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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box


The most memorable college class I took was a business course that included sessions on ‘thinking outside the box’. The purpose was to make us look beyond our limited horizons and search for alternative solutions to problems. My favorite problem was one that had been used at MIT where the class, working together, had 4 hours to solve the problem; every student received the same final grade entirely dependent upon solving the problem – A or F for all.

 The class was locked into a classroom. A full 5 gallon water dispenser was permanently attached to the counter top. Class members had to empty their pockets so brought nothing into the room but what they wore, and they were cautioned that they could not use any part of their clothing. Items in the classroom that were available for their use were pens, pencils, scissors, paper clips, thumb tacks, erasers and chalk. A six inch deep hole, 1/8th inch larger around than a ping pong ball, had been drilled into the concrete floor. The professor dropped a ping pong ball into the hole then told the class that their problem was to remove the ping pong ball without damaging it. 

I urge you to come up with your solution to the problem described above and then read on. 

 The Small Business Administration presents the following tips for making wise decisions.

1)  Define, as specifically as possible, what the decision is that needs to be made.
         Is this really your decision or should someone else make it?
         Do you really need to make a decision? (You need at least two options first!)
         When does the decision need to be made?
         Why is this decision important to you?
2)  Brainstorm, and write down as many alternatives as you can think of.
        Use your resources (experienced friends, family, the Internet, etc.) to develop alternatives
        Determine the implications of each option.
        Visualize the outcome of each alternative. Do you feel more satisfied with one or the other?
3)  Do a reality check. Cross off those alternatives that most likely will not occur.
4)  Make your decision.
        Get moving on it.
        Worrying or second-guessing yourself will only cause stress.
        You have done your very best. Remember, no decision is set in stone!

 I didn’t forget – In our class, each group brainstormed for 5 minutes, agreed upon a solution then reported to the class. Four of our groups didn’t have workable solutions but two of the six groups came up with the same solution used by the MIT students to pass their exam. That solution was presented in my group, but was deemed too repulsive to be adopted. The solution is for every person to drink as much water as they can, repeatedly, then urinate into the hole. The ping pong ball remains undamaged and floats to the top of the hole.