Why Asking Other People Sometimes Beats Googling

In networking workshops I always tell people that networking is important not just for finding jobs. Among other things it is also a key part of any influencing effort and it is very helpful for obtaining information. With a strong network you will receive useful and timely information that you never thought of asking, and you will find it easier to get answers to your questions.

But both in workshops and in Q&A forums like Quora people often ask why anyone would ask questions to other people when there is Google? Can't you get the same information yourself by searching? Doesn't asking people annoy them? There are some simple factual questions where asking a connection would be overkill. Want to know which city is the capital of Finland? That's clearly a job for Google. But there are some compelling reasons for asking your network in plenty of other everyday cases. Here are the top five:

Google just gives the sources, not the answer. There are some trivial cases where Google actually pulls out an answer from a source like Wikipedia and presents it in a box next to the search results. But in many cases it just provides links to documents that might contain the answer but you have to read hundreds or thousands of words to find the thing that you are looking for. Sometimes it really is quicker to post a question on social media or send a quick message to someone in your network. Even some apparently simple "facts" like why an airplane wing generates lift turn out to be more complex than people think.

There is no simple answer.  There are many unambiguous questions where there is a single answer and any respectable search engine will find that answer very quickly. You would be unwise to trouble a connection with questions like this or they will start to ignore your messages and calls. But there are also many questions where there isn't a simple answer and you need an expert opinion. Even an apparently simple question like which is the best video editing software for my needs really requires an expert human analysis. Just Googling "best video editing software" will find many articles on the topic and you have to read them all to find the answer, which might also be out of date. Someone up to speed on video editing tools can probably ask a few questions then confidently give a useful answer in seconds.

Google has too many answers. In many other cases the problem is not that Google doesn't find anything but that it finds too many things, leaving you with the problem of identifying the best with imperfect information. What makes this so difficult is the level of noise in search engine results coming from aggressive search-engine manipulation. Try, for example, searching for a good hotel and you will be swamped with results. Ask the same question to your network and you will get accurate answers from sources that you can trust. Where's a good place to stay in Aix en Provence? Someone who has lived there can give an answer that factors in not just the quality of the hotel but also the location. Anyone familiar with the unusual anticlockwise traffic circulation around the center of town can quickly work out where is a good place to stay depending on where you want to go and taking into account the traffic.

Usually Google just answers the question. For most questions a Google search might find the answer to the question you asked, but a human will often do more than that, answering a question that perhaps you never thought of asking but which you would have if you had thought of it. In a recent conversation with a luthier about guitar design for a lecture I am preparing he answered my questions about guitars but also added an interesting parallel from violin design that I had never thought of. Another time I asked a museum about their policy on visitor photography for an article. One museum spokesperson answered all my questions but then volunteered another point I had not thought to ask -- evidence that in spite of all the bans many people take photos anyway.

Asking your network strengthens relationships. Assuming that you have a good reason for asking the question in the first place, asking your network also tends to strengthen relationships. First of all, just by asking you give people an opportunity to help you, so you are grateful to them. By accepting this help you actually make them happy, too. This might sound counterintuitive but accepting help is also a great way to strengthen bonds. At the same time by asking and accepting help from someone else you make it easier for them to ask for help, shifting your network more towards a collaborative community which benefits everyone. You might also discover some unexpected side effects. Ask about hotels in some place and people might ask why you are going there, leading to interesting conversations.

By all means use Google to answer simple, uncontroversial factual questions, but for other things consider asking your network. Someone you know maybe knows a better answer than you thought you wanted, or perhaps they know the person who can help.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking, influencing and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at speaker@andrewhennigan.com or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.





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