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English Detective # 85 Puzzles and Problem-Solving 6-6-17
June 06, 2017

What do magic, crossword puzzles, and problem-solving at work have in common? Find out in a very interesting article (and TED talk by the author)—and follow up with an article from a business mediation website. Then study some vocabulary for magic and problem-solving.

Thinking Like a Magician is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the extreme preparations a top magician will make so he can create “magic” and impress his audience. As David Kwong (the author) points out, this same detailed planning ahead and effort can help us “win” when it matters most.

(He tells about how a cement delivery business in Mexico applied the same methods to get to the top of its industry. He also shows how Disney World uses the same “deep data” techniques to win customer loyalty and learn what works best for the park.)

For anyone else who (like me) can’t wait to learn more, Kwong also presented a TED talk you can watch here. He talks about the strong human impulse to solve problems, and how it gives him employment (writing crossword puzzles and working as a magician—challenging people to find solutions).

This is a short talk, with no big lessons—just a demonstration of what he described in his article—the efforts a magician will go to in order to make “magic” happen.

The third suggested link is to a short article on the steps involved in effective problem-solving at work. It has a completely different tone, but one thing in common with the TED talk. The author agrees that “people are born problem solvers.”

However, he points out that that may be a problem itself, because it leads to trying to find an immediate solution, rather than following a process that will lead to a better solution for everyone.

Magic and Problem-Solving Vocabulary

It’s interesting to me that the magic and business problem-solving articles have some key vocabulary in common: repeated uses of identify, create, solve, & process. I’m going to discuss vocabulary related to magic first, then the problem-solving process.

Magicians (people who do magic tricks) rely heavily on creating illusion: something that is not what it appears to be. You may have heard of “optical illusions:” a misunderstanding of reality based on the way we interpret what we see.

Kwong mentions the gap between seeing and perceiving (or perception—the noun form.) To perceive is to identify or be aware of something as we see, hear, smell, or feel it. It’s the brain’s interpretation of sensory signals. We think it’s what we actually see, but we only know what we see once it has been interpreted by the brain. So a magician may make a movement so small and quick that someone watching him does not perceive it.

A related word: When someone becomes disillusioned, their illusions have been taken away, and they may not want to trust anyone, to avoid being deceived again.

Kwong also talks about the ‘audience’— the people who are listening to and watching a performance, and ‘spectators’— again, people watching. Those words come from Latin roots for hearing and looking. You can practice them and related words at Sense Vocabulary.

He also speaks about bringing order out of chaos. Chaos just means a state of complete confusion and disorder.

The article on problem solving at work spoke about the importance of following a process—a series of logical steps to accomplish something. (Kwong also talked about his process of preparation for a show.)

The first step was to identify the issues: to name or recognize the problems that are bothering people—that the different people involved want to be solved (changed so the situation will be better.) Step 2 is to understand the interests and needs of the people involved, because these must be met for a solution to work for everyone.

Step 3 is to list possible solutions (options.) Options mean all the potential choices to consider. The next step is to evaluate the options—to judge each option, look into its pros and cons—its good and bad effects-- and decide on its value, compared to the others. This step may cause some conflict— disagreement or difference of opinion concerning which option is best.

Step 5-7: select (choose) an option or combination of options, document (write down) the decision, and agree on how to monitor (watch or keep track of) its progress, deal with possible new issues or changes needed, and (re-) evaluate how well it has resolved the problem after the solution has had some time to work.

P.S. We will be on vacation for several weeks. I’ve also noticed that visits to EnglishHints decline during the (northern hemisphere) summer So I will be only sending out English Detective once a month for June and July.

If you want extra reading this summer, check out “the Best of English Detective” on the Building Vocabulary page, or some of the reading or listening suggestions on Comprehension Exercises, then try the quizzes to test your understanding of them.

Have a great summer!

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