Problem Solving

I sat in the garden this morning, throwing pebbles at a golf ball twenty-five feet away. I was precise with my aim on each throw. Trying my best. Weighting the pebble, adjusting from the last miss. I threw fifty and not one hit the target.

I scooped up a handful of pebbles. Say I had about a dozen or so in my hand. I tossed them all at the golf ball. Ping! First throw. The target went flying.

And so we have the concept of brainstorming.

In 2001 I was working for the internet service provider Freeserve. It was a peculiar place. With some interesting characters on the team. There was porn star Claire. Attractive and well-endowed with the intelligence of a whelk. Dodgy Paul who somehow acquired 200 pairs of Rockport boots to sell. Then there was Scott Rhodes, unable to get credit after his flatmate took out some Blockbuster videos on his membership card. The flatmate moved out a few weeks later, taking the videos with him. Rhodesy ignored the demands from Blockbuster. Took no notice of the angry letters. Then he got the CCJ and stung with a bill for £750. All this for ‘Porky’s 3’ and ‘Convoy’. As he said himself: ‘I wouldn’t mind so much, but I never got to watch either of them.’ Sat next to me was Nick. Periodically growing a beard, big American-style smile. Playing online games and hooking up with girls from school on Friends Reunited.

We had monthly team meetings in the conference room. A white wall down one side, a floor to ceiling window down the other, a coffee machine and a huge board table made from blonde wood. I remember one meeting. ‘I’ve been working on a problem,’ Kelly – the Team Leader – said. ‘And I’d like you to come up with ideas with me.’ The discussion was how we could deal with unsatisfied customers. Kelly said: ‘So I’m going to throw it open to the group. Give me what you’ve got. Be wild. Go crazy.’

After an embarrassed silence Kelly got us started herself. ‘Sympathize,’ she said, writing the word on a white board in black pen. And the floodgates opened. ‘Offer solutions,’ the fat girl with glasses remarked. ‘Nice one, Jane,’ Kelly said, turning to the board. Rhodesy offered: ‘Listen and respond.’ One more to be noted down. Like my pebbles at the golf ball, we were thinking as a group. Problem solving en masse. Banging down another cracking idea on the wall, Kelly turned, getting into the groove. With a shrug Chevy Chase-look-a-like Nick said: ‘Just hang up on ‘em.’

Ping! Four words: nail on the head.

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