The instruction manual

The project we’re working on. The difficult conversation we need to have. The overpowering boss we can’t get away from.

The temptation is always to ask a version of this question:

Where’s the instruction manual?

Where’s the proven, trusted, step by step guide for handling this situation?

You know, like the ones they give you with your flatpack at IKEA.  Only, less of those frustrating wooden dowel things that never quite fit the holes. 



Alas, life’s not a flatpack and wooden dowels aren’t the problem. Well, not this time.

So, without an instruction manual how do we know what to do?

Well, maybe we don’t. Maybe that’s the point. 

So what then? Faced with the prospect of failure, of the unknown, should we just give up? Or why not procrastinate? Leave it for another day.

We could Google it? Because, let’s face it, who hasn’t started a search with the following two words: “How to …”

But it’s not our fault.

I mean, we’ve been conditioned to be this way since we were kids.

At school, we spent 12+ years of our lives being told where we need to be and for how long. We were told what classroom to be in. We were given textbooks to study. Proven methods to follow. Practice tests to complete so we weren’t surprised when it came time to take the real test.

At work, we’re told to be in the office between 9am and 5pm. We’re read company policies and procedures. We’re invited to meetings. We’re told, “this is how we do things around here”.

Is it any wonder then, that our default is to look for the instruction manual? To search for the right answer or the right approach?

At this point, you’re probably thinking this blog is merely a series of rhetorical questions. So I’ll throw some more at you.

What if we did the opposite? What if, instead of waiting to be told what to do, we merely acted with intent?

What if, instead of asking or looking for the instruction manual, we created one?

Sure, we might reach an unexpected outcome. But then we can iterate. And if we reach another unexpected outcome? We’ll iterate some more.

Sounds an awful lot like good software development doesn’t it?

You see, everything and everyone we admire started somewhere. Everyone who created something new started from a place of “this might not work.”

This means everything’s made up. It means no-one knows what they’re doing. Especially in the beginning.

Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Anyone can build anything.

A relationship. A podcast. A blog. A business. A side project.

Sure we can learn from our heroes, we can ask Google, or Siri, or Alexa or the next door neighbours cat.

But at the end of the day, there is no instruction manual if you’re working on something meaningful.