"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Thursday, July 9, 2009


[continued from the Last Post.]

Example 1: Survival Situation 1

When it comes to survival, quick thinking is what it is all about. Legend tells us that Sinbad and his sailors once landed on a tropical island, parched from their exertions at sea. They soon spotted some coconuts, bunched high up in the trees – accompanied by apes that remained perched up there, looking very proprietorial.

Fearing the consequences of going up the trees and collecting the coconuts, they opted to stay where they were and contrive to have the coconuts come down to them. Reversal. So they threw stones at the apes up in the trees, to tease them.

Playing right into their hands, the apes retaliated by throwing coconuts back down at the sailors! Thirsts quenched. Maximum gain via minimum effort.

Example 2: Survival Situation 2

The following true story is about a 13th-century castle confronted by literally a life-and-death dilemma.

A powerful opposing army had surrounded and UN besieged the castle for months. The inmates of the castle were finally down to their last two sacks of grain. Naturally, once these were consumed, death by starvation would be inevitable …or perhaps their lives would be spared, after a fashion, if they surrendered to the enemy.

If you were the CEO of the castle, what decision would you make under the circumstances?

The most ‘logical’ step to consider would most likely be some form of drastic food rationing, so that one could survive for longer. The extended period might see the enemy give up in frustration and return home.

Or perhaps not. In this case, food supplies are viewed as a nutrient vital for survival. Food is being taken at its face value.

The CEO could thus deliberate over a greater number of options. In one instance, he could view the situation as hopeless; the longer the siege persisted, the shorter their stock of food supplies.

No matter how many bags of grain there were, it was only a matter of time before they starved to death. On the other hand, if he succeeded in making the enemy think that they had more than enough food, they might just give up and march back home.

He decided on the latter option and got his people to throw one full sack of grain over the castle walls, at the enemy. By doing this, he believed the impression given would be that there was so much grain within the castle walls, even after such a long siege, that it was pointless hanging around any longer; they might as well return home.

True enough, the enemy was thoroughly demoralised by this act of insouciance from the inmates of the castle. Feeling dispirited, devitalised, and defeated by this incident, they departed.

Example 3: Retail Sector

The most sophisticated information processor today is the human mind. In an environment that has finally been recognised as non-linear, our strategic thinking skills are designed to confront chaos daily; one can no longer care how long an entity has been in business for it to be competitive.

In the mail-order catalogue war between Sears, Roebuck and Company and Montgomery Ward, for example, both parties were fiercely wooing the American customer.

Richard Sears started his company almost 20 years after Aaron Montgomery Ward, yet after only eight years Sears emerged ahead as the largest mail-order company in the United States.

This situation remained unchanged for the next 40 years of competition between the two retailing giants.

Imagine that you’re a customer looking for several items that are to be obtained via mail-order. You need to grab a catalogue, and see two before you, in a pile.

Which one do you grab? The one on top, of course. It’s the most convenient, and readily available.

Well, this little bit of obvious wisdom is what struck Richard Sears. He made his catalogue smaller than Montgomery Ward’s.

By reversing the logic from ‘bigger is better’ to ‘smaller is surer’ Sears achieved dominance in the battle for bigger business.

Example 4: Marital Recollections

There is the case of a guy who plays his wedding video backwards; he affirms this is so that he can watch himself walk out of church, a free man, liberated from the bonds of matrimony.

Example 5: Bargain Bubblegum

A young boy bought bubble gum from a small shop even though a more convenient supermarket opened nearby, selling the sweets at the same price. When queried, the child said, “James (the store owner) always gives me more candy. The man in the other store takes some away.”

Apparently, sales clerks in the supermarket initially estimated more than the requested weight, and then subtracted a few sweets to arrive at the correct amount. James, the owner of the small shop, put in too little and then, eyes twinkling, would slowly keep adding more until the right amount was in the bag. The children were convinced they got a better deal from James.

Example 6: Golf course Ingenuity

The annual Golf Masters Championship was in session. It happened at the 16th hole. The sensational rookie on the tour had an excellent chance of winning.

With an iron shot that had fallen just short of the green, he stood a good chance of making a birdie, and increasing his lead.

Smiling broadly, singing ebulliently, he bounded down the fairway, then stopped short in utter dismay. His ball had camouflaged itself! It had rolled into a small paper bag carelessly tossed there by someone in the gallery.

If he removed the ball from the bag, it would cost him a penalty stroke. If he tried to hit the ball and the bag, he would lose control over the shot. Pondering over the problem for a few moments, he suddenly erupted with joy. To his relief, he emerged with the perfect solution. What was it?

Reaching into his pocket, he extracted a box of matches, lit one and set fire to the bag. When the bahad burned to ashes, he selected an iron, swung, and gleefully watched the ball roll serenely into the hole.

Unable to get the ball away from the paper bag without a penalty, this golfer was imaginative enough to recognise that getting the paper bag away from the ball could solve the problem.

Example 7: Landscaping

The architectural plans of a large university catered for everything in the design, except the location of paved paths between the buildings on campus.

When all the construction was completed and the landscaping done, the authorities waited awhile; in due course, there was a network of visible paths left in the grass by the people walking daily across the grounds. It was exactly this network of paths that was paved, following which, the university feared no problems concerning the trampling of grass and flower beds.

By delaying the decision to pave, they reversed the normal manner of operations.

Instead of the campus fraternity following plans laid in advance, they led the way and the paved sections followed.

[To be continued in the Next Post. Excerpted from 'Surfing the Intellect: Building Intellectual Capital for a Knowledge Economy', by Dilip Mukerjea. All the images in this post are the intellectual property of Dilip Mukerjea.]

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