I’m not a fan of “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” The basic idea works; sometimes good enough is just right. So why the skepticism? Like that tiresome definition of insanity (which some people repeat as if casting a spell), the perfect/good nostrum can substitute sloganeering for thought.
Sometimes the humdrum and the mediocre are the enemy of the good.
Which leads somehow to two seemingly unrelated conversations: my wife asking if you can save an Excel chart as a JPG, and a colleague and I exchanging tweets about tutorials and about “fun” in training. “Seemingly” because the connection between the two is: accomplishment.
Excel chart as JIT graphic
My wife’s request had a clear focus: one of her coworkers, with basic Excel skills, wanted to use a chart as an image on a web page. So I read into that “don’t get too complicated.” I fiddled around with menus and right-clicks, but didn’t see anything obvious.
Googling “save excel chart as JPG” got lots of hits. I learned there’s File / Save as Web Page. That saves your spreadsheet as whatever.xls. It also creates a folder, whatever_files, in which you’ll find the chart as image001.gif. No, not a JPG, but good enough for the outcome.
“Fun” — the tutorial
In the Middle Ages, when I first learned PowerPoint, Microsoft had a clever tutorial–Christopher Columbus’s pitch for funding. Whatever umbrage you or Ed Tufte might take with PPT, I recall the tutorial clearly showing how to achieve certain effects: bullets, images, titles, and so forth. So I stuck with the tutorial, and quickly learned how to do things I wanted to do.
Or, say, an Indian war bonnet stuck onto the head of “the greatest man ever to come out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont” (as Clarence Darrow said of Calvin Coolidge).
There’s nothing (in theory) wrong with clown noses, but context does matter.
More on “fun” in another post. Let’s stick with what makes a good tutorial.
CTQ: a point of view
In Six Sigma parlance, critical-to-quality elements (CTQs) are things important to a process so you can produce what’s important to the customer. If you want high customer satisfaction with your service contract, a one CTQ might be “scheduling that suits the customer.” Meaning your time window should not be the size of a barn door.
One CTQ that I see for a tutorial is: can people get stuff done quickly? Or is the tutorial so full of overview and first-of-all and before-you-begin that it feels like one of those half-day mandatory snoozefests for the corporate initiative fo the month?
My wife’s coworker already had some context: she knew Excel basics, and she knew about JPGs. All that was necessary for her to do what she wanted boiled down to:
- Here’s how to turn an Excel chart into a GIF.
- Here’s how to find the GIF.
- You can use a GIF like you’d use a JPG.
When I first encountered PowerPoint, I didn’t have that context. I hadn’t used presentation software before. A rich tutorial made sense, and the design of the tutorial kept newcomer me engaged…
Until I hit the point where I felt I knew enough. Then, I dropped out: I stopped the tutorial and got on with what I wanted to do: build a presentation.
Yes, this goes against a prescriptionist streak that you find in many trainers and instructional designers (including me). We’re dying to tell you more, to share our hard-won–or at least much-valued–experience. We mean well, but we can get a bit… smothery.
It’s important for both the designer and the learner to say, “That’s okay.” I think drop-out-to-do may well be a key characteristic of successful demos or tutorials. They show that someone feels she’s learned enough to try things on her own.
And trying things on your own is strength training for your neurons. When things go well, it’s endorphin time. When they don’t, you’ll put up with a certain amount of frustration and expend a certain amount of effort if you can still accomplish something that matters.
Thus the argument for well-built tutorials (or other detailed support): a reliable resource. Unlike the typical software “knowledge base” that’s much more base than knowledge.
Photo of Calvin Coolidge from Wikimedia Commons.