I was on my honeymoon flying with my bride to Israel on El AL airlines.

Long flight. Checked the pouch in front of my seat for something to read. Found a bag with a puzzle. It was four different geometric pieces that together constituted a flying airplane.

The instructions were to put the puzzle together so that it will be a rectangle.
Easy. Right?

Not at all. I tried and tried and could not do it. I started feeling embarrassed because my bride was following my efforts and I could imagine her wondering what kind of a moron did she marry.

Pitying me she offered to help me. Guess what? She could not do it either.

Across the aisle was a professor from Stanford Law School. He started making some cynical comments about the quality of intelligence of the academic staff of UCLA. (I was a professor there at the time). He tried it too and could not do it.

Now I felt I had all the rights to be upset and I called the stewardess to complain: “what kind of a sadistic thread does EL AL airlines have to humiliate passengers and give them puzzles that have no solutions?”

She was puzzled and said:: ” I do not know what is your problem. Kids do it in less than a minute!”

Got it. The key word was: “kids”.

I turned the pieces of the puzzle upside down so I could not see the picture of the plane and low and behold I put the puzzle together in seconds.

I turned the puzzle back around and guess what?
You could make a rectangle IF you allow the plane to fly UPSIDE DOWN, with the cockpit facing earth.

The reason why all of us intelligent professors could not solve the puzzle was because we decided upriory how the plane should fly. We decided what the solution should be and were trying to force it on the problem.

This was a great lesson for me.

When approaching a problem go with a totally empty head. Do not assume anything. Let the problem “talk to you”. Be blind like I was when I turned the puzzle upside down.

The problem, if you approach it totally unbiased, will actually present itself to you. It becomes clear by itself. Just be OPEN MINDED.

If a couple is having marital problems ask the kids what is going on. Surprisingly, they will hit the nail on the head. With one sentence it is clear and to the point.

Why can kids see it so much better than we adults? Especially the educated adults? Because we have a solution in search of a problem. We know what should be the problem, we have patterns and names to problems. And how the solution should be and we force the evidence to fit the pattern we have in our head already.

In research methodology it is called formulating a hypothesis.

Go fresh. Empty. Virginal. Intentionally ignorant. With no fear to admit :”I do not know.”

Years ago I was consulting for a large Bank in Mexico whose President was a highly respected person although he had no college education. His vice president told me:” Unhindered by education he can think”.

Ivan Illich was probably right. We over educate…

What have I learned from this experience for my consulting practice is to shut up both my mouth and my mind. Just listen and look at the problem as if it is the first time I have ever heard of anything like it. Let the problem talk to me. That means just listen and let the points on the map start connecting to give me the picture. Don’t force the connections.

I know this sounds too confusing. So let me use another analogy.

I was just in Israel for President Peres’ annual get together. There was an exhibit of new technologies Israel is developing.

There was a company that has software to analyze patterns. Let us assume you have a trucking company and you have lots of repairs. The software will eventually tell you the problem.

“ A Ha. It is a data mining software “ I said.

“No” the president told me. “ In data mining you have an algorithm and you use it to mine the data. You develop the algorithm based on what you believe the issue is. “

“Our software develops the algorithm by analyzing the data. The data gives us the algorithm. “

Yes sir. Let the data talk to you. Be sure you do not start with a hypothesis. Starting with a hypothesis is what I did with that puzzle. I assumed that the plane has to fly right. And guess what? This plane was different. And my assumption of what should be and I want it to be was blocking my capability to see what is.

And in order to solve problems you must know first what IS the problem and in order to find what is , you have to relax what should and what you want it to be.