Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lateral Thinking

Another 'lateral thinking' item, this one proves to me that I'm not fit to survive in the real world.


Many years ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a village money-lender. The money-lender, who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer's beautiful daughter. He proposed a bargain. He said he would forgive the farmer's debt if he could marry his daughter.

Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal. The cunning money-lender suggested that they let providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. The girl would pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, 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.

They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the farmer's field. As they talked, the money-lender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He asked the girl to pick a pebble from the bag.

Now, imagine you were standing in the field. What would you have done if you were the girl? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her? Careful analysis would produce three possibilities:

1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble.

2. The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the money lender as a cheat.

3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment.

Take a moment to consider the story. It is used in the hope that it will make us appreciate the difference between lateral and logical thinking. The girl's dilemma cannot be solved with traditional logical thinking. Think of the consequences if she chooses the above logical answers. What would you recommend the girl do?

The girl 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.

"Oh, 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 is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the money-lender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

Most complex problems do have a simple solution. We just don't usually think them through to achieve an answer.

Lesson learned by Susan: Don't even try to live by your wits! It never once occurred to me to try a 'tricky' approach. My solution was to simply draw out both pebbles and expose the deceit. As my friend Sender would have said "This will not help you, Susan!"

1 Comments:

At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Clare said...

Me too, Susan! I've been looking at quite a few lateral thinking problems recently and still didn't come up with the solution to this one. It is a bit tricksy, though, isn't it?

 

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