One day my boss came into my office and slammed a manila folder on my desk.
“I can’t deal with this anymore. I need you to finish this up.”
“It” was the Branch Guidebook, a small manual intended to provide basic instructions on church programs for isolated branches that were usually so small they would be held in someone’s house. My boss had gotten input from all of the relevant organizations (priesthood and auxiliaries), and each had a brief section outlining what their programs were, when and how to run meetings, and which manuals to use. With photographs, the manual was 28 pages long.
Or at least it was, until one of the Seventy got a hold of it. My boss showed me where this GA had scrawled in red ink across the cover NO!!!!! (underlined three times for emphasis) and written a scathing review of the document. The guidebook, he said, was “a mile wide of the mark” and should, if anything, be reduced and simplified. Otherwise, it was just trying to “export Wasatch Front culture” to other countries’ cultures. At most, he said, it should be 12 pages.
“I can’t do it,” my boss repeated. “Everyone is happy with this, except Elder [I’m not going to say it]. It simply can’t be cut to 12 pages and still be of any use.”
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Find out what he wants, and give him his 12 pages.”
I called the GA’s secretary and was told that he wanted 12 pages, including the photos, and that all of the organizations should have merely a one- or two-sentence blurb with no information about how to run the organizations.
Thus mandated, I started hacking until it was 12 pages. Mind you, it said next to nothing about anything, but it was 12 pages, so help me. The GA was thrilled and said, “This is exactly what I was looking for.” The guidebook was published and distributed, although every organization affected complained.
And then a strange thing happened. These little branches who had received the guidebook started flooding the church offices with letters asking for more information about how to run their branches and organizations. So, my boss and I ended up taking what he had originally written for the guidebook for each organization and putting each on a separate page. So, when someone wrote in about, say, Relief Society, they were sent back a single page with the original information about Relief Society. The same was true for every other question about organizations and auxiliaries.
It seemed as if the branches actually wanted us to be “a mile wide of the mark,” and in the end, we duplicated effort, first by gutting the original, and then by rewriting and reprinting it separately.
I notice that the current Branch Guidebook is 27 pages, one less than my boss’s original. I would bet money that most of its contents come from that original draft.