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weeks ago I read a human interest story in one of our Canadian Newspapers. It
concerned a woman who had purchased a computer and for the last 2 years, had
been unable to get it to work. It was discovered she had never plugged it in!
you’re anything like myself, your first inclination might be to mutter
something about dumb users.
you got that off your chest, you then became a much more reasonable person and a
better model of a modern computer professional and allowed her the benefit of
the doubt. After all, we know the terms ‘intuitive’ and ‘user friendly’
are more products of Madison Avenue, than design concepts in Silicon Valley.
you take your thoughts one step further? Did you think of the dozens of
‘computer’ folks she must have spoken to, in her two years of ever mounting
frustration and technological disillusionment?
one of these folks, must have looked at the machine or spoken with her and asked
her to describe the problem. We can assume not a single one asked her the one
question that would have solved her ‘problem.’ “Ahem... I don’t mean to
be rude, but have you plugged it in?”
didn’t ask that question for one of three reasons, none of which are
the people she asked knew something about computers, then the most damning
reason, is that they just did not think of asking. There’s no cure for this
behaviour. There’s just the certainty that the consequences of ‘not
thinking’ will hardly ever generate desirable results.
next most common reason, is the assumption that the computer was already plugged
in. Contrary to popular belief, assumptions are actually good for you! They
allow you to act before all the facts are in, which in the world I live in, is
most of the time. The trick to arriving at the
right conclusions is a disciplined regime of assumption management!
you aware of the assumptions you’re making? Are you conscious of the
thought... ‘I’m assuming the computer is plugged in.’? If you are, then,
when things don’t work out as expected, you can return to your assumptions and
re-examine them, changing each in turn, until you reach the correct conclusion.
we trip up, sometimes with dire consequences, is when we make assumptions, but
are ignorant of them. We assume the computer’s plugged in, but do so without
‘thinking,’ without being aware of the thought. Then, when what we
‘know,’ fails to produce the correct answer, we’re stumped.
last reason why this woman’s PC did not work for 2 years is that people
didn’t ask the question they thought of, the one sounding like a stupid
question, the one that could be mistaken as questioning her fundamental
intelligence. “Have you plugged it in?”
business of not asking the simple questions, is not uncommon. It bears more than
a passing resemblance to another strange behaviour pattern. The habit of not
telling people they have something peculiar stuck in their teeth, or hanging on
their sleeve, or a strange odor arises every time they enter the room.
than help solve a problem, we avoid asking the ‘difficult’ questions or
communicating ‘difficult’ information. ‘Did you plug it in?’, ‘You
have something in your teeth,’ ‘Your hair is on fire.’
fear, I guess, is that we might embarrass them in some manner. I’d rather be
embarrassed than own a useless computer for 2 years! There are ways to
communicate difficult information. Be open about the difficulty, admit upfront
the statement you’re about to make might cause problems. “Ahem... I don’t
mean to be rude, but have you plugged it in?” or “I know this is
embarrassing, but one of those frog legs is still stuck in your teeth.”
Peter de Jager is a speaker, writer & consultant. Contact him via [email protected]
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