Why I hate instructions

And why you should too—unless something changes

I hate instructions.

I mean, I don’t really hate instructions, but I am suspicious of them. And I might hate the way people write them. Because let’s be honest, most instructions are written for people who really don’t need instructions.

Real life example: I recently messed up a recipe because the dumb thing said to place three things on the bottom. It was halfway done—and I had started to feel something must be wrong—before it hit me that maybe I should have placed the stupid things side by side.

Come on, people. You could have just written exactly that: “Lay them side by side on the bottom,” and saved me the waste of an hour of my life.

This is why people with knowledge are often so terrible at sharing it. It’s the same thing that you see when you ask someone for directions and they say, “Just go straight until you get to the junction, then turn right.” Sounds simple enough, and off you go toward the junction…only to find, to your dismay, that there are two rights!

Really, bro?

But you know what’s really vexing at that moment? Maybe after you’ve gone down one and it turned out to be the wrong one, and then come back and found that the right one was the one with the massive building a few metres in. And then you think, “Why didn’t they just tell me to head to the one with the building?”

I’ll tell you why: they were thinking about it through their eyes.

But the entire point of explaining stuff to people is to think about the fact that they don’t know what you know. And even worse, they don’t know the things you take for granted.

That’s why I’m suspicious of instructions. And of directions. (Honestly, the way some people give directions, after the second sentence, my eyes just glaze over.)

The problem is never the instructions themselves, or the things these people are trying to pass across. The problem is the things they take for granted. And the real work is being aware of what you take for granted, and remembering that for this person, they’re totally unaware of those things that are so obvious to you.

The minute you see the non-obvious, the way you teach or instruct or direct totally changes.

It’s not easy though, and that’s why so few do it. But that’s also why it’s totally worth it.


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