"Here's the scenario," the instructor announced to his class of novice truck
drivers. "You're in an 18-wheeler with a heavy load, barreling down a mountainous
two-lane highway. Ed, your co-driver, is asleep. There are six trucks behind you, and as
you come over the top of a hill, they pull out beside you to pass. Suddenly, you see
several trucks coming in the opposite direction, pulling into your lane to pass. What did
"That's simple," a student called out. "I'd wake up Ed."
"Why would you do that?" asked the instructor.
"Because," replied the student, "Ed ain't never seen a truck wreck like
Contributed by Donald Ballar, Reader's Digest.
It's so much easier to suggest solutions when you don't know too much about the
Malcolm Forbes, The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm (Harper
The Duke of Glouscester, commenting at a luncheon meeting in London: "A
home-accident survey showed that 90 percent of accidents on staircases involved either the
top or the bottom stair. This information was fed back into the computer to analyze how
accidents could be reduced. The computer's answer: 'Remove the top and bottom
In some of the outlying areas of British Columbia, Canada, farmers have been plagued
with wolves killing their livestock. Meetings have been held with farmers,
environmentalists and concerned citizens in a move to solve the problem. The majority of
the local people favored shooting or poisoning the marauding wolves. At one meeting a
woman strode to the microphone, listed her impressive credentials and explained her
solution. "Vasectomy is the answer," she thundered. "Simply trap the wolves
humanely, neuter the males and release them." One grizzled old sheep farmer rose to
his feet. "Ma'am," he said in a gruff voice, "no disrespect meant, you
bein' an expert, but them wolves is killin' my sheep, not makin' love to 'em."
Contributed by Charles Bonner, Reader's Digest, August, 1979.
During one of Franklin Roosevelt's election campaigns his campaign manager was about to
print 3,000,000 copies of his acceptance speech with an accompanying photograph. At that
point, it was discovered that the photographer had never given his permission for the use
of this photograph. According to the copyright laws, you can be fined a dollar per copy
for publishing unauthorized photographs, and that's roughly $3,000,000. The campaign
manager was in a panic, but instead of wasting time finding out who slipped up, he
shouldered the blame and cabled the photographer and said, "I have a plan that could
mean a great deal of publicity for you. What's it worth to you if I use your photo on this
campaign material?" The photographer cabled back, "I can't afford more than
$250.00." It was a deal.
Returning home one afternoon with my two daughters, Kimberley, age two, and Kristi, six
months, I pulled into my driveway and stopped to check the mailbox. But when I returned to
the car, I found Kimberley had pushed the locks down on both doors -- and I had left the
key in the ignition. For an hour I tried to explain to Kimberley how to pull up the door
handle. I was on the verge of tears. My husband wasn't home, and since we live in the
country, there were no neighbors to help.
Finally Kimberley stood up and softly tapped on the window. As I looked down at her,
she said, "Mommy, do you want me to roll down the window?"
Diane Prestwood (Magee, Miss.).
Edward deBono, the Oxford exponent of lateral thinking, suggests that when we can't
solve a problem using traditional methods, we should try "detours and
reversals," anything that will give us a different angle from which to ponder
solutions. To illustrate, he tells this story about a problem faced by executives of a
The company had moved into a new skyscraper and discovered that the builder apparently
had not put in enough elevators. Employees were disgruntled because there were long waits
for the elevators, especially at both ends of the working day. The company got a wide
cross-section of the staff together and asked them to sit down and solve the problem. The
task force came up with four possible solutions:
1. Speed up the elevators, or arrange for them to stop at certain floors during rush
2. Stagger working hours to reduce elevator demand at either end of the day.
3. Install mirrors around entrances to all elevators.
4. Drive a new elevator shaft through the building.
Which solution would you have chosen?
According to Professor deBono, if you chose the first, second, or fourth solutions,
then you are a "vertical" or traditional thinker. If you chose the third
possibility, then you are a "lateral thinker." The vertical thinker takes the
narrow view; the lateral thinker has a broader view.
After some consideration, the company chose the third solution. It worked.
"People became so preoccupied with looking at themselves (or surreptitiously at
others)," said deBono, "that they no longer noticed the wait for the elevator.
The problem was not so much the lack of elevators as the impatience of the
Bits & Pieces, August 22, 1991.
Executives who get there and stay suggest solutions when they present the problems.
Malcolm S. Forbes.
Charles Eliet had a problem. He had a contract to build an engineering marvel-a
suspension bridge over the Niagara River. But he had no way of stretching his first cable
between the shores. Any boat that tried to cross the falls would be swept over. Then Eliet
hit on an idea. If a kite carrying a cord could be flown across the river, the cord could
then be used to pull larger cables across. So Eliet announced a kite-flying contest, and a
young man named Homan Walsh responded. On Walsh's first attempt the kite's cord broke with
it caught in the river's ice, but on his next try he succeeded in flying his kite to the
opposite shore of the river. The vital link was established, and the bridge built.
Today in the Word, MBI, August, 1991, p. 6.
"My car won't start when I buy pistachio." The manager of a Texas automobile
dealership thought the woman who confronted him with this bizarre statement must be crazy.
It seems that on hot summer days she would drive to a certain shop for ice cream to take
home. It never failed, she said: the car would always start when she bought chocolate,
vanilla or strawberry -- but when she bought pistachio, she got stranded.
The manager had to see this to believe it. He tried a chocolate trip, and the car
worked fine. Vanilla or strawberry -- no problem. Then came the trip for pistachio and,
sure enough, the engine refused to start.
It was an engineering troubleshooter whose insight solved the problem. He observed that
chocolate, vanilla and strawberry were pre-packaged flavors, sold right out of the
freezer. But take-home orders of pistachio were hand-packed at the shop. The time needed
to have the pistachio packed was just enough for the car to develop vapor lock in the
summertime Texas heat. The woman wasn't crazy after all -- her car wouldn't start when she
Bulletin of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn., quoted
in News and Views, Reader's Digest, August 1979, p. 86.
