Let the Dummy Solve It
By Antony Reynolds on Feb 27, 2009
or Putting Fred to Work
I just had a brief conversation with my manager Bill, it went along these lines
Antony: This presentation on Enterprise Manager for the Know Your Own Product Series, should it be 30 minutes?
Antony: Oh, hang on, yes it should, I was confusing it with the Bite-Sized series which were 10-15 minutes!
Antony: Thanks for that, sorry to have bothered you.
Bill: Glad to have helped
Followed by hanging up the phone rapidly before he gave me more work. This reminded me of a favorite problem solving technique that I had failed to use in this case. The technique is known as “Fred in the Corner”. I don’t remember where I came across it originally (I thought it might have been in a Timothy Lister or Gerald Weinberg book but I couldn’t find it), but I got it from somewhere else and if anyone knows where I will happily add an appropriate attribution in here. However in the meantime the technique goes like this:
- You have a problem and you take it to Fred in the corner.
- There is always an empty seat next to Fred.
- You explain your problem to Fred, giving as much detail as you know.
- After providing all the information Fred will often solve your problem.
- Oh, Fred is a tailors dummy.
If you don’t have a tailors dummy or a puppet maybe you could use an action figure, do they do a Stephen Hawking action figure?
This approach works on the basis that often we are overlooking some information that we already know that can solve our problem for us. The task of explaining clearly to another individual exactly what the problem is forces us to detail all our knowledge. Using this technique has several advantages:
- It doesn’t waste our colleagues time on something we could have solved ourselves.
- It makes sure that we understand the problem.
- It stops us looking like a total idiot in front of our colleagues because we don’t explain the problem, realize the solution and say “Thanks for that, sorry to have bothered you”.
So next time you have a problem to solve then give it to a dummy and let them solve it for you!