Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Optimist, the Pessimist and the Physicist

The Optimist says: 'This glass is half full.'
The Pessimist says: 'This glass is half empty.'
The Physicist wonders why they are using the wrong glass.

We are often encouraged by trainers and professional development consultants to 'think out of the box' or 'out of the square'. The implication is that by changing the parameters, we may find more creative solutions to our problems. The assumption though is that we have correctly identified the problems we have.

Both the Optimist and the Pessimist have assumed that there is not enough water in their glass. The Physicist wonders why the Optimist and the Pessimist are using the wrong glass to hold the right amount of water. This is not looking for a creative solution to the 'problem', but a redefining of the problem itself. Rather than 'thinking out of the box' the Physicist has thrown the box away.

Many will have heard the story of the boy who fills his bucket with stones, but then discovers that there is still room for pebbles and then still more room for sand and then water. Recently at a PD session we were told by a consultant that if the bucket were the employees' total working hours that there was a limit to what would fit in the bucket. Until one employee pointed out that the consultant's idea of the bucket was that all employees work from 9 to 5 with a break for lunch. She redefined the problem by removing the 9 to 5 restriction – not by requiring more hours from each employee but by freeing up resources employees need to do their jobs efficiently. She threw away the bucket.

'Thinking out of the box' first requires a box (or a bucket). Once we have defined a box for ourselves we limit our ability to think beyond, not just out of those limits.

Get rid of the box!

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