More than 1 way to skin a cat

In today’s society when there is a roadblock, traffic comes to a screeching halt and people sit and wait. In reality there are many ways to keep traffic flowing, as my Grandfather would say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

When traffic stops, you can drive to the left of the roadblock, or the right, or build a Dukes of Hazard ramp and jump over the block, or pull an Elon Musk and tunnel under the roadblock. I use this example as a figurative example, not a literal example. My point is this.…it takes outside of the box thinking, but there are lots of way around, under, or above a problem.

In the movie “Men in Black” Will Smith’s character is taking a test at the MIB center and all the other test takers are having a difficult time taking the test in odd shape chairs that they had to sit in. Will Smith’s character solves this problem by moving a coffee table across the room and using it as his writing surface. Will Smith is just a “nobody” recruit surrounded by “The best, of the best!”, and it is almost as no one else had thought to scoot the table across the room to use it as a desk.

Fix it instead of replace it

We live in a world where the “smartest,” most educated people are not always the best problem solvers. In today’s world when something breaks, you throw it away and buy a new one. There is another way…things can actually be fixed! Simple, common sense problem solving.

We are losing our ability to “fix” things

Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899. Mr. Deull’s most famous attributed utterance is that “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Quite obviously Deull was dead wrong, but with each generation we are losing the ability to “fix” stuff and use creative thinking to solve problems.

Solving problems with limited resources is a dying art. When you are growing up on a farm, or when you are out in the bush, or when you are on a budget, you learn to fix stuff with what you have. You don’t have to have a high powered education to be smart, this world is not lacking educated people, the world is lacking clear thinking, clever people that can solve problems.

The “Gold Rush” miners on TV are a good example of people solving things through ingenuity

One of my favorite shows on TV is “Gold Rush” on the Discovery Channel, which follows several different working gold mines in Alaska, and the Yukon. I don’t think any of the men and women on the show would every claim to be brilliant, but they are some of the cleverest, most genius people in the world. When you are out in the bush, when things go bad you have to figure out a way to get a square peg to fit in a round hole with what you are given. For generations people have solved problems, and with each problem that is solved it makes life a little bit easier. As life becomes easier, we continue to lose problem solving skills, because there are simply less problems that need to be solved, and more resources to solve those problems. The miners on “Gold Rush” prove every day that problems can be solved with a bit of know-how and ingenuity.

Simple, common sense problem solving is losing to specialization

As an economist I have written about the power and the importance of specialization many times. Specialization is critical for advancing our society, but at the same time we must be extremely vigilant not to lose our problem solving skills in areas that our outside of our education background or areas of expertise.

Simple, common sense problem solving. Smart or clever…who would you want to be stuck with in a broken elevator that had a time bomb that that was about to explode…..someone that can memorize facts and figures, or someone that can think on their feet?

Jonathan M. Lamb