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Having Fun with Problem Solving

Posted by admin on September 29, 2014

If you know the NPR radio program Car Talk, you know that problem solving can be a lot of fun.  If you are not familiar with the program, it was hosted by brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who both hold degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  They retired from their show a few years ago, but you can catch reruns on your local NPR station or through iTunes, and on their web site www.cartalk.com.

The Magliozzi Brothers (aka The Tappet Brothers) are actually very good problem solvers, especially considering they can’t see what the caller is talking about.  Through effective questioning they are able to get the caller to describe the symptoms  of the problem (when it started, when it’s not happening, what it sounds like, looks like, how it smells, where the car was when the problem started, the frequency of the problem, anything that changed in the environment, etc.).  They also are effective at eliminating possible causes when the possible causes can’t explain the symptoms of the problem.  This usually helps them get to a possible cause or two at which point they suggest a solution to the possible cause.  Also, they usually suggest the lowest cost/easiest fix first.

A recent show featured a woman who filled her car tires without using a tire gauge, causing the steering to be “bouncy”.  Another segment featured a man who obviously had a brake problem but he didn’t bother having the brakes checked.  This led the brothers to discuss the two different types of people in the world: Those who get their cars checked at the slightest issue and those who keep driving despite all indications that they have a problem.  “Amen” to that observation!

Like all good problem solvers, they sometimes are stumped with the information they have.  On a recent show, the caller was very descriptive in explaining a black fluid that started to ooze from his steering wheel after he moved to California from another part of the country.   Since they couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the problem, their best solutions were to wrap the steering wheel with one of those wrap kits or to keep a box of latex surgical gloves in the car to keep the black ooze from staining his hands.  Those are some of the more imaginative band-aides we’ve heard of. 

But the best part of the show is the fun they had.  Often the vehicle problems take a back seat (so to speak) to the caller’s relationships, jobs, locations, education, etc.  For example, in the segment about the woman who overfilled her tires, we learned that she was traveling with her fiancé on a long-distance trip and that she was charged with making sure everything was o.k. with the car before they hit the road.   The show could have been a boring tell-us-about–the problem-and-we’ll-tell-you-what-what’s-wrong.

On one segment, they chided a woman for emasculating her husband by making him sell his BMW and buy a minivan when their first child was born.  That’s the type of discussions they had every week. 

The Car Talk guys have fun with problem solving because they have built tremendous experience as content experts having run their own garage.  But more importantly they ask great questions that allows them to focus on the key facts of the problem and they have tremendous people skills.   They look at problem solving as a fun challenge that pits their knowledge and questioning skills against callers’ tough problems.  Think how much more fun problem solving can be when we look at it not as painful and burdensome.   Yes, we have to do it, but why not make it fun?