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''I don't know'' is sometimes a good answer

There's just a few occasions when I'm training that I'm asked a question I don't know the answer to. It's not very common, since I actually write the courses / material and I know most of the things that people are likely to ask. And I've learnt that on those few occasions, being honest and saying I don't know is far and away the best answer to give.

But ... I tend not to leave it at that. Questions are asked for a genuine reason and my answer should be expanded. If I don't know, how can I do that? Firstly, we have a library of over 600 books on technical topics where I can look the answer up, or direct my trainee to do so. Then with my computer science background and extensive commercial experience there's a good chance that I can deduce the answer or formulate a test to work it out. And of course there's the web - anything from the excellent manual sites of open source products such as mysql and PHP through various FAQs such as the ones on Python and Perl to forums such as our own Opentalk and Webforumz. And if that still doesn't turn up the answer, a few Google searches are more than likely to lead to an answer, or at the very least to someone else asking the same question.

Taking an educated guess - provided that it's stated as such - is often an option for questions which are asked more out of interest than necessity, but I'll rarely make a wild guess. "Don't know" is much more honest and works far better in the longer term.

I've been talking over recent months about our "Well House Manor" project and getting very excited about the prospect. The route we chose wasn't an easy one - it required a planning application that we were assured would be welcome / trivial, moving part of our business into an area where we were assured we would be very welcome, and taking over a rental cottage which we were assured was good and let easily. With a project such as this, we expect ups and downs, but we're finding that just too many of the assurances are just optimistic guesswork (at best) and that budgets are likely to rise, time taken (thus cash flow projections) aren't so good, and the chances of planning applications going through remain good, but are nothing like certainties as there are major concerns from other parties.

So you'll see me very quiet on this project for the next couple of weeks. Lisa and I would rather walk away at this stage, in spite of a huge time investment and some major spending of surveys, architects and solicitors too. A pity really, but we feel comfortable that this is a wise pause / decision. Ironically, a couple of "Don't know" answers would have flagged issues earlier; at best, that would have resulted in us investigating and still going ahead - "forewarned is forearmed", and at worst it would have saved us money and saved the vendor living in hope for several months.
(written 2006-01-09, updated 2006-06-05)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
G310 - Well House Consultants - A better class of course
  [4583] Back in the saddle again - excellent open source course from Well House Consultants - (2015-11-26)
  [4558] Well House Consultants - Python courses / what's special. - (2015-10-28)
  [4280] Making use of huge data, object orientation, unit testing and frameworks - (2014-06-07)
  [3587] C++ Courses - do I get official certification at the end of my Well House course? - (2012-01-20)
  [3419] Data that we use during our training courses, and other training resources - (2011-09-04)
  [3385] Do university courses teach the right things for life at work later on? - (2011-08-10)
  [3271] The importance of feedback - (2011-04-30)
  [3001] How will we present courses over the coming years? - (2010-10-17)
  [2762] Well House - Mission and Policy summaries - (2010-05-13)
  [2633] Why do I teach niche skills rather than mainstream? - (2010-02-13)
  [2187] Are we IITT (Institute of IT Training) members? - (2009-05-17)
  [2109] Why most training fails ... - (2009-03-30)
  [2084] Books and distance learning from Well House Consultants? - (2009-03-15)
  [2074] Weekday or Weekend PHP, Python and Perl classes? - (2009-03-10)
  [2049] Why Choose Well House Consultants for your course? - (2009-02-20)
  [2010] How long should a training module be? - (2009-01-27)
  [1933] Learning to Program in C - (2008-12-10)
  [1645] Seeing how others do it - PHP training - (2008-05-17)
  [1576] Making PHP and MySQL training relevant to the course delegates - (2008-03-15)
  [1488] New trainee laptop fleet for our Open Source courses - (2007-12-30)
  [1453] What makes our courses special? - (2007-12-02)
  [1035] Longer hours and better value courses - (2007-01-15)
  [726] In praise of training course delegates. - (2006-05-20)
  [646] PHP - London course, Melksham Course, Evening course - (2006-03-14)
  [579] Short Linux and Perl courses for small groups - (2006-01-27)
  [577] Learning to program in Perl or PHP - (2006-01-26)
  [554] What backup is adequate? - (2006-01-04)
  [497] I have a river to cross - (2005-11-16)
  [394] A year on - should we offer certified PHP courses - (2005-07-28)
  [371] The training team that's looking out for you - (2005-07-07)
  [350] Want to be one better - (2005-06-17)
  [292] Elegant languages - Perl, PHP, Python - (2005-04-26)
  [230] Course sizes - beware of marketing statistics - (2005-02-27)
  [224] YOUR application and YOUR data - (2005-02-22)
  [219] Some unusual features - (2005-02-18)
  [215] Open Source becomes mainstream - (2005-02-14)
  [211] Look after your staff and they'll look after you. AOL. - (2005-02-12)

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Converting between acres and hectares
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Horse's mouth home
Forward to
The fencepost problem
Some other Articles
Merging pictures using PHP and GD
Smoke and mirrors
Python's Generator functions
The fencepost problem
''I don't know'' is sometimes a good answer
Converting between acres and hectares
A new sign
Colour doesn't have to mean colourful
Hotel novelties
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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