If someone's ever told you that you need to get to the point faster or that your answers are too shallow, this newsletter issue is for you. In this issue, you'll see how to give concise answers that provide the right level of detail.
Then you'll learn about Campbell's Law, which has nothing to do with soup, and everything to do with how focusing too hard on a metric can lead to poor results. Finally, you'll look at a tool that lets you respond to file changes. It's one of my all-time favorite tools, and I'm excited to introduce it if you've never heard of it.
Let's dive in!
In a previous issue, I explained how you could craft stories that help you answer those tough situational questions you'll get when you interview. Unfortunately, many talented folks struggle to find the balance between the story they're telling and the amount of context the interviewer needs.
When it comes to answering questions, two things will damage your credibility and your professional progress if you don't work on them:
Giving long-winded answers Excessively lengthy, over-detailed, or convoluted responses. You want to provide enough information to fully answer a question or explain a situation. However, if you overdo it, your listener can lose interest, or your message will be unclear. If you're going for a more senior role, a long-winded answer might also make people think you can't get to the point or prioritize key information.
Not sharing enough context: Answers that are too brief or lack sufficient detail or background information. Without adequate context, your listener might not fully understand your point or the situation you're describing. This could result in miscommunication or confusion. Or worse; your listener will think you need more experience in this area.
The worst situation you can find yourself in is if you provide answers that do both of these things at the same time. And this goes well beyond the interview; you'll answer questions all the time from direct reports, peers, and senior leadership.
I've received direct feedback on both of these things throughout my career, and I've worked hard to improve. Here are a few things you can do to give better answers:
First, find the people in your life who are great presenters and speakers. These can be teachers, peers, pillar leaders, and more. Pay attention to how they answer questions and how they structure their explanations. Listen to the amount of detail they provide. Also, pay attention to who they share information with. A director sharing information with a team of reports will often go into more detail than if they were reporting to a COO. They adapt the level of detail to fit the audience. You should as well.
When someone asks you a question, practice active listening again. Pay close attention to the question to align your answers with their question. This part takes a lot of practice but is incredibly important.
Not all information is equally important. Based on who you're speaking with, figure out the most critical information to share and communicate that first. Different people need different levels of detail or context. You may not need to provide as much background information if you're speaking to an expert. If you're talking to someone unfamiliar with the subject, they might need more context to understand your point. This is why you should do basic research on the person you're speaking with before you have the conversation.
Take a moment to think about the question carefully. Then when you do speak, get your point across using as few words as possible. Stick to the key details and main points. The fewer words you use, the more powerful those words are.
Before you answer, be sure you have what you need to answer. Ask clarifying questions about their question if you think it's unclear. Then, after you give your explanation or answer, check with your listener to ensure they understand your point. If they look confused or ask follow-up questions that indicate they didn't understand, you may need to adjust the amount of context or detail you provide. You can also ask, "Does that answer your question?" or suggest that you can offer additional context or examples.
Providing clear and concise answers is a skill you have to build and maintain. Hopefully, the tips here help you as much as they've helped me.
If you're involved in content creation, eventually, you'll start thinking about how you measure your content's impact. But if you're not careful, you'll fall victim to Campbell's Law.
It states that when a single metric becomes the focal point of success, it tends to become corrupted, skewing what it's meant to measure. Educators pay close attention to this because Campbell's Law shows up with standardized testing; when the test scores become the thing everyone measures, schools start "teaching to the test" rather than focusing on education.
Now think about how people start measuring the impact of content and how that goes sideways.
Some people obsess over views, and as they try to increase the traffic their content gets, they start chasing trends, creating sensationalized titles, or overloading articles with keywords until they read like a machine-generated jumble. The content loses what makes it unique, making it less impactful.
Others use social media engagement as their metric. When they focus on shares and likes as the primary metric, they start tweeting incessantly, using excessive hashtags, or diving into every trending topic. Instead of building a genuine community, they're spamming people and hurting the brand.
But the most insidious place Campbell's Law rears its ugly head is when there's an obsession with conversions. Good content takes time to produce and is expensive, so it's natural to push to leverage that content to generate revenue. The problem arises when people create content with the sole purpose of directly converting visitors into customers. This single-minded focus on conversions can tarnish the brand's reputation and repel the very audience a company is trying to attract.
This is especially true if they're trying to target developers. Developers are an astute and skeptical audience. They see the aggressive marketing tactics, exaggerated claims, invasive email campaigns, and non-stop "calls to action" across the content and want nothing to do with it. Developers aren't allergic to marketing; they'll happily adopt products and services from people and companies they trust, but those brands have to earn that trust first.
Here's how you avoid falling into the Campbell's Law trap:
Before focusing on numbers, think about what you're trying to accomplish with your content. Are you doing it to share knowledge, build a community, or express a passion? Are you trying to establish credibility in your field or build a brand? Keep this focus in mind because some things you measure may actively hurt what you're trying to accomplish.
A single well-thought-out piece of content can have more impact than many rushed ones, especially if you use it well. Build it, promote it, share it, and repurpose it. That one piece of content can become a conference talk, a set of short-form videos, an audio clip, and more. Put your effort into creating quality content that resonates with your audience, and then put that content to work for you. Not every piece of content will be a success and not every piece of content you dream up needs to exist. Go back to your original purpose and find alignment, then plan your content and execute the plan.
Identify your audience and engage with it genuinely. Respond to comments and participate in relevant discussions. Share valuable insights and refrain from aggressive marketing tactics. If you build authentic, trust-based relationships with your audience, you will see sustainable growth. It might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
Most importantly, don't rely solely on one metric. Identify and monitor a range of metrics that align with your goal. Instead of focusing solely on page views, consider the time spent on the page and what actions people take next. Consider how one metric can lead to another. You will need to market your content, so you will have to share it on social media. As more people discover your content, your page views will go up. And if you've connected with your audience, you will eventually see some of your content converting people into customers. But notice that these are all tactics of a larger strategy. Sometimes a metric is an indicator, not the goal itself.
Put your effort into creating value, cultivating relationships, and maintaining authenticity. If you do those things well, the page views and conversions will happen, and you won't fall into the same traps so many others do when they focus too hard on a single metric.
entr, a tool to watch for changes
When writing code, you'll want certain things to happen when you change a file. You may want to reload a browser, run some tests, or restart a service. Many frameworks have their own tools for this, but if you need something that works everywhere, on every project, you can use
entr, short for "Event Notify Test Runner."
On Ubuntu systems, you can install
$ sudo apt install entr
On macOS, you'll use Homebrew:
$ brew install entr
entr, you pipe a list of files to the
entry command and specify the command you want to run whenever any of those files change. If you have a Python script you want to run whenever you change it, you will use this command:
$ echo my_script.py | entr python my_script.py
If your project has multiple files, you can watch them all and then run the main script when any of the files change:
$ ls *.py | entr python my_script.py
You can also use a directory:
$ echo app/ | entry python my_script.py
enter has options to restart services and react to error codes too. You'll find a lot more in its documentation. You'll also find some other examples of this tool and others in my book, Small, Sharp Software Tools.
entr on many projects to run unit tests and restart services. You should give it a try on your next project and see if you like it as much as I do.
That's all for this month. As always, I'll leave you with a few things to think about before the next issue:
Thanks again for reading!