The Tale Of Two Pebbles
by Edward de Bono
Many years ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a village moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter. So he proposed a bargain.
He said he would forgo the farmer’s debt if he could marry his daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal. So the cunning money-lender suggested that they let providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. Then the girl would have to pick one pebble from the bag.
- If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven.
- If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven.
- If she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.
They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the farmer’s field. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble from the bag.
Now, imagine that you were standing in the field. What would you have done if you were the girl? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her?
Careful analysis would produce three possibilities:
- The girl should refuse to take a pebble.
- The girl should know that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the money-lender as a cheat.
- The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment.
Take a moment to ponder this.
The above story is used with the hope that it will make us appreciate the difference between Lateral Thinking and logical thinking.
The girl’s dilemma cannot be solved with traditional logical thinking. Think of the consequences if she chooses the above logical answers.
What would you recommend that the girl do?
The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble.
Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.
“Oh, how clumsy of me!” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”
Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one.
And since the money-lender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.
The girl looked beyond the obvious to find a solution in a way that wouldn’t initially come to mind.
This is just one example of the power of Lateral Thinking.
Wyman’s note: When faced with a tough problem gather the team together and brainstorm for possible solutions, make sure to draw out ideas that are outside of the box; that are not as conventional and explore all options, make sure the team feels comfortable sharing these types of ideas; if the right culture isn’t in place people will be scared to offer lateral thoughts.