Sometimes I need to approach a persistent problem with a new way of thinking. The Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez said, “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” His image reminds me to always be my own person, but it also challenges me to think creatively. Turning the paper sideways is like looking at situations from different angles.
Henry L. Mencken said it first: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.” And how often I am determined to keep pounding on that simple and neat solution until I make it work, or else I finally give up altogether. But success will surprisingly come when I decide to look at the thing from a wholly different perspective.
Several all night convenience stores in New York City learned something about viewing problems another way. Evidently, some of the stores had a problem with teenagers hanging out in their parking lots late into the night. Not that they didn’t like kids; they liked them very much. But customers complained that they were afraid to approach them in the dark and push through them to enter the store. Neighbors complained that couldn’t sleep with the noise. And store personnel were worried about the well-being of the young people themselves. Late at night, these neighborhoods were unsafe.
Managers tried various methods to solve the problem. They asked the kids to find a safer place to congregate. They asked them to move away from the doors so customers didn’t have to push through them. They asked them to discard their cigarette butts and trash in outdoor receptacles and not litter the parking lot. Each solution was simple, neat and completely ineffective. It seems that any of them should have worked. But none of them did and many of the store managers eventually gave up in frustration on solving the problem.
Finally, one man came up with an unusual idea. He decided he had been approaching the situation all wrong. Asking the teens to change their behavior didn’t work, so he tried something different. He just piped easy-listening music into the parking lot -- slow, soothing instrumentals especially suited for mature listeners.
No more loitering.
Sometimes we just need to look at things differently. Again and again we butt up against the same old problem. It may involve a child or parent, a friend or lover. It might be a problem with a co-worker. Maybe it’s just a complex situation we’re working through, or a personal problem with which we can’t seem to make any headway. And so far, everything we’ve tried has failed. Perhaps it’s time to turn the paper around and write the other way; to look at the problem a whole new way.
Here’s a good question to ask: “How can I come at this thing from a different angle?” Because there is likely something you’re not seeing.
A father and his daughter were stopped by a flight attendant before boarding their plane. The problem? The little girl was clutching a large bouquet of balloons. In sympathetic tones, the attendant told the child that she would not be permitted to travel with all of the balloons. “Only one is allowed per passenger,” she said in a voice that concluded there’s nothing to be done. After all, rules are rules.
Father and daughter decided they could each carry one. So with tears in her eyes, the little child selected her two favorite balloons for the flight. But before she could discard the rest, another passenger intervened. “Here, I’ll take one,” he said. He quickly saw a solution to the problem and proceeded to give one balloon to anybody in line who would take one. As she disembarked, every balloon was returned to the happy child.
Here was a man who just looked at the problem a different way. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing be done,” he turned the paper sideways and the answer was clear.
When you turn your paper sideways, what do you see?
-- Steve Goodier
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