Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Power of Common Sense

We were at Kah Hiong for breakfast recently during one of the weekends when my long-lost sister, Flora, came for a visit. Present were all six of us siblings, Uncle Tony, Mia and JJ.

JJ is vulnerable to bouts of coughs whenever she consumes too much cold stuff, so that day I ordered inter alia a can of unchilled soya bean drink for her.

A few minutes later, the waitress came back to report apologetically that they did not have any unchilled soya bean; that all of them were already put into the fridge.

I said, "Oh, is that so? OK, let's see... if you had a warm can of soya bean, and I wanted a chilled one, is there any way you could give me what I want?"

All eyes were on me, since my siblings, except for Flora, were all quite well-versed with my weird way of dealing with people in general.

The waitress replied almost instantly, "Well, I can serve the warm soya bean with some ice cubes. That will make it cold."

"Hey, that's a good idea!" I said, and then continued, "but what if you only had cold soya bean drink, whereas I want a warm one. Are you then able to give me what I want?"

Suddenly her face brightened up and I fancy I saw her blushed a bit when she replied, "Well, I guess I could put the chilled can in a container of hot water for a minute or two. That can heat it up a bit?"

I said, "Hey, that's a good idea! Now why don't you try that approach and see if it works?"

So off she went to try out that brilliant idea which she had just thought of all on her own. A few minutes later, she came back with a warm can of soya bean drink for JJ.

The power of common sense!

When people take the trouble to actually use their brains to work out a problem, they can surprise themselves with what they can achieve!

But alas, many people are not trained to use their brains to solve problems—far from it! They are taught how to do things in a particular way and that's the only way how they should do it. It is none of their business to attempt to find a better way in the hope of achieving better results.

When I was teaching for a few years like a hundred years ago, I tried my best to instill the habit of critical thinking in the kids. I discouraged memorization of answers unless absolutely necessary.

Just two days ago, I was helping JJ out with her Bahasa Malaysia homework. And just for the record, I do not do JJ's homework for her—never! That kid is just so poor in the language—she's struggling with it! It was one of those fill-in-the-blanks kinda tasks. There's a mention of the Cameron Highlands, and above those paragraphs, there were some loose words meant for those blanks. Because of habit which arose from our modern education system, JJ was poised with her pencil in her hand, expecting me to just tell her what to write in each blank, and then just simply memorise the answers. But no, I took the trouble to explain the meanings of each of the available choices, and then prompted her mind by asking her what should rightfully be in this blank and that blank. She actually reasoned out the problem and then, using a bit of common sense, filled up, for example, the word "dingin" (cold) in the right blank.

The power of common sense!

At work, we have a fixed scale of fees for our professional services. That scale has been programmed in a spreadsheet. For years and years, whenever we wanted to issue an invoice, the staff would simply fill in the amount in the spreadsheet, and then the amount of the fees would automatically be calculated by the formula in the spreadsheet. Unfortunately, recently service tax had been increased from 5% to 6%.

As I stood there looking at my staff at work, she suddenly reached for a calculator when she got to the service tax part to calculate that amount. I asked her why the need for a calculator? She said because service tax rate has been changed from 5% to 6%. Yes, but why couldn't she simply change the 5% to 6% in the spreadsheet formula once and for all, and then there is no need to use the calculator for the rest of the years to come? She said she didn't know how to do it.

And I said, "So, if you don't know how to do it, how do you deal with the problem then?"

Well, to cut the long story short, all it took was a few minutes to change that forsaken 5% to 6% in the spreadsheet, and now there is no need for her to reach for the calculator each time she has to issue invoices.

A classic example of the untrained mind that failed to use the power of common sense... sigh.


unsettledsoul said...

Very condescending of you. Wow, I would hate to be your waitress!

Cornelius said...

Well, Sarah, I'm not gonna claim that I'm a perfect man, because I'm simply not! I've learned since a very long time ago that it's just impossible for me to please everyone.

I didn't think that you would want to be my waitress. Or waitress to anyone for that matter. Unless of course you have nothing else to eat and only the waiting job is available.

In the situation at the restaurant, I had 3 possibile reactions:

A1) Ask for a different drink which was not already in the fridge (if any). That drink might not be what I really wanted, but I just had to live with it because I had to allow for the lack of ideas.

A2) Tell the waitress directly how to produce an unchilled can of soya bean drink.

A3) Do what I did, prompt her and let her solve on her own.

People with high pride can't except both A2 & A3, no matter what. They don't like to be told or taught, that's the point. That is just too degrading for them, even if that's not intended.

Then I've also dealth with people who actually did not want A2. Instead they wanted A3. They appreciated being given the chance to solve and learn on their own. And when they did solve the problem, many of them were even thankful! Really, I kid you not!

Again, I'm not perfect. I'm aware that sometimes my acts are not very agreeable to some people.