When I was in high school, my favorite (in the sense that I kind of liked him and was indifferent to or detested the others) was Mr Holt. Holt was a retired chemical engineer who struck it big with his employer’s IPO and decided that he wanted to teach.

His opening lecture had us take a simple sort of test. We were supposed to follow the instructions on a worksheet. The first of which was “Read all of the instructions first.” The last of which was “Disregard all instructions but the first.”

Nobody did that, of course. And so when instruction number two said “raise your hand,” most of the class did. Same for stand up for three seconds then sit down. One by one, we began to notice fewer people doing these odd little things. We went back to the first instruction, followed it, then saw the last instructions. Towards the middle of the document the commands became verbal “Say ‘This room is hot.'” By the end, you were to be saying things like “I cannot follow instructions precisely.” Only a couple got that far. Most had, by simple way of noticing what their peers were not doing, figured it out.

As someone that never got “in” to science, it was one of the most instructive lessons ever. Partially the social aspect of it. You noticed what others weren’t doing and then tried to figure out why. But mostly, it was a good lesson on understanding the importance of following instructions. Kind of important for a chemistry class. Kind of important for life.

On the other hand, going through the training manual for my (hopefully) coming job, it’s apparently a lesson I forgot. It said, quite clearly, “Do not do anything that is not specified in the instructions, no matter how obvious it may seem.”


Category: Ghostland, School

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8 Responses to Lessons in Life: Instructions

  1. Peter says:

    One of the more culture-shock aspects of being in sales is the significantly reduced role of instructions and procedures as compared to most jobs. We have general guidelines to follow, and a list of prohibited activities (no deliberately misrepresenting a policy’s benefits, for example), but otherwise the things I say and do in the course of a sales call will vary considerably depending upon the customer’s reactions. For example, if a customer is concerned that it might be too hard to file a claim in event of loss, I’ll go into some detail on how streamlined our claims procedure is, showing a blank claims form and how little information will be required. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give this topic anything except a very brief mention.

  2. Mike Hunt says:


    Can you tell us what the Oops was?

  3. trumwill says:

    Peter, when I was gearing up to be a Kirby salesperson, they had a very specific script. But for the most part, I think that sales requires a great deal of improvization.

    Mike, I hit “OK” when it hadn’t told me to. There was no go-back-and-edit function, which meant that I had to delete the profile and start again.

  4. Mike Hunt says:

    Is that a recent pic?

    The reason I think so is the ID badge, which I doubt teachers wore when you were in HS.

    As for carefully following directions, it caused me a bit of trouble when I took my GRE subject test, which is pencil and paper. The proctor told us to write and bubble our names. The rest of the test takers, since they were college graduates or close to it, decided to fill in the entire sheet. Like a dope, I waited for the proctor to tell me each individual step. However, since she saw everyone else writing, I guess she figured she must have given the direction verballt, which she never did. Her next direction was to turn over the answer sheet and write out the certification.

    At the end of the test, I had to ask the proctor for time to fill out the rest of the answer sheet. Luckily, she let me, but I wasn’t able to convince her that she never gave the order.

    To add insult to injury, when I got to my car there was a ticket on it, even though the sign I was accused of violating was only in effect from Monday through Friday…

  5. Abel says:

    As a recovering technical writer, I commend this post.

  6. trumwill says:

    That’s a good catch, Mike. Because of its sheer size, my high school always had tight security. They didn’t have ID badges yet, but they were not far off. It’s been a bit of culture shock in Arapaho. They mandated badges starting this year, but only one school has actually used them.

    I’ve actually found that if I do follow the instructions to the letter, I’m not actually all that much better off. Sometimes, they never actually tell you to press the OK button. Oh, well. I’m just amazed to be (maybe) working somewhere that doesn’t rely on tribal knowledge.

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    So, is it someone you know, or is it a stock photo from the internet?

  8. trumwill says:

    The latter. When I’m looking for various pictures, sometimes other pictures of people grab my attention. I use them to develop characters for my writing. In this case, I decided to use it for this post.

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