These days I often find myself trying to take roughly 750,000 tiny plastic pieces and build them into a working nuclear reactor that my five-year-old can pretend to save from evildoers with his Batman action figure. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. There are probably only about 600,000 pieces per box. Point is, I often find myself totally ignoring the folded piece of paper containing diagrams that take you step by step through the process. For some reason, I always think that I can figure it out faster on my own. Invariably, after two and a half hours and many muttered curses, my son has moved on to another game that doesn’t involve mom’s help and I am face to face with my nemesis: the instructions with the wonky diagrams and the incomprehensible text.
So, it was with wry bemusement that I came across Carol Saller’s fun blog post about this very thing. What is most interesting to me about this phenomenon is that I spend 85% of my work life complaining bitterly about how our clients, prospective clients, editors, film/tv people, foreign agents, and the place that delivers our breakfast order never follow directions. I rail when I get a “Dear Sir or Madam” query letter when it says very clearly on our website that we like things personalized; when I get back three signed copies of a contract and I clearly asked for four (4)—I always put the numeral in parenthesis for further emphasis; when I send a detailed edit memo asking for specific changes (technical ones, at that, not the subjective kind) and get the next draft of the proposal roughly 12 minutes later without the aforementioned changes….
Clearly, whether it’s Legos or query letters, we are hardwired to ignore directions (even when we ask for them). I guess that’s a good thing if, like Einstein, we have the ability to reinvent the rules of the universe. The rest of us should probably pay a little more attention.
How universal is this syndrome? What are your most egregious examples of this wanton behavior?