Goldilocks Knowledge Zone

One day there was this guy stuck on a really tough problem. Rather than stare blankly for hours out the window trying to figure it out, he decided to go to his local cafe for a jolt of caffeine and some inspiration.

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He sees a few friends sitting by the window and decides to join them. He shares his problem and while the conversation starts well, it slowly drifts off to other topics and he is still no closer to an answer. However, he is now a lot more knowledgeable about quantum computing, best ways to win a cotton candy eating contest, and the growing gentrification of Brooklyn.

He then walks over to the college to meet up with a professor friend known as “Wikipedia Jones”. After he poses his question, she lights up and says she knows all about that topic. But after hours of sharing the origin and history and nuts-and-bolts of the topic, he still does not have a clear answer, just a lot of facts and figures.

He realizes at that point he is late for his doctor appointment. With the problem still vexing him, he sheepishly asks the doctor the question at the end of the check-up. After a few brief exchanges to clarify the question and understand what attempts he made to solve it, the doctor was able to provide a clear, crisp, and concise answer.

This is the Goldilocks principle in practice, the answer was just right. It was not too short and not too long. It was simply the atomic unit of content needed to solve the problem. And what was equally important was that the path to getting the right answer was just right.

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We all face this struggle when faced with a difficult problem. This is especially true of technical problems. We get stuck on some error or figuring out the right approach to implement or attempting to understand some old code. If we just had a clue or some guidance or just someone to ask, we could move on with our work.

For general programming knowledge, there are plenty of resources. But when it comes to private and proprietary knowledge, the type that is only relevant inside organizations and companies, that is not so easy.

Most companies I talk to already have “knowledge management” or “collaboration platforms”. For example, things like Jive and Yammer are in place in nearly every company. These platforms do everything “social” and have lots of features for “knowledge management”. But they are also like a coffee shop, great for discussions and socializing, but not so great for just getting the answer quickly.

The other challenge is relevant content. Most companies have gone through many iterations of knowledge management initiatives. Documentation is created and hosted in Sharepoint, wikis are posted in Confluence, and everything appropriately indexed. But none of this is contextual, meaning it can take a long time reading long-form content before getting an answer.

What people, especially in IT leadership, miss is that there is no one-size fits all solution for knowledge. You will still have documentation and wikis and social collaboration, but there is also contextual knowledge that some collaborative based platforms are optimized for, especially when oriented around a community dynamic.

Developers want is something that takes the friction out of getting to the answer. They want that “doctor” who can diagnose and solve the problem quickly. It is not a freewheeling conversation, it is a guided path to the answer. It is not the academic, textbook non-answer, it is a solution to a specific problem. They want that Goldilocks experience.

What have you found to be effective platforms and apps for search knowledge and getting answers? Has the lack of relevant content impacted productivity?

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Where will the Goldilocks zone be when the Sun becomes a red giant?

Looking forward to this day when I finally turn 5 billion years old…

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Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, enterprise agility, community building & software engineering culture. Author 👉 https://twitter.com/marksbirch

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