Ping Pong Ball

Everything is obvious with hindsight - it's having great foresight that matters. Also a good example of how many problems are in our head, rather than in the external world...
Effective Storytelling - Podcast

The team were on a problem solving team day. Their challenge:

to get a ping pong ball from the bottom of a long glass cylinder. The could use anything in the room, but the glass cylinder could not be moved, tilted or lifted. The cylinder was too tall and narrow to get a hand or fingers in – it was just wide enough to take the ping pong ball.

There were lots of objects on the table that might come in useful, including:

  • metal coat hanger
  • blutak
  • string
  • Sellotape
  • knitting needles
  • A4 sheets of paper

The team struggled with the task for a full 45 minutes – the maximum time allowed, but the task defeated them.

Deflated and cross, the team confronted the organisers, insisting that the task was impossible. The organiser replied: “No, because we told you that you could use anything in the room – and you haven’t”. The team looked around the room, but could see nothing of any use.

Then the organiser pointed out the sink in the corner of the room. Immediately the solution became obvious. Filling the cylinder with water would float the ball to the surface! But there was no container, and neither the cylinder nor the sink could be moved. The organiser pointed to the paper, and quickly made a cone, which could carry water…..

Too often problems are not ‘out there’, but ‘in here’ – ie in how we see things, and what we assume. The team had been focused on the resources on the table, and not taken a wider view; and even when the water solution had been offered, were still unable to see ‘flat’ paper as a potential water carrier…

Too often problems are not ‘out there’, but ‘in here’
– ie in how we see things, and what we assume.

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