The media’s endless drive for ratings has us all convinced we’re about two minutes away from certain death. To be sure, the H1N1 virus (the artist-virus formerly known as “Swine Flu”) can be lethal. But let’s have some perspective: more people will die from the regular flu than this nasty variant. More will also die from car accidents, obesity, alcohol, smoking and many other plagues, but why let relevant comparisons get in the way of a juicy news story?
To Save Your Life, Please Take a Number
The latest news concerns the vaccine production problems. Contrary to earlier reports where the various levels of bureaucrats assured us there would be plenty of vaccines for all, there’s actually a severe shortage. Persons not in one of the “priority groups” need not apply for the antidote. Pregnant women, children and health care workers on the lifeboats first, please. As for the rest of us – not to worry – we’ll have that iceberg removed in no time.
Great Expectations Not So Great
Now, imagine if the government had stated at the beginning only a limited quantity of the vaccine would be available. They would still have been criticized, but not to the same degree. The problem was a high expectation was set, and very badly went unmet. The end users (the public) don’t care whose fault it was. All they know is they and their family are not getting their shot.
We can learn from this in the business world. Never set expectations too high, for if you miss them, you’ll be a failure no matter how great a document you deliver. Always under-promise and thereby over-deliver. If you think it’ll take N number of weeks to produce the guide, substitute 2N for N. That is, double the time you think it will take. The worst that can happen is you’ll get it in “early”.
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate? That is the Query
The second major H1N1 controversy is whether one should even receive the vaccine. On the one hand are the government and medical authorities imploring everyone to receive the shot. On the other are various citizens concerned about the contents of the vaccine and its possible side effects. Unfortunately, this is a digital decision – 0 or 1. You either get the shot or you don’t. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and if you are, congratulations: you’re at the head of the line.
Confusion is poison in a document. It is the drop of oil in an otherwise pristine bottle of Perrier. It is to be avoided like the H1N1 plague. One way to inoculate your docs against it is to banish uncertain words such as: might, may, could, and perhaps.
For example: don’t say:
Depending on your document type, some of the following tabs may not appear on the Properties dialog box.
Instead, explicitly state which tabs appear for each document type, for example:
For letter file types, the Main, Paper and Recipients tabs appear.
Even with this simple tip, you’ll still encounter confusion and uncertainty when developing your docs. Often it’s a case of one SME saying one thing, and another SME saying the exact opposite. If the issue is complex enough, the only solution is to lock both of them in a room together with you as the arbitrator, and not leave until the truth is found. (I’ve found faking flu symptoms and threatening to cough on both SMEs helps to quickly expedite the discussion.)
Sometimes the final answer you arrive at is different than what any of you envisioned. Those are the glorious moments in our profession. They validate our worth as information developers. They show we add real value to the company. And they give us a real shot in the arm.
The government agencies involved in putting out the H1N1 information should have had this kind of reality check before the raised all those expectations.
And as much good as the media does in distributing the information the public needs to know in a crisis, they should stick to providing straight-forward information and cut back on the hype and their onfusing “analysis” and feature stories that just add to the clutter and confuse the public even more,