Often when I help someone with learning to use their tech, they want me to just “give them the steps”. I almost always refuse to do this. It’s like giving directions that simply say, “Go 2 miles and turn left. Go another 3/4 of a mile and turn right. My house is a mile and half down on the left.” While these may be accurate, they aren’t particularly helpful if I get lost on the way or miss a turn.
But add a little context to the instructions and not only does it help in case I get lost, it helps prevent me front getting lost in the first place. “Go straight for 2 miles and turn left at the light by the Dairy Queen. At the third light, make a right onto Oak Street. Our driveway is the first on the left after you cross over the creek. It’s the one with the blue mailbox. If you get to a stop sign, you have gone too far.” (By the way, these are completely fictitious directions. If you follow them and get somewhere, it definitely won’t be my house.)
The context here is the little details that help you stay oriented as you go. The Dairy Queen. How many light to go through. The color of my mailbox. How to tell if you have passed my driveway. Without these little signposts, the directions are much harder to follow. And if you strayed from them, getting back on track would be very difficult if not impossible.
This also applies to technical instructions. The little extras I give you in addition to the step-by-step instructions are almost more important than the steps themselves because they help keep you oriented in the new, unfamiliar tech space. And if something goes a little wrong, you have a better chance of getting back on track and being successful.
It does take a bit longer to receive these types of instructions and internalize them, but it is worth it. It’s a bit like getting a map to go along with your turn-by-turn instructions. Imagine if all your GPS did was tell you where to turn and didn’t show you on that little map on the screen. Would it work? Sure, but that little line showing you how to go makes it so much easier. And that’s what I do for the people I work with. My job is to provide the step-by-step instructions together with what the surroundings look like as you go.
So the next time someone gives you instructions for how to do something new, if they don’t give you any context be sure to ask for some, just in case you get lost along the way.