Thursday, April 8, 2010

Go Fly a Kite: The Problem-Solving Process

The Niagara River gorge is 800 feet wide with a 400-foot-wide river channel. Water rushes through the channel at 24 miles per hour. Engineers in the middle of the nineteenth century faced a major challenge when assigned the task of building a railroad suspension bridge across the chasm. No boat could withstand the current and drag a cable across the rushing waters. There was no helicopter in those days to chopper a cable across.

So, creativity came to the rescue. A contest was held in which the first young person who could fly a kite across and have someone grab the kite string on the opposite cliff would receive a prize of ten dollars. Homan Walsh, nine years old, flying his kite from the American side, was the first to have a companion secure the kite string on the other side.

In 1915, Edwin Markham told the rest of the story like this:

The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge,

Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,

Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite

Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands

To grasp upon the further cliff and draw

A greater cord, and then a greater yet;

’Till at the last across the chasm swung

The cable--then the mighty bridge in the air!

By 1855, trains were crossing the

1160-foot-long bridge, 230 feet above the river, and it all started with a kite string. Can the difficulties we face be that insurmountable? We have many more resources available to us now. Symbolically, we need to get more kite strings across our problems. Don’t wait for the kite that will fly the bridge across. Nevertheless, now, as then, long journeys begin with small steps. More than anything else, we must not lose our perspective or, more importantly, our sense of humor in the face of problems. At a glance, the six-step problem-solving process looks like this:

Step One—Identify the problem.

Step Two—Gather all relative information.

Step Three—List all possible solutions.

Step Four—Test possible solutions.

Step Five—Select the best solution.

Step Six—Put the solution into action.

A Thought to Ponder:

1. Decide

2. Begin

3. Don't Stop