I’ll read the instructions later…

During the holidays, I bet a lot of us received toys, tools, electronics, smartphones and who knows what else. Chances are good that we either received instructions in the box or “help” area but promptly ignored those and dug in to put together, start or use the item.

Be honest. How often are you happy and satisfied with your effort and the new “toy” or tool by just fumbling around? I confess, helped a client I work with select a new computer – decided on an All-in-One. At the store, the unit was on display, beautiful screen and as soon as you attempted to try to use it, the password was required – so no salesperson, no access. Did I mention it was during the holidays? We selected the computer that “looked” like it would be a nice upgrade and finally flagged down a salesperson, of course, it was out-of-stock.

An hour to close at most stores, I broke out my smartphone and found my favorite store, Office Depot, and called to see if they had it or a similar computer in stock. Found one, dashed over and picked it up.

Installation Time:

Okay, the fun of the hunt over, we cracked open the box and began putting it together – surprisingly easy since it is an All-in-One with wireless keyboard and mouse. Yeah! Then comes the new operating system. Even as a geek, I must admit, the traditional landmarks were missing and I had my moment of “oh my gosh, how am I going to give the initial instructions to client when I cannot even figure out how to start!”

It will take a little time to feel comfortable with the new OS and yes, I’ll need to watch the video tours to become familiar enough to assist in the transition.

This experience reminded me of a book purchased a long time ago that was a study in information and instruction.

Thought I’d share a couple of the concepts as a refresher for me and maybe a new idea for you.

5 Pieces to Instruction*:

  1. Giver
  2. Taker
  3. Content
  4. Channel
  5. Context

*”Follow Yellow Brick Road” by Richard Saul Wurman 1992


The Givers start the instructions – to get something done. They have lots of choices to make – who to ask (the taker), create the message (content), figure how to share the instruction (channel), and consider the situation in which the instruction is to be delivered (context).


Successful takers are active and interpret the message, perform actions and make decisions along the path. If they don’t understand the instruction, they take responsibility to ask questions and clarify instructions and feel empowered that they are not just doing whatever.


This has many important uses. In most cases, instructions should include 6 building blocks:

purpose, objective, core, time, anticipation and success/failure


The form the message is delivered – words, pictures, speaking, written, text, voice mail, … infographic, flowcharts,… there is a wide range of choices. Some more appropriate than others.


Context has a multitude of dynamics from the environment or location it is delivered (boardroom, workspace, home, in public, by media – radio, tv, internet…).

Lots of instruction today is handled over the internet and can delivered through a variety of devices. Be careful of the assumptions you make about the context – Givers must anticipate what details might need to be clarified for the Takers to make correct actions, Takers must have a feel for the purpose and objective of the instructions. The channel for content and delivery must fit the situation.

All this to say – you might identify problem areas in your communications and instructions (whether you are the Giver or Taker) if you have had these kinds of  experiences:

  • People you talk with get that “glazed over” look
  • Someone you know says, “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”
  • You have said, “No one understands me.”
  • People seem to mess up on “the simple instructions” you give them. May also be related to whether you are open about others asking questions to clarify your requests.
  • You deny ever having trouble with instructions.

Lesson summary:

If you are the Giver of instructions, have you figured out the purpose, objective, core result wanted, time and anticipated successful result?

If you are the Taker of instructions, are you comfortable asking for clarity and understand the purpose or objective of the activity? If there is not a harmony between what you have been instructed and what you think a successful finish includes, instead of wasting time and effort to create something, ask good questions and find more success.

In my story about computer shopping, I found that we had a miscommunication from the start on what kind of computer to research – partly because the client is not as clear about what different computer formats are called. We actually were in both roles in the same context. Once we had physical computers to touch and call them what they are, our solution took a different direction immediately and a better solution came from the clarification opportunity.

May your future instructions be amazing!