Follow the instructions


I have a love hate relationship with Ikea. There are some things that excite me very much, the new product ranges, the way they are displayed, the mock up rooms and how easy it is to put their product together. I am not a fan of the fully controlled way that they usher you around the shop however.

What I really do like are the instruction leaflets that come with their flat pack furniture.I have talked about them before way back in 2012. There is that old joke: ‘I didn’t have time to write a short report and so I wrote a long one’ and I think of this every time I pick up one of the leaflets. It is clear that a huge amount of effort has gone into them to make them look so simple.  

The drawings are pared down to wire frames and give you just what you need to know. They follow the same format and os once you have mastered one you can address them all. Each one starts with a picture of what the finished item looks like. There is a bit about safety and then a breakdown of all the bits that you are going to need to assemble the piece. After this there are detailed step by step instruction to create the item you went in for.

I am interested in process flow. I am always looking for ways to help people understand what they are doing at work. Most people think that what they do is complicated when in reality it is a collection of simple tasks done either in series or in parallel. Creative processes, I think, are outside of these.

This got me thinking about the Ikea instructions.

To understand a process you need to:

  1. Understand what the end product looks like
  2. Know what bits you need to achieve this
  3. Know where you are now
  4. Have a process to get from 3 to 1

Just like a set of Ikea instructions! The trick is to get people to break down what they do in to bitesize and understandable chunks.

Now where did I leave those Billy Bookcase plans?

3 thoughts on “Follow the instructions

  1. An interesting analogy. Such a simple booklet and yet as you say there are some deep cognitive processes underlying the result. I shall ponder on this and, I think, make note of your four points and apply them to some aspects of my work life very soon. After all, I have decided 2019 is going to be a more productive year than 2018! Thanks Phil!

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