how to get there

I played a significant role in the election yesterday.

I made coffee.

Our building housed a polling place for two precincts. We provided coffee for the poll workers. I made most of it.

I didn’t, however, feel like being there at 5:00am. I wrote out directions.

1. I identified quantity.(4 scoops)

2. I identified process. (Pour the water in.)

3. I identified errors. (Don’t forget the carafe.)

It was a quick set of instructions, designed not so much for eternity but for one day.

Too often I forget to leave instructions. Too often I worry about every detail.Too often I don’t anticipate. But it was a simple and effective process to help people stay awake for an hour or two.

What is the simplest way you can describe the next thing that you want someone else to be able to do, knowing that something is better than nothing?


22 responses to “how to get there

  1. I used to facilitate a peanut butter ‘direction’ exercise with 4th graders, which is pretty funny and also reminds us of the importance of clear instructions. I found a link to a description:

  2. Two immediate applications come to mind for me. The first is work, as I bring in an as-needed assistant.

    Perhaps the more important is with our four kids. Nearly every day I expect them to do something, knowing exactly how I want them to do it. But in taking the time to slow down and explain the steps, I help them achieve the desire outcome and save myself some sanity along the way.

    And sometimes, I must let go of my way of doing things and give them the freedom to do it their own way. This might be heresy, but suppose there is more than one way to brew a pot of coffee, finish a project and raise kids.

  3. Amen! A lesson I learned about instructions was that we take the things we do and the way we think for granted.

    I remember doing a strategic session with a group when we got to analyzing the SWOT, they just gave me this blank stare. It dawned on me that I assumed everyone knew how to do that – and they didn’t.

    That night I went home and literally re-traced my thought process and wrote it down. WOW, I had no idea it was that big a deal. As it turns out, I’ve turned that docment into a product that I sell. Whodda thunk it!

  4. Seems like now matter how much detail instruction I write, there is always something someone wants to do that was not on the list or I never considered! Then when there are too many details, no one will read them. People are in too much of a rush to get things done! Even I am too impatient to read instructions a lot of the time.

  5. Tara – that is a wonderful exercise (I just followed the link. Thanks). Walking through the process teaches us the challenge and the importance.

  6. Cheryl – as I read your response, I think that sometimes, the best thing to do is to help people see the outcome first (A cup of coffee) and then provide enough information to help them get there (4 scoops OR vote OR business meeting). And sometimes, there is difference between “here’s how to do it” and “here’s how I do it”. One invites participation.

  7. Ivana – Wonderful! Our “Obvious” or “Second nature” is someone else’s “How can I do that?” Either we respond with arrogance: “Competent people know this,” OR insecurity “This is nothing, everyone knows how to do this” OR helpfulness: “let me explain. And of those three, only the latter builds the relationship and opportunities you identify.

  8. Judy – exactly right. For example, the instruction NOT on the list in the picture is…”turn on the warmer under the carafe.” They didn’t. The coffee was cold. But my goal was a simple list that answered the questions that come to ming as a way to avoid my OWN problem with reading directions.

    The questions?
    1. how much coffee should I use? How much water?
    2. What do I do with the water?
    3. Any secrets?

  9. it took me 2 1/2 hours to do a 45 min drive to my aunts house in nfld

    the person who gave me the directions visits my aunt all the time.

    and that’s when we should have known it was a bad idea

    the directions read A to B to C

    only B was actually off another exit that didn’t even make it’s way on the list
    and C was actually a turn off the missing step of the step

    it was understandable
    it always happens
    a step too obvious to mention turns out to be the keystone

    i admit i grumbled and pointed the finger
    i could have shrugged and said “Yeah, got lost. Sorry”
    but instead i made sure to explain who was at fault.
    all because i didn’t want them to think that *I* could get lost.

    I wanted no one to doubt me taking care of me and my children. So foolish. Everyone gets lost. Everyone leaves a step out. We’re all new here.

  10. I have no helpful comments here. Just wanted to say I like your blog!

  11. kat – thanks. We are all new here. And it’s not a dress rehearsal. But then, it isn’t a play. the story says it.

  12. I just realized. Sometimes the purpose of giving directions is to show how much we know…rather than helping the other person fill in what they don’t know. Yet.

  13. Sara – i, for one, find that a helpful comment. 🙂 thanks.

  14. Your right Jon. How often do people use language and terms they don’t need just to sound smart and to make sure than anyone who reads them knows they are smart.

  15. “Feed me.” I’ll try that succinct directive on my wife tonight when she gets home from work, and see how it works for me. Thanks for encouraging me to be clear and concise! I’m sure she’ll appreciate it!

  16. bother. I knew I needed to have that statement about not being responsible for the application of what I write. (thanks for stopping by, John)

  17. philip – i use big words when I’m tired and not able to think about helping others understand.

  18. Well, Jon, I for one, think you’re making things far too clear. I prefer the method of not explaining and then resenting the fact that the task goes un-done or is improperly or incompletely done.

    But that’s just how I roll. The good news is that I am extremely well practiced and accomplished at my method.

  19. true confession time. I’m in recovery from your method Meg. I mean, not that
    there is anything wrong with it, mind you. But speaking for myself…


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  21. your right Jon, it sometimes is easier to just use big words than to explain. But there is something to be said for writing at a certain level and not removing all terminology because it is often more descriptive if you understand it. It’s not as black and white as i may have made it sound.

  22. audience. it is, as you said earlier, about the people you are helping to