Concrete vs Abstract Reasoning
One of the most frustrating hurdles I come across in the various SE sub-sites is moderators who are quick to put a question on hold, because the moderator (or even a group of moderators), cannot grasp the context of the question. This might be due to the questioner being a poor communicator. It might also be due to the fact that I have a very high intuitive ability.
Regardless, moderators put a question on hold, and I'm looking at it thinking "this is easy to answer, you just have to suss out the questioner's context a bit". As a new user who's had this happen to him, I can tell you it's quite embarrassing to have your comment put on hold, because it's "off topic" when you're quite sure it's on topic, and you just don't know how better to express what you're trying to get across. In fact, from your perspective, the meaning couldn't be more clear, and you don't understand why you're having to babystep adults through your already clearly communicated issue.
Regardless of what you might think of the MBTI test, I liken it to the difference between Sensors and Intuitors, which is doubly apt in my mind, since a lot of SE is comprised of software developers who tend to be Sensors. Let me define these two words:
Sensor: This is a person who processes input from the world around them via concrete reasoning. They must step through A, B, C, and D to get to E or they will get lost. They will not assume any intermediate steps, unless they can personally experience those steps.
Intuitor: This is a person who processes input from the world around them via abstract reasoning. If they see A, C, D and E, they will assume B and F and keep on trucking. This might get them into trouble from time-to-time, but if they feel like they've got 80% of the data, they know they're probably okay to assume the other 20%.
This is a very base description, as no person is all one or the other. It's a sliding scale, and each person falls on that scale somewhere. As a high Intuitor, I can tell you I often see patterns and can pick out other peoples' meaning even when they've done a very poor job of communicating their thoughts.
In an environment like this one, it is the Sensors who are going to tend to rise through the ranks fastest, as they are most likely to follow the rules to the letter, and to punish those who fail to follow the rules.
By the same token, it is the Intuitors who are most likely to allow things to slide, to get taken down a path as it were that the site expressly forbids, because they "kinda get where the other person is coming from" and so don't need them to follow the rules to still achieve the desired result.
I'm not saying either one is better or worse. Both are excellent for some things and terrible for others, but it certainly helps explain the greatest areas of tensions between the two types of users, especially new users.
More to the point, I don't think this is the type of thing you can teach someone. It's kind of hard-wired into people. But I believe it's the biggest reason certain types of users are driven away, and why the moderators seem to exist within their own echo chamber. They will naturally agree with each other, especially because they all will tend to view sticking to the rules of the site the same way. To people like me, it's going to feel very draconian, and that's coming from someone who sees the other perspective.
To wit, me and a lead developer at my first job would have legendary arguments. We couldn't talk about anything for more than 5 minutes without shouting at each other. We were clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum. He'd regularly shout the words, "You can't know that!" or "You can't make that assumption!" Whereas, I'd be the one shouting, "Christ, you can see X, Y, and A1. Z HAS TO FALL IN BETWEEN!"
It's worse when people operate under the common misconception that "Other people think like me." I used to despise people who refused to talk about the obvious elephant in the room. It took me years to realize that I really was the only person who could see it, and that it was my responsibility to walk the rest of the group through the process to get to the point I'd been standing on for weeks. Moreover, that same realization is what allowed me greatly value what other people brought to the table, even when it wasn't my brilliant ability to intuit seemingly unconnected events. The diligence embodied in the aforementioned software developer is what made him really great at his job. He is, bar none, the best developer I have ever known.
How does this translate here? I don't know. I'm just trying to draw a road map of the problem.
Optimizing for Sand, and Smashing the Pearls
SevenSidedDie turned my on to this blog post, which describes why StackExchange shifted their focus to questions. Having read that post, I have a much better understanding of how the leadership of SE has actually helped to create the problem I've described above.
If we don’t do our part to cull the bad questions, then we risk
alienating the true experts who provide what really matters: the
This quote took me by surprise. I had to read it a few times, because the context seemed very strange in terms of an effort to better serve the community. That is, until you realize that the community is the answerers, and not the questioners. If StackExchange were a for-profit enterprise charging for answers, it'd go out of business very quickly. No one will pay to be insulted, regardless of how much of an expert the answerer is.
I am a recognized industry expert in a highly technical field. I've written dozens of whitepapers, given talks to groups of 80+ people. I worked at my first company for 15 years and established myself with companies around the world. 5 years after leaving, I still have customers hunting down my cell number to talk to me.
I used to troubleshoot extremely complex industrial equipment over the phone. It was great when I could teach my customers to contact me with the right information (Asking the right question in the right way), but much of the time I had to guide them through the process to get to the answer. Had I taken the attitude that I couldn't or wouldn't help you without properly formatting your questions, I would not have the reputation I have today.
This site doesn't exist to stroke the egos of some experts. It exists to help people around the world find answers to their questions. Based on some of the comments below, some people have either lost sight of that, or they couldn't care less. The questioners are your customers, guys. I don't care that they aren't paying for the service.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme here. Incoming questions are a
universal constant, all around us in countless billions. But answers —
truly brilliant, amazing, correct answers — are as rare as pearls.
Thus, questions are merely the sand that produces the pearl. If we
have learned anything in the last three years, it is that you optimize
for pearls, not sand.
This quote is a stunning mindset. Questions are merely the sand that produces the pearl? Holy cow, what an arrogant mindset. If your experts are so full of pearls, why don't they just sit down and write wikis on their specific areas of knowledge? Then, all the low-sloping foreheads can muddle through searches of wikis-of-wisdom to find the answers they seek.
There's a weird set of mutually exclusive mindsets at work at StackExchange. An Executive Vice President writes a post that he wants SE to come off as friendlier, easier to use, more inclusive. Yet, here's a co-founder explaining why that will never happen. It demonstrates that SE really doesn't have alignment from top-to-bottom in the organization.