How do you write really good instructions? Lego versus Meccano


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If you’ve read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, you’ll know that one of the questions that Sophie receives during her mysterious philosophical journey is this:

  • “Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”

The writer didn’t ask why Meccano was the most ingenious toy.

And clearly, the answer has to do with the creativity that Lego inspires. But I also think part of the ingenuity of lego is to do with the instructions.

I should declare my biases up front. I’m 45 and I’ve been playing with Lego for a long time.

This includes for the last 17 years with three kids. Two girls and a boy. In this time I’ve tried a handful of Meccano projects compared with countless lego kits including Duplo.

Meccano, if you don’t know, predates Lego. My Dad grew up with Meccano before they invented Lego.

Think nuts and bolts and metal struts. Except now it’s plastic.

Meccano used to be the bomb. At least in 1950. Or something. But man… now Lego is the bomb. Lego rules over Meccano.

And not just in terms of versatility. I’m talking about how they write instructions.

Giving clear instructions is really hard. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had to follow anyone else’s.

First off though, you have to pitch your instructions at the right level. And that means you need to know who you’re writing to. The audience in other words.

Lego totally nails this. I have total confidence that if I buy a Lego kit that says for age 8 to 10 it will absolutely work for this age group.

The Meccano set my wife came home with the other day was for my son.

He’s just turned eight. Which seemed perfect because that’s what the kit said on the packet. For 8 years old.

Normally, he can concentrate for hours on stuff like Lego. And to give him credit, he persisted for a decent amount of time.

But eventually, he gave up in frustration. There were tears… there were raised voices… Crying etc.

So I gave it a go the other day. The outcome was basically the same.

Not only would I need four hands to complete the task, it was like I couldn’t understand the instructions and there seemed to be pieces missing or that didn’t match.

Comparatively speaking, there is no comparison. Granted, it’s not all about the instructions.

But if you want to learn how to write instructions, you need to go no further than the Lego best practice playbook which must read something like this:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Pitch the instructions at their level.
  3. Use colour, diagrams, images.
  4. Include all the resources the audience needs.
  5. Use words only when necessary.
  6. Love the product.

How to win $15 million dollars for developing a literacy and numeracy training solution: Global Learning XPRIZE


If you could develop a scalable, tablet based, individualised learning solution for teaching basic literacy and numeracy to kids in developing countries, you could win $15 million dollars. It’s a competition and it’s happening right now.

You can read about it here on the xPrize website, and I’ve pasted in the details below as well. Got any ideas? Here you go:

The challenge

Develop new learning solutions to empower children and communities around the world

The $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE is a competition that challenges teams from around the world to develop open source scalable software solution that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

The $15 million dollar prize will be awarded as follows

Five finalist:  $1 million each will be awarded by the Judging Panel to teams with the best proposed solutions.

Grand prize winner:   $10 million will be awarded to the top performing team solution based on the field testing of the teams.

Need for the Competition

Grand Challenge

An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills. Many of these children are in developing countries without regular access to quality schools or teachers.

In fact, UNESCO estimates that the world will need 1.6 million more teachers globally by 2015.  And that number is set to double by 2030.

The Market Failure

While programs exist to build schools and train teachers, traditional models of education are not able to scale fast enough to meet demand. We simply cannot build enough schools or train enough teachers to meet the need.

We are at a pivotal moment where an alternative, radical approach is necessary.  We need an approach that will eliminate the existing barriers to a quality learning experience, where the seeds of innovation can be imparted to every child, regardless of location or economic status.

Solution

The learning solutions developed by this prize will enable a child to learn autonomously. And, those created by the finalists will be open-sourced for all to access, iterate and share. This technology could be deployed around the world, bringing learning experiences to children otherwise thought unreachable, who do not have access to quality education, and supplementing the learning experiences of children who do.

Impact

The impact will be exponential. Children with basic literacy skills have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. And that’s not all.  By enabling a child to learn how to learn, that child has opportunity – to live a healthy and productive life, to provide for their family and their community, as well as to contribute toward a peaceful, prosperous and abundant world.

XPRIZE believes that innovation can come from anywhere and that many of the greatest minds remain untapped.

What might the future look like with hundreds of millions of additional young minds unleashed to tackle the world’s Grand Challenges?