When I started out at Cisco in 1990 it was a part of the culture that a request for help or question that was too vague or poorly specified would be answered with “How long is a piece of string?”
Q: How long is a piece of string?
A: It depends.
A more polite, and more directly useful, response is “What is the problem you are trying to solve?”
But “How long is a piece of string” has a Zen koan like quality that can be more useful in some instances. A similar answer is “Mu“, meaning “unask the question” where questioner is clearly on the wrong track and needs to back up a few steps and reconsider their approach to the root problem.
If you are asking for help
- Outline very briefly who you are.
- Be clear on the problem you are trying to solve.
- Outline what you have done to date to attempt to solve it.
- Explain the context of your situation, any constraints, outcomes to be avoided, or other relevant background information.
- What specific alternatives you are trying to choose from or have ruled out.
- Include any other directly relevant information.
“The past is rich in lessons from which we would greatly profit except that the present is always so full of Special Circumstances.”
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Photo Credit: Ben Ward “Old Strings“
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