Recently a colleague on a mailing list broadcast a call for help with her WordPress blog. She had attempted to do some updates, but somehow the whole thing had got quite tangled up, and now her website just wasn’t working correctly at all.
Several people made some fairly general suggestions, along the lines of
make a backup, update the plugins, update the WordPress software.
She continued to have problems though, and after a while I found myself walking her through the processes, one small step at a time.
Eventually we were successful and her website was fully functional once again.
The linear brain
One thing I noticed in this process was the contrast between my linear brain and her ‘artistic’ brain. I used to notice this a lot when I was doing one-on-one training and support.
I tend to be very single-minded. This has its useful points: I focus quite well and can get tasks done because I start at the beginning, work through the middle and reach the end.
It can also be quite a drawback: if things don’t go as I expect them to I can sometimes be quite derailed. Over the years I’ve learned flexibility, but if I’m stressed then a change of plan can really throw me off-balance.
The butterfly brain
I’ve often worked with artists, and find they tend to have what I call a ‘butterfly’ brain.
When I was training an artist on how to use spellcheck, for example, I’d be in the middle of saying something like
Control click on a word with a red line beneath it … and about to explain how a menu would appear with spelling corrections. Out of nowhere the artist might at that point say something like
What say I want to import a photo?
While my brain was busy working along a single track to achieve a single goal, the artist’s brain was boinging around all over the place (in a very creative way), touching on concepts and ideas and possibilities.
As a trainer I found that very frustrating, but tried to work with it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that a linear brain is any better or worse that a butterfly brain. It’s just that they aren’t readily compatible.
Although I’m totally open to new ideas, my thinking is kind of ‘boxy’. Literally: I was the kid who would colour totally inside the lines. For me it’s a major breakthrough to even conceive of colouring outside the lines. I look at the creativity artists express and am amazed at how they can ever think up the things they do.
But what my artist friend did when her WordPress site didn’t work as expected was to:
- try randomly changing something.
Her method works like this: install a plugin then find something has broken so try fiddling with the theme or upload all the WordPress files again.
My method is more like this: disable the plugin to see if that fixes it. If so, check the plugin documentation. If not: ask what else was changed around that time.
Small, clear steps
The other thing that became clear to me was that rather than giving my friend general directions, such as
update the plugins we needed to break things down into small, discrete, clear steps and offer those steps only one or two at a time.
There are many people who are overwhelmed by being given too much information at once.
One of my strengths is in being able to write clear instructional material, as is evident by the 10 years worth of weekly Tips for users of Macs, iPods and iPhones.
Practical WordPress books
All of which really gave me the impetus for my new series of practical ebooks for users of WordPress.
Each book focuses on a single topic, and provides clear instructions, with screenshots, that step the reader through a practical and useful task:
- How to backup your WordPress website (US$4.75)
- Learn how to quickly and easily back up all of a WordPress website. Don’t discover too late that you’ve lost all the Posts, images or Theme files because you didn’t really backup everything.
- How WordPress is put together (free)
- Understand how a WordPress website is put together. Come to grips with the various folders you see with your FTP software, and what the database is about. See how Themes fit in, and how much difference a theme can make.
I’ve started writing the next couple of books in the series too. An immediate problem is that WordPress offers so much power and sophistication it’s not easy to get right down to the practical steps for some topics without a deal of explanation first.
Still, that’s my job to figure out, and it’s the kind of challenge I enjoy.