Box. Outside. Think.

Empty Box A friend of mine recently had to go to the cardiologist to figure out what was what with a racing heartbeat. The cardiologist looked at my friend’s current history, including all the current prescriptions my friend was taking… and promptly added one more medication—a beta blocker—to the list.

When my dismayed friend related this to me, I drew upon the wisdom of the old and replied “a cardiologist is like someone with a hammer… they’re always looking for a nail to hit.” She’s getting a second opinion… a perhaps a less cliché friend.

As trite as my response was, there is quite a bit of truth in it. We are all guilty of relying on our internal bias when doing practically anything: what we eat, what songs we like, how we work. I love peanut butter, but you may not. I like wearing dark and black clothes, while my wife thinks I look better in blues and greens. So I wear blues and greens. And on down the list.

The way we approach tasks is certainly reflected in our own experience and biases, and community management is no different. In fact, because it is such a malleable job to begin with, often you will find a wide spectrum of approaches to the way people accomplish community management.

Someone who is a developer, for example, is likely going to go into a community project and seek out the most optimal ways coders can get their work done. Best practices with languages, deployment, DevOps, whatever their specialty is, that’s what they’ll focus on. Admins will work on project infrastructure. Writers (ahem!) will focus on documentation and project advocacy.

This is all well and good, and to be expected. The trick is to watch out and make sure that you don’t get stuck in the same approach all of the time. Not every problem needs a hammer, and your talents may not always be the thing that can solve your problem.

In the past, telling someone that they had better be ready to think outside of the box might be a significant obstacle. Perhaps mentally it can be, but in terms of actual knowledge, the Internet is worth far more than cat pictures these days. Last week when we released the new Red Hat GitHub page, I got a very crash course in JavaScript and Travis CI, acerbated by the fact I was on the opposite side of the planet from my usual haunts and thus could not rely on human expertise from my friends.

Picking up a new skill is a tactical way of thinking outside your box. You can also try new strategic approaches. By watching the talented people around me, I have learned to try to approach problems as they would—especially in areas in which I am weak, like diplomacy.

It is never too late to try new ways to solve problems. Use the whole toolkit at your disposal and alternate strategies. You’ll be a strong community manager and also gain insights into the skills and others.

Image courtesy of z287marc, under the CC BY 2.0 license.

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About Brian Proffitt

Brian is a Senior Principal Community Architect for the Red Hat Open Source Program Office, responsible for community content, onboarding, and open source consulting. Brian also serves on the governing board for Project CHAOSS, a metrics-oriented approach to ascertaining community health. A former technology journalist, Brian is also a graduate lecturer at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @TheTechScribe.

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