Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lateral thinking - a real world example...

Having been fortunate enough to travel locally recently, I found myself in a situation where lateral thinking was demonstrated in a good way, in an everyday situation.

Slowing down as I approached the MariaanHill tollgate just outside Pinetown, I spied an empty looking gate to the right and made a bee line for it - it is always amusing to watch how all the cars scurry in the final dash to get the emptiest tollgate :)

Feeling rather smug as I waited in the (short) queue of 3 cars, I noticed how the driver in front repeatedly (and fruitlessly) swiped his card through the automatic card machine, each time slightly more urgently than the last...

After about 10 unsuccessful swipes and with cars piling up behind us, the driver in front eventually got out of his car and made his way over to one of the manual booths, where he could interact with a human being, rather than a card-refusing machine.
A short discussion then followed, after which the 2 of them then headed over to the stubborn machine.
They then took turns trying to make the questionable card work, unsuccessfully.

Eventually, they gave up and the tollgate operator waved his hands at the now decidedly long queue, in what was a rather enthusiastic gesture for us all to reverse back (into oncoming traffic), and use another tollgate.

Not an easy task.
As the reverse lights all started coming on, and with trucks and a variety of other vehicles now bearing down on the stagnant queue of stranded vehicles, the task seemed just about impossible.

There we all were - a stationary queue of cars lined up one behind another, all behind one bottleneck, all trying desperately to escape.

Trouble is, we weren't going anywhere because it's a bit tough trying to reverse into oncoming traffic, in the hope that said traffic will just understand why several vehicles are reversing towards them... :)

It is also truly amazing how transfixed and overly focussed one can become, when faced with what appears to be an insurmountable situation - one such as this for example.
So when the (fairly large) passenger in the car behind me suddenly got out and made his way to the car responsible for the blockage, my first thought was "Oh hell... Here comes a fistfight..."...

Surprisingly, there were no fists, and indeed, no fight.
Instead, the fairly large passenger and the blockage-causer exchanged a few words, at which point the fairly large passenger produced his own petrol card, proceeded to swipe that, and lo and behold - the boom lifted and the day was saved.

I was speechless for a few seconds before the thought hit me... "Now why didn't I think of doing that?".
Who knows what mechanism makes us lose sight of the most obvious solution to a problem when we are involved in it - all I can say is that the idea of moving an entire queue of cars at a toll gate, seemed such a massive task, that all the other people in the queue simply failed to think of paying for the toll themselves, in order to get the whole queue moving again.

The funny thing is that the toll for that specific plaza is something like R7.50... Not really an account breaker...!

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