Friday, August 12, 2011

Persistence in Problem Solving

I write about and teach about problem solving. I also consult on the topic. Sometimes, when one of my clients is stuck on a problem, I tell them I have a sure-fire solution method:

Write it down, seal it in an envelope, put it in a safe place, and open it after 50 years. Then, if it's not solved itself by then, seal it in another envelope for 50 more years. It's sure to be solved by then.

Well, I'd never actually tried the method, but something special happened today that I just have to tell. The story began, if I remember correctly, in 1949, more than 60 years ago. I was taking a bookkeeping class in high school, and on the first day, the teacher started off by saying:

"Bookkeeping is the only word in the English language that has 3 consecutive double letters."

Being a wise-ass young kid, I raised my hand and said, "I know another one."

Startled, she asked, "And what's that?"


That got a few laughs from the students, and put me on her s-list for two semesters.

Still, after all this time, that's about the only thing I remember from that bookeeping class--mostly because I kept seeking another 3-double-letter word, on and off for all that time.

Well, today I was working on a mystery novel with some prison scenes, and I came up with the kind of word I was seeking. It was prison slang for the warden:


(Dani says it could also be the name of the person who guards shepherds' equipment.)

MORAL: Virtually any problem will be solved if you work on it for 50+ years. So, never give up, but sometimes delay.

Problem Definition

If you like solving problems, and don't always have the patience to wait 50 years, you may shorten your solution time if you start with a better problem definition. You'll be able to do that if you read one or more of the books pictured here. Take a look at

I guess I should also post a contrasting story about the quickest problem solving effort:

About 5 seconds after I posted this blog, I got a tweet from "@perze" saying:

Hello Mr. Weinberg i don't want to sound like a wise-cracker but "bookkeeping" was misspelled in your last post.

Good for your @perze!

Fixing this post also gave me a few seconds to come up with a couple more 3-double-letter words:

1. When my Aunt Minnie used to visit, my father gave me the task of keeping my cousin Larry out of his sight. In doing that, I was the schnookkeeper.

2. When fishing, I was put in charge of guarding the tackle, so I was the hookkeeper.



Michael Bolton said...

I was on vacation with my family when I first saw this post. My wife noticed that I seemed pre-occupied. I replied that Jerry had set a trap for me!

I thought that instead of dumping my examples of triple-doubles, I'd set out clues to them as a puzzle:

- Someone who ransacks a hardware store
- An adjective for drugs that induce a more profound emotional state
- A voyeuristic foot fetishist
- Someone who looks for kicks by going to scary movies
- Someone who macramés banana skins
- Someone who provides a lariat to another person
- A fish that survives on nutrients from coral
- The foundational piece of the top of a building
- Someone who maintains a plot of ramps
- A Scot who prepares turnips
- Someone who covers a previously open market
- A person who co-ordinates the delivery of savoury pies

And, with great pride, I present clues to two quad doubles:

- A dilettante on a musical instrument
- Someone who irritates a silly person

---Michael B.

James Lyndsay said...

Apparently taking a cue from Michael's first quad, I pose another 4fer;

Inflatable ramen (or one who inflates their ramen).

[...and I declare that these are easier to find & set than to solve.]

Anonymous said...

>> - A dilettante on a musical instrument


Adam Knight said...

Quint double:

A charitable porter

offshore corporation said...

One thing I understood over the years is that my problems are not unique, be it in business or elsewhere. Someone surely experienced the same issues or have had the same questions as I do. Thank god, today we have google; try searching for 3 double letter words and you will find plenty of answers.. e.g.

Michael Bolton said...

@James: Inflatable ramen would have to be balloonnoodle.

Adam has me stumped.

---Michael B.