DonnaM » Blog Archive » Absorbing information from other fields

Absorbing information from other fields

In the past week or so I’ve come across many situations where a comment or question has been posed by someone in ‘our field’, and someone has responded from a related field. Unfortunately the comment from the relation has been something like “I can’t believe your field doesn’t know that – we’ve known it and have been writing about it for years”.

It always comes across in that condescending tone – the tone that says ‘gosh, I can’t believe how stupid you all are’.

Although I understand how this happens – you can be so deeply involved in what you know that you can’t believe other people don’t know it – it is unfair, unrealistic and conceited to to expect everyone to chase your precious knowledge. In many cases people don’t even know your field is interested, in some cases they don’t know how you describe it, in some cases you just haven’t made your information easily available.

But gosh, there is so much to know. I have been doing information architecture and interaction design work for seven years, professionally, non-stop. I have done many projects, studied, taught and mentored. I have read hundreds of books on many topics. I regularly read stack of blogs. And every single day I find something new that would help me do my work and that I wish I knew before (e.g. last week Andrew told me about Peter Drucker, but he didn’t make me feel small about it). It is just not possible to know everything relevant.

So if you see someone naively interested in something you already know there are two ways to tackle it. You can take the self-centred view and get huffy about the fact that these idiotic people don’t know what you know; or you can take a user-centred view and look at how you (or your field) has communicated and made information available, then do something to fix that (yes, that was the leadingest* answer I have ever written).

And guess what – you can also politely help the person who is keen to know about your area of speciality. Given them some decent resources to follow up and some smart people to talk to. Use their enthusiasm to spread the word in their field.

Your word will get out, you can stop feeling superior and the world will be a smarter place.

(* leadingest is not a word, but for some reason it makes me feel like Bruce Sterling)

4 Responses to “Absorbing information from other fields”

  1. Ruth Ellison Says:

    Well said.

    I love spending time talking to people from all fields – you just never know what you will learn. I recently learned about the UCD styled processes museums took with their exhibitions and it was really interesting, especially when my friend told me that they were doing this for years! (On a side note – after that discussion about museums and exhibitions, she told me that she finally gets what we do ;) ).

  2. Andrew Boyd Says:

    Hi Donna,

    thanks for the thanks – I hope that I never make anyone feel small when telling them something that they didn’t know, although sometimes I catch myself being a smart-alec.

    I make an effort to read outside the IA space as often as I can, because I do so love metaphors, and there are so many of them out there in the big wide world just waiting to be captured (and on this, copyblogger.com just ran an excellent series on different uses of metaphor in blog writing that applies itself nicely to IA).

    Best regards, Andrew

  3. Donna Maurer Says:

    Andrew – being funny or a smart alec is entirely different to being condescending, which I’ve never seen you do ;)

  4. louise Says:

    Deep info!

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