The paradoxical sense of relief when instructions to solve the problem fail at the first step


I couldn’t get something to work. The details aren’t important.

I found a very old internal wiki page that listed a long, complicated process for getting the thing to work. I strongly suspected that it wouldn’t help, but out of thoroughness was obligated to give it a try, so that if somebody asked if I tried it, I could say “Yes, and it didn’t work.”

It failed on step 1.

Yay! This is so much better than failing on step 23.

Now I could ask for help with a slightly clearer conscience.


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  • cheong00

    That’s why it’s so helpful to see troubleshooting guide that list out things that “If you see any of these, the troubleshooting steps don’t apply to your case.”

    • Dave Gzorple

      Another issue, and this is particularly egregious with Google products, is “If the date on these instructions is more than a few weeks old then they won’t work any more since the UI on whatever it is you’re using has changed”. And that’s not snark, that’s literally true, try looking for help online for some incomprehensible UI and you’ll find posts documenting how to decipher it from two, three, four, … twenty-seven revisisions ago, but not whatever it is this week.

      To make it more topical for Microsoft, Word is particularly bad in this regard as well. Look for help in some formatting issue with Word and you’ll find that none of the UI elements being described to solve the problem exist any more. For one example, try opening a Word doc in read-only made. And if you *think* you’ve managed to open it in read-only mode, try making a change to it and pressing Save.

      • smf

        Even if they exist, the “helpful” person often doesn’t explain where to find any of the options listed & that is the most important thing.

        If I could have found it without help, I wouldn’t be looking for help

  • Ray

    To be honest, that sounds like every MS employee’s reply on Microsoft support forums recommending totally generic or unrelated steps to solve a problem first, which never change anything. You just do it to tell them “No, it didn’t work. But I tried it even though I knew it wouldn’t help.”

    • smf

      I didn’t think they actually expected you to try those unrelated solutions, I thought it was a creativity test.

  • Brian

    My favorite is when it fails on step 1 with an error like,
    “You appear to be trying to use [Long process X] to enable [feature Y]. However, [feature Y] is no longer supported via [Long process X]. Instead, please select, [enable feature Y] in the settings menu.”