Vague Instructions and Counting

By Ron Pereira Updated on April 7th, 2010

On Monday I wrote a fun little article asking the fine readers of LSS Academy if they could count! Of course this was all done in fun… as I know you can all count.

But, as many of you pointed out, there were several lessons to be learned from this exercise.

Bad Instructions

It took awhile but my friend, and business partner, Jon Miller rightly pointed out that my “instructions” we poor at best.

You see, I mentioned “the next paragraph” but then the next paragraph was a sentence that contained no F’s at all. Or is it Fs? Jon always corrects me and my other business partner, Kevin, on the use of the apostrophe… but I digress!

The lesson to be learned is to make sure any and all instructions are crystal clear and leave no room for misunderstanding.

Loose Measurement Systems

Now, for those of you that focused on the large paragraph… well, how can I say this nicely? Some of you did better than others!

Truth be told I have done this experiment hundreds of times and before I posted the article I counted and got 27! So, yeah, I stink at counting too!

The trick, as many pointed out, is that for some reason we often miss the word “of” and thus totally screw up the count.

The lesson to be learned is it is very easy for humans to make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how educated you are and how careful you’re being… visual inspection of any kind is darn hard.

Error Proofing

So, perhaps, the best solution for difficult tasks like this is to use some form of error proofing… removing, or at least minimizing, the chance of human error.

Shaunak wins the prize for the most, um, creative idea with his idea of using Excel and a little formula. See his comment below if you’d like to give it a try.

Or, if you’re a bit simpler minded, like me, you could copy the text into MS Word and use the “Find and Replace” function and simply search for f.

When you do this you’ll quickly learn that F is used 36 times in this paragraph!

The lesson to be learned is to always seek a form of error proofing when the chance of human error is high.  You don’t always have to use technology to accomplish this but is some cases, it might help.

What do you think?

Were you surprised at how hard it was to count the F’s? If so, can you imagine how many mistakes are made each and every day as humans, who will make mistakes, visually inspect all sort of things? Scary isn’t it?

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