Solve Problems By Not Solving Them

by Randy Murray on April 1, 2014

When friends are struggling with a seemingly insurmountable problems I often tell them this old joke:

Question: How do you get down off an elephant?

Answer: You don’t. You get down off a duck.

And the usual reply is a frown and a puzzled “I don’t get it.”

The joke has two important components: the use of “down” as a pun. Duck down is the fluffy underfeathers that are used for making warm jackets and comforters. Elephants do not have feathers. You only get down from ducks.

And the second part: elephants are really big and tall. If you’re up on one it’s hard to get off it and back to the ground.

And the key to this and to solving problems: Don’t get down off the elephant. Don’t get up there in the first place. Get up on something easy to get down from. Like a duck.

A lot of really difficult problems don’t need solving. In fact, if you find that you are completely flummoxed, ignore the problem, even for just a moment, and this pause may allow you to concentrate and solve another problem that will lead you to ultimate success.

Here’s an example: men who shave their faces often find it very difficult to shave above their lips and around their chins. My recommendation (and the solution that I use): don’t shave there. I wear a Van Dyke (a goatee is only the chin). Now my shaving routine is simple, fast, and effective. I think that the Van Dyke looks good on me, too. How do you successfully shave your lips and chin? Don’t shave them! Don’t get up on the elephant in the first place.

All of which leads me to my ultimate point about problem solving: when you’re stuck, step away and solve something easy. The big problem might not need solving at all.

This approach might not work for every problem that you encounter, but the mindset can serve you well. How do I do this big, really difficult thing? Don’t do it at all. Do that easier thing for now.

How the elephant got in my pajamas I dunno.

Solve Problems By Not Solving Them by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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