A severe rash prompted a man from a rural area to come to town to be examined by one of
my colleagues. After the usual history-taking followed by a series of test, the physician
advised the patient that he would have to get rid of the dog that was evidently causing
the allergic reaction. As the man was preparing to leave the office, my colleague asked
him out of curiosity if he planned to sell the animal or give it away."Neither
one," the patient replied. "I'm going to get me one of them second opinions I
been reading about. It's a lot easier to find a doctor than a good bird dog."
George Hawkins, M.D. in Medical Economics, in Reader's
British journalist Alistair Cooke has made a career out of writing about the U.S. In
the process he has built an imposing library of books about the various regions of the
country that covers an entire wall. He was always having trouble finding what he needed,
so he bagan seeking an effective way to arrange them. Initially, he placed the books on
the shelves alphabetically by the author's names. That didn't work, because he had trouble
remembering who had written what. Then he tried arranging them alphabetically by states.
That posed problems, too, because some of the books were about regions, like New England
or the Great Plains. Finally, he hit upon a solution. Books about New England went on
shelves in the upper right hand corner. Books about the Great Plains states went in the
middle. Books about the southwestern states were placed on the lower left. When Cooke was
researching any state or region, all he had to do was look at the area on the library wall
that corresponded to that area on the map of the U.S.
Bits & Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 11.
Nothing clouds your mind like dogma. Dogma can come from an outside authority or it can
be self-generated from one's past successes. Here are some examples:
None other than Plato himself dictated that the circle was the perfect form for
celestial mevement, and for the next two thousand years, astronomers said that planetary
orbits were circular--even though their observations didn't quite jibe with that. Even
Copernicus used circles in his heliocentric model of the universe. Only after much
soul-searching did Kepler use the ellipse to describe the heavenly paths.
Joseph Semmelweiss, the 19th century Hungarian physicain, felt that doctors could
reduce disease by washing their hands in chlorinated lime water before inspecting their
patients. His colleagues--because they thought that doctors were close to God--strongly
resented his suggestion that they were 'carrying death around on their hands,' and
denounced him. The later discovery of bacteria proved Semmelweiss correct.
Having a big success with one set of assumptions can easily create a dogmatic outlook.
Edison founded the electricity supply industry using direct current (DC). This prevented
him from seeing both the benefits of alternating current (AC) and that the future of the
industry lay with that type of current.
Henry Ford had been successful making cars available in only one color ("Any color
you want as long as it's black'). He believed that he had a formula that worked, and he
didn't want to change it. This prevented him from seeing the rise of a post World War I
consumer class that wanted a variety of styles and colors from which to choose. As a
result, Ford lost market share to General Motors.
In order to make good decisions, your judge should avoid falling in love with
ideas--especially those that have brought him success in the past." For every complex
problem there is a simple solution--and it is always wrong.
Roger van Oech, A Kick In the Seat of the Pants, Harper
Another technique to find more answers is to change the wording in your questions.
Here's an example of how such a strategy can work. Several centuries ago, a curious but
deadly plague appeared in a small village in Lithuania. What was curious about this
disease was its grip on its victim; as soon as a person contracted it, he would go into a
very deep almost deathlike coma. Most individuals would die within twenty-four hours, but
occasionally a hardy soul would make it back to the full bloom of health. The problem was
that since early eighteenth century medical technology was not very advanced, the
unaffiliated had quite a difficult time telling whether a victim was dead or alive. This
didn't matter too much, though, because most of the people were, in fact, dead.
Then one day it was discovered that someone had been buried alive. This alarmed the
townspeople, so they called a town meeting to decide what should be done to prevent such a
situation from happening again. After much discussion, most people agreed on the following
solution. They decided to put food and water in every casket next to the body. They would
even put an air hole up from the casket to the earth's surface. These procedures would be
expensive, but they would be more than worthwhile if they would save some people's lives.
Another group came up with a second, less expensive, right answer. They proposed
implanting a twelve inch long steak in every coffin lid directly over where the victim's
heart would be. Then whatever doubts there were about whether the person was dead or alive
would be eliminated as soon as the coffin lid was closed.
What differentiated the two solutions were the questions used to find them. Whereas the
first group asked, "What should we do in the event we bury somebody alive?", the
second group wondered, "How can we make sure everyone we bury is dead?"
A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von
Books, 1983, pp. 25-26.
I awoke one night to discover that a squirrel had managed to get into the house. I
tried for about an hour to get him out, but even my flailing broom wouldn't budge him.A
bit frightened, I called the fire department. The fireman who answered said he would
consult his mates for an idea. I heard him yell, "Hey, this lady's got a squirrel in
her house and can't get it out." I heard another voice yell in the background,
"Tell her to go out in the yard and act like a nut."
Reader's Digest, Ann Bradley (Peculiar, Mo.)
"Doc, you've got to help me!" came the frantic call to the psychiatrist.
"They guy next door thinks he's in an opera. He sings day and night at the top of his
lungs. It's driving me crazy!" "Send him to me," said the shrink. A week
later, the caller phoned again, sounding much calmer, "Doctor, I don't know how you
did it, but he's not singing anymore. Did you cure his delusion?" "Not
exactly," the psychiatrist replied. "I just gave him a much smaller part."
Kevin Shay, in Reader's Digest.
The story is told of a man who lived for years in fear of strange, hideous animals who
would hide under his bed and come out at night to prowl the room. One day the man told a
friend, "My brother finally solved my problem." "Oh, is he a
psychiatrist?" the friend asked. "No, a carpenter. He cut the legs off my