
    If I wasn't able to side track for a second or two than my brain would go haywire, especially if I hit a wall headfirst. I'm more easy going though, & I expect in no situation where I ask for the "best" there will be a definitive answer. There are a lot of people who are high strung or just need to be professional 24/7 which is worse than being high strung IMO.

    I dunno, my brain is going a million miles a minute right now so, I apologize if this may seem incoherent or all over the place.



  • I agree with this. Now if the thread is about something technical and two or three people get into a discussion on fishing (sorry @IRJ, first thing that came to mind) because of one comment inside a guy's post then that is derailing. However, if the OP expected the conversation to go one way and it goes the other, and it is on point, my belief has always been to let the conversation play out.



  • @thanksaj said:

    I agree with this. Now if the thread is about something technical and two or three people get into a discussion on fishing (sorry @IRJ, first thing that came to mind) because of one comment inside a guy's post then that is derailing. However, if the OP expected the conversation to go one way and it goes the other, and it is on point, my belief has always been to let the conversation play out.

    I'm not very good at fishing, unless by fishing you mean catching seaweed and blowfish and then I'm ace.

    :trollface:
    Sorry, couldn't help it



  • Thread derailment can be a good thing as it can get to the underlying issue that the OP has yet to discover (excluding my above post 😛 ).



  • @thanksaj said:

    However, if the OP expected the conversation to go one way and it goes the other, and it is on point, my belief has always been to let the conversation play out.

    But as the OP of the topic/request, I do feel it's their place to narrow the scope if they don't like a specific direction that things are headed - ultimately that might hurt them, they might not get an answer, but it was their question.

    Another thing that I'm sure we all agree upon is that many times people just don't know what they are asking. They've heard a buzz word, or been told 'it must have RAID 5' and so they just go out and ask. The OPs lack of knowledge means they can't really understand what they are being told, so they might think things are going off topic.



  • @Dashrender said:

    @thanksaj said:

    However, if the OP expected the conversation to go one way and it goes the other, and it is on point, my belief has always been to let the conversation play out.

    But as the OP of the topic/request, I do feel it's their place to narrow the scope if they don't like a specific direction that things are headed - ultimately that might hurt them, they might not get an answer, but it was their question.

    Another thing that I'm sure we all agree upon is that many times people just don't know what they are asking. They've heard a buzz word, or been told 'it must have RAID 5' and so they just go out and ask. The OPs lack of knowledge means they can't really understand what they are being told, so they might think things are going off topic.

    Exactly. Most people ask a single question when they really don't even know the right questions to be asking, usually based on buzz words, etc. I say let discussions happen as they happen, and all will benefit.



  • @Dashrender said:

    But as the OP of the topic/request, I do feel it's their place to narrow the scope if they don't like a specific direction that things are headed - ultimately that might hurt them, they might not get an answer, but it was their question.

    I don't agree. If they want people to provide answers in a public forum, for free, they need to accept some amount of people trying to get the right answers - for everyone not just the OP. If you want to control the scope, you hire consultants. If you want a discussion that you don't control, you go to a public forum. It's a public discussion, not owned by the OP.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Another thing that I'm sure we all agree upon is that many times people just don't know what they are asking. They've heard a buzz word, or been told 'it must have RAID 5' and so they just go out and ask. The OPs lack of knowledge means they can't really understand what they are being told, so they might think things are going off topic.

    That's a major issue. I see it constantly. People are confused as to what constitutes the topic and when people are discussing the topic.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @Dashrender said:

    But as the OP of the topic/request, I do feel it's their place to narrow the scope if they don't like a specific direction that things are headed - ultimately that might hurt them, they might not get an answer, but it was their question.

    I don't agree. If they want people to provide answers in a public forum, for free, they need to accept some amount of people trying to get the right answers - for everyone not just the OP. If you want to control the scope, you hire consultants. If you want a discussion that you don't control, you go to a public forum. It's a public discussion, not owned by the OP.

    If the OP can't continue to narrow his own discussion, how do you expect to get to an answer?



  • @Dashrender said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    @Dashrender said:

    But as the OP of the topic/request, I do feel it's their place to narrow the scope if they don't like a specific direction that things are headed - ultimately that might hurt them, they might not get an answer, but it was their question.

