Why aren’t you listening?

I’ve had some interesting experiences over the last week sitting through some training.  The training is for a new software package that’s going to be rolled out across a reasonably sizeable company and I was in a group with some senior people from the company.  Some of the things I saw made me think of how we tend to blame our problems on the “stupidity” of others (as covered in my recent posts on stupid customers, stupid bosses and stupid employees.)

In IT, the frequently heard refrain is that most of our problems are caused by other people’s stupidity.  If only users would read the fucking manual (RTFM) they’d give us less grief.  This seems to make sense on the surface but the real issue is rarely that simple.  I, for one, hardly ever RTFM – systems that are too difficult to work out without a manual seldom come with a manual that improves the situation.

A couple of times during the training sessions, some of the users got lost trying to follow some of the most basic processes.  I’m talking about not being able to successfully click three times from the home menu.  I’m surprised the trainer didn’t scream at them to just listen (JFL).  The things is, although it would be easy to say they were having trouble with basic things because they were stupid, in this case it was really the opposite.

A short side note: when I complain about workplaces or cow-orkers, I’m almost always talking about previous jobs.  My current job is one of the best I’ve had and my co-trainees are all quite intelligent.  In this case it was their intelligence that was derailing them – as they were being shown new features they were coming up with ideas on how the software could be used to improve processes.  They were so busy leaping ahead to new frontiers little things like paying attention to how to navigate the software were slipping by them.

As has been pointed out so often by commenters, people accused of being stupid often simply have expertise in a different domain.  IT workers call people stupid when they aren’t technically oriented, bosses call employees stupid when they don’t appreciate strategic issues.  So take a breath next time you wish someone would RTFM or JFL – they might not be quite a stupid as you think.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Why aren’t you listening?

  1. Of course, it would help if someone with a grasp of communication skills wrote the fucking manual. When was the last time you read a manual which:
    a – made any sense at all, and
    b – was written in a style which could be described as “readable.”

    I find the problem I have is that I show people how to do stuff, and they’re not interested because they never have to do it and if they do have to do it again they’ll just get me to do it.

    Plus some of us IT people have trained people to be terminally afraid of fucking up, so they don’t want to risk doing anything in case we shout at them. (How often has my Fiancée asked, “can I turn the computer off now?”, just because one time I was doing stuff.) Which means indecisiveness can be interpreted as stupidity. This is made even worse by systems which are highly mistake intolerant.

  2. Another thing with a lot of packages is the interface. Some of them are downright stupidly hard to use.

    The sign of good UI is when a user can navigate through most of whatever the program is and it explains itself as they go along in the shortest possible time.

    Having said that there are a lot of people out there who are technically inept but also afraid of technology. “oh if I click that something might break and if its broken what will I do!!!”

    Thats why when I see someone use a computer for the first time, for example switching from XP to OSX. I tell them to click around. To learn it from using it.

    It’s not hard once they get past the fear.

  3. Good interfaces need no manuals. The problem, really, is that engineers and not professional designers often create the interface. Thus, they’re usually no good but for geeks. And that’s why virtually no one uses Linux, and I still prefer Windows.

  4. Sometimes you do need a manual. An interface can make it as easy as it should be to do something; but sometimes it’s still a hard thing to do.

    Photoshop’s got a good interface, but it still needs a manual.

  5. Jacob

    Don’t confuse being able to do lots of stuff with good interface design. Photoshop is powerfull, but it has a horrible interface. (It has improved from how bad it was 5 or 10 years ago, but it still has a long way to go)

  6. Massif: Yeah you got my main complaint about manuals exactly right. Good point about mistakes too.

    Benjamin: I totally agree about interfaces. If I can’t work out the UI by myself I takes that as a failure of the designer, not a failure of me.

    Daniel: Yeah, good technology is often let down by being unusable.

    Massif: I regard the manual as backup for when you want to get into the nitty gritty

    Jacob: You’re right, tech people often confuse “can do lots of stuff” with “well designed”. Ordinary users tend to stop if something isn’t easy to use.

    Brad: thanks for the teddy bear link – we could all use a teddy bear.

  7. A video as a digital manual supplement to the hard copy typed manual would solve this problem tremendously. Manuals need to be written by people who write creatively not people who write technically.

    This is not to say that technical writers are not good writers, when in fact they are brilliant writers in their trade/skill… They are simply missing the key ingredient of translation to normal NON-technically skilled human language and writing. A visual is a(n) universally accepted form or recognition and understanding. A simple vid of hand on mouse moving the cursor on the screen with no voice over even (keeping it universal), thus will enable the user to “successfully click three times from the home menu”

    Mr. Angry you could make these!
    I could make these. Imagine the problems and arguments of stupidity and how the powers that be in existence now

    How’s that for jumping ahead. You hit a bubble with this post with me. I have been called “stupid” more times with male bosses than I care to count. I honestly have not had this issue with female bosses.

    You’d make a good boss dude… unless behind the mask you are female… and then you’d still make a good boss.

  8. oops…

    Imagine the problems and arguments of stupidity and how the powers that be in existence now

    would topple over while the little people climbed to rise up and all become self-employed!

    Bosses would cease to exist.

  9. Excellent train of thought Jessica. There could be a big future in Mr Angry training videos🙂

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