“Bring Me a Rock”

The game runs something like this: Someone you work for asks you to bring them a rock—that’s all—just a rock. Eager to please, you go out into the yard and find the largest, most promising rock you think might suit your client’s tastes—say, a big white one with little sparkling flecks of quartz in it so it has a shiny exterior. You wash off the clots of mud so it seems presentable, and bring it to them.

Your client looks at the rock and says, “What the heck is this? I wanted a red rock!”

So you go back out to the yard and look for a red rock. You end up by the railroad tracks, which have some mighty nice, marble-like rocks that range from pink to a deep purple. You find the one closest to red, a nice hand-sized rock with some tiny veins of white thrown in for style, and you bring that in.

Your client looks at the rock and says, “What’s this—railroad bed gravel? I wanted a ruby!

Frowning slightly, you head back out, at least clearer on what the client wants. Heading for the nearest jewelry store, you strike up a conversation with the owner and explain what you think your client wants. Knowing you’re on a budget, the jeweler presents you with a rough-cut ruby, which he says he’ll cut to whatever size/shape the client wants. Gleefully, you head back to your client and present them with their requested ruby.

You explain, “I realize this might not quite be what you wanted, but I wanted you to have a look at it before the jeweler went back and shaped it.”

“That’s very considerate,” says the client. “I’d like this to have a Brilliant cut. It looks like you’re finally getting somewhere.”

Gritting your teeth in a grin, you take the ruby back to the jeweler and say, with an air of frustrated finality, “Make it a brilliant cut!”

The jeweler asks, “57 or 58 facets?”

“Oh, for gosh sakes…” A quick call to the client obtains your answer: 58 facets. The jeweler sets to work, and you relax with a Mylanta smoothie before taking it into the client.

The day you arrive with your brilliant-cut, 58-facet ruby, the client has another contractor in the room with them. When you present your ruby, with great fanfare, the client looks at it with only passing interest.

“Oh, that. We decided we didn’t need a ruby at the last staff meeting. We brought in Bill here to help us with a bicycle. You two work it out. I’ve given Bill all the direction he needs. Have fun!”

At which point you have to be restrained from cramming the ruby down your client’s throat.


Obviously, reality isn’t like this—most of the time. Ideally, you’re able to speak with your client or boss up front about what exactly they need so you don’t have to keep going back to them for instructions. However, there will be times when s/he just doesn’t know. A work situation might call for a simple memo or it might require a full-scale training class that has to be coordinated with Human Resources Compliance.

The object lesson of the Bring Me a Rock game is that you need to work with your customer and have a good enough rapport that you can ask why something is needed and be comfortable enough to suggest something else if you think it will fit the bill. Of course if you’ve got a client who likes playing Bring Me a Rock just to watch you jump through hoops, you might want to refer to my entry on soft skills. Some days, writing is the easy part of the job.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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3 Responses to “Bring Me a Rock”

  1. Waleed Ibrahim says:

    Bring Me a Rock, seems to me like to Beat around the bush, but why a client has to be so? Thanks and I’ll read your soft skills.

    • Bart Leahy says:

      Most of the time, I’d like to believe that the “Bring me a rock” game is unintentional: a customer needs something, they don’t know what, but they also have very clear ideas about what they don’t want, and they jump on that as soon as they see it.

      Other times, I have encountered individuals who like to watch others jump through hoops for their own amusement. It’s not nice, but usually the response is to grin and bear it until the request for the next rock comes along.

      Thanks for reading!


  2. Pingback: Writing a First Draft | Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication

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