Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Can You Solve the Problem? Are There More Solutions?

Are you frustrated with your job situation?  Do you see any alternatives?  Or do you see yourself as stuck with no way out?  I have recently been very involved in problem solving as I try to help my mom and step dad plan for illness and other life changing situations.  Sometimes, you have to get a new perspective to solve a problem.  Here’s an example of what seems to be an impossible problem and how a very resourceful girl solved it. What would you do?

A farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the village moneylender.  The old and ugly moneylender fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter, so he offered to make the farmer a deal.  He would forgive the farmer’s debt if he could marry his daughter.  Both the farmer and the daughter were horrified by the proposal, but the sly moneylender then said he would let chance decide her fate.  He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty moneybag.  The girl would reach in and pick one pebble from the bag.  If she picked the black one, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven.  If she picked the white pebble, she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven.  If she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail until the debt was paid.  Pretty scary situation, huh?
Since they were standing on a pebble-strewn path, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles as they talked.  The sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag.  He then asked the girl to pick a pebble.  Imagine you are the one faced with this dilemma.  What would you do?  It seems there are three possibilities:
  • She could refuse to take a pebble and send her father to jail
  • She could pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from debt
  • She could pull out both black pebbles from the bag, expose the moneylender as a cheat, and likely incite his immediate revenge.  He does after all have the upper hand.

Maybe you feel like you too are stuck in a situation with limited resources and only a couple of choices.  I know I often feel this way myself.  But are you limiting yourself?  Are you viewing it as an either or situation when there are actually more options?  Have you explored all the possibilities?  Researched it?  Asked others for counsel or their perspective?  Are you leaving yourself open to unusual possibilities?

Here’s what our clever girl did in her seemingly impossible situation.  She put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble.  Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path, where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.  “How clumsy of me,” she said.  “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”  Since the remaining pebble was black, it would have to be assumed that she had picked the white one.  And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl would have changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.  Can you do the same with your situation?  Can you change an impossible situation into an advantageous one?

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