Thursday, January 3, 2008

Solving Problems

I am interested in how people solve problems. I've posted about problem solving before in Insight and Instructions and probably others. And other blogger friends have touched on problem solving as well. The Alzheimer's forums are full of shared ideas on solving one problem or another because there are many problems to be solved when caring for someone with Alzheimer's.

When I feed the horses I am reminded of an example of problem solving excellence. We have these two polypropylene feeders that we put the oats in. A long while back the feeders were just sitting out in the corral. The horses get pretty excited when it is time to eat and they are large and pretty rambunctious. And Judy and her mom are both pretty small. Judy's niece was visiting one day and became worried about her aunt and grandmother entering the corral to feed the horses. So she thought about it and conceived a simple solution. She hauled those feeders up to the fence, tied them there with bailing wire, and filled some large trash cans outside the corral with oats. This allowed anyone to feed the horses without entering the corral. Then once they are occupied eating it is safe to fill the water tank. Pretty darn good solution.

Now I had fed the horses myself on several occasions when the feeders were out there in the corral. And I had noticed that the horses were pretty excited when it was time to eat. In fact they are pretty funny about it. And I also worried about the two tiny women going into the corral at the same time. But I never really thought about moving the feeders.

I suppose I didn't really consider it to even be a problem that required solving. I just kept doing what was being done before while vaguely recognizing there were risks.

I remember this psychological test that I read about once. Several people were individually given some donut shaped, plastic rings and taken to a room where there was a line drawn on the floor and about 10' from the line was a vertical rod. The participants were taken to the line and told to place as many rings on the rod as possible in a certain amount of time and then left alone. Roughly half of the people tried to toss the rings onto the rod from the line. They'd retrieve the misses, return to the line, and keep trying until all the rings were on the rod or they ran out of time. The other half just walked over to the rod and placed the rings on it all at once. This was presented as an example of "thinking outside the box."

And I really admire the ingenuity and determination of both groups. But I do really wonder why one assumes they have to remain at the line and the other doesn't.

Another "thinking outside the box" example a lot of people have seen is the one where there are 9 points arranged on a page in 3 rows by 3 columns. Then you are supposed to connect the 9 points with 4 straight lines without lifting your pencil. Turns out there are several surprising solutions to this one.

Thinking outside the box - a good thing - a very good thing - as Martha might say.

Two things occur to me about problem solving. The first is that it is really easy to fail to see that a problem exists. There are so many examples where otherwise good, intelligent people have just continued doing the same old stuff over and over and not even noticed that there was a problem. That's where it is good to get some more participation especially of other people who are a bit outside the task at hand.

The second thing is to be willing to solicit advice and take it from a good cross-section of people. Good solutions don't necessarily have to come only from experts in a field. In fact the experts may be too close to the subject to really get outside the box.

If I had the opportunity to convince young children of one thing I think I might use the opportunity to tell them that their opinion counts and they might just be the one person to see the problem or maybe to see the best solution.

Musings about solving problems.


Lori1955 said...

I had to laugh as I read this. I would be the person standing at the line throwing the rings. Guess I'm not a good problem solver.

~Betsy said...

Judy's neice must be a wonderful horse person! We use binder twine for everything! Smart girl - very smart. When the horses start nudging and kicking to get at the food, it's time to think outside the box!

Great post, Terry.

dave said...

No horses here, just an old mule (me). Real problem solving for my beloved has gone away, thanks to our friend Alz.
Artists don't have boxes, btw!

SKYGIRL said...

O Flinty, you make me laugh! My Horse was hit by a Car, it was very trumatic, full of Draa, and I watched. I guess that is why "The Hosre Whiperer" always brings me to tears.

Anyway, he survived,(The vet said he was not suitable for a 13 year-old girl!) nobody wanted me to have him. He got really angry & mean, and some how I knew he was just scared & hurting from his accident, so we would have to run the food in, and then run out, as he chased us with barred teeth, and pinned back ears! He healed, and we had a good many years left together.

You would have laughed at me today, thinking I am some kind of big-shot marketing director! (Maybe I should be!) Remember that fancy bank that I took video of, so impressiv brick, and with the place for the clock? Well, I drove by today, and the clock was finally up, but not set, not keeping time? For some reason I thought that I would know when that Bank was open, because that clock would start ticking! But as I drove by, I saw the big Banner "We Are Open!"

I went in and told them my feelings about that, and perhpas it was an over-sight, but bad for business! HA! I think they spent 10Million Dollars on building this Bank, all Mahogney, and Slate, Marble, Chandeleirs, etc, and forgot to set that Clock! LOL!

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

I love your problem solving comparison between those who tossed the rings and those who walked up and placed the rings over the rod. I would toss, at first, just for the challenge, then, I'd most likely place them over the rod, just so I could say I did it. I'm not sure if that's problem solving or just pure stubborness and finding a way to accomplish the task. I guess a little of both isn't bad. :D