Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Following orders is a grueling task

Do  you ever get the feeling that you are always getting orders to do this or do that?
Taking orders is OK if you are in the Army and your first sergeant is telling you what to do. In that situation, you had better follow his instructions or you could end up walking around picking up papers with a nail on the end of a stick, with a large “P” on your back, and a guy carrying a shotgun is following you.
That, of course, is a rather extreme example of what can happen when you don’t follow directions. What I have in mind at the moment is much benign.
I am thinking about more everyday orders, which come at you from every direction no matter what you are doing.
I mean, you can’t even pay a bill through the mail without somebody telling you what to do.
Just the other day (once a month, actually) I wrote a check to the gas company.
Some people, especially those who understand and are able to live comfortably with computers, pay bills electronically. I do not do that. And I don’t make bank deposits or withdrawals on a computer. Too many things can go wrong. I read about those terrible occurrences every day. They are frightening.
The Cleveland paper has a regular column about things that go wrong because people depend on computers to make financial transactions. You can lose your bank account, your house, all of your hair and your composure to boot if you use a computer to do all of your everyday chores for you.
But I digress.
I was talking about simply trying to pay a gas bill and encountering more “do this” orders than I was comfortable with.
Most business envelopes have a couple of instructions — you know, in case you are too dumb to figure them out for yourself.
You have already written the check, you have the check and the stub from the bill in one hand, and you are ready to put them in the envelope.
But when you open the envelope and prepare to lick the gummy part, the first thing you see is an order: “Put your account number on your signed check payable in U.S. dollars.”
I am constantly getting orders to put my account number on my check, no matter where the check is going.
I never do that. If the people in the office who open the envelope can’t keep from getting the checks and the payment stubs from getting mixed up, that is their problem, not mine.
There is no way I am going to pay the same bill twice just because some clerk can’t keep the checks and the stubs straight.
Of course, it may not be a clerk that is opening the envelope. It may be a machine. That is not my problem either. The company should invent better machines.
The next order aimed at me by the gas company is: “Fill out money orders completely and include your account number.”
That one I can understand. Money orders are different than checks. I suppose they can be trusted, but as a matter of policy, I never use them.
Order No. 3: “Use only blue or black ink.” I understand why Bob Feller used only black ink when signing autographs, because that is the American League color, and the National League uses blue ink (I hope I don’t have that reversed) and the distinction is important to him as a matter of pride and policy.
But why should the gas company care? If I used red ink, or green ink, would that invalidate the check?
(Don’t tell me that a machine is reading the checks, and it can only read black or blue ink. I don’t want to hear about that.)
No. 4: “Do not fold, staple or use paper clips.” We all know that one. Why would anybody want to fold a bill, staple it or clip things together? Somebody would just have to take them apart. That is a lot of extra work. Studies have shown that companies have spent hundreds of thousands or dollars removing staple and paper clips. The gas company would just have to raise the price of gas to pay the extra people doing this unnecessary work.
No. 5: “Do not send cash, stamps or rebate coupons.” I suppose there are people who actually do this. Obviously, it is not a good idea. For one thing, the person opening the envelope might grab a couple of bucks before turning the rest over to the company. With a check you cannot do that.
No. 6: “Do not include correspondence.” That should be at the top of the list. There are probably people who pay bills who can’t resist the urge to let off a little steam — to get a deeply held gripe off his or her chest.
No, don’t do that. Find a better way. Call the president of the company and tell him your gripe.
If he is any kind of an executive, he will listen to you and take immediate action.
That is a list of “commands” that comes every month with the gas bill. And that is only the gas bill.
Think of all the other mail you get every day or so that comes with a set of instructions telling you to do this or don’t do that.
It can be suffocating. I am all for having a brave new world with a lot fewer orders.


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