    I don't agree. If they want people to provide answers in a public forum, for free, they need to accept some amount of people trying to get the right answers - for everyone not just the OP. If you want to control the scope, you hire consultants. If you want a discussion that you don't control, you go to a public forum. It's a public discussion, not owned by the OP.

    If the OP can't continue to narrow his own discussion, how do you expect to get to an answer?

    I agree that the OP should provide clarification on what he is actually looking for throughout the discussion, but he should not be leading it, but rather helping guide it.



  • @Dashrender said:

    If the OP can't continue to narrow his own discussion, how do you expect to get to an answer?

    By not trying to stop people from getting to an answer! The OP rarely knows when a discussion is actually on track or not. If they are allowed to stop people from getting to an answer people never will. The OP should not be able to block that.

    Narrowing a discussion is exactly where OPs often go wrong. Unless they are asking a very "break/fix" question with only one possible answer, then the broad discussion is the answer. That's what is often missed. So often people believe that IT has a single answer for everything and forget that there are nearly always options or at least tons of factors that need to be considered. It's crazy. IT isn't like that. You can't ask "which design is best" or "what is the best practice" and expect "an answer." What is needed is a discussion. Even when clear best practices exist they need to be vetted, tested, updated and understood or else you end up with the 1998 problems all over again.



  • A big issue that many people don't see though @scottalanmiller is that discussion means nothing to them. They want a clear concise answer, end of story. Not everyone wants to know the how's, why's and alternatives to fix the issue.

    Of course understanding what the actual issue is, is very difficult to drag out of someone for the most part. But again a clear cut answer is what a lot of people are looking for.

    I understand that a discussion is needed to get to that answer many times. But not everyone's brains works that way.



  • @Minion-Queen said:

    A big issue that many people don't see though @scottalanmiller is that discussion means nothing to them. They want a clear concise answer, end of story. Not everyone wants to know the how's, why's and alternatives to fix the issue.

    Of course understanding what the actual issue is, is very difficult to drag out of someone for the most part. But again a clear cut answer is what a lot of people are looking for.

    I understand that a discussion is needed to get to that answer many times. But not everyone's brains works that way.

    I can also agree with this. Many people don't want to read an entire thread, even if they post it. They want the nickel version that they can explain easily.



  • Unfortunately for that clear concise answer you can't go to a discussion forum - you must seek only one voice. If you're able, you seek two trusted voices and compare and contrast, but if you can't, you simple work with a single source as Scott mentioned earlier.

    The sad fact is that people don't realize this understanding either - you want concise single answer - you can only ask one person.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Unfortunately for that clear concise answer you can't go to a discussion forum - you must seek only one voice. If you're able, you seek two trusted voices and compare and contrast, but if you can't, you simple work with a single source as Scott mentioned earlier.

    The sad fact is that people don't realize this understanding either - you want concise single answer - you can only ask one person.

    Oh yeah. People go into a discussion forum thinking they will get one answer. HA!



  • @thanksaj said:

    I can also agree with this. Many people don't want to read an entire thread, even if they post it. They want the nickel version that they can explain easily.

    Even when there can be no such version.



  • I find most people see life in black and white, whilst I've always seen it in shades of grey. So for them, Apple is definitely better/worse than Android, ESXi is definitely better/worse than Hyper-V etc etc. I sometimes envy them for their certainty. Forums also seem to be heavily populated with people who don't seek answers but instead seek to massage their egos by repeating their own beliefs and opinions.
    A lot of threads on Spiceworks seem to start with "I think X, but my boss thinks Y. Please tell me I'm right and he's an idiot."

    But I studied Economics at University, and that was really three years teaching you that there are no definitive answers to anything and that the world is more complex than you, or anyone else, can ever understand. Maybe I took that into IT with me.



  • @Carnival-Boy said:

    A lot of threads on Spiceworks seem to start with "I think X, but my boss thinks Y. Please tell me I'm right and he's an idiot."

    Yes, there are tons of those! Many more than I would have expected. And sadly, a great number of them are actually "well, your boss has a pretty good point there."


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