It started with the noise. I was working late one night, alone in the living room. The television was on, though I wasn’t watching it. My husband was asleep upstairs, one cat was asleep on the sofa. I was on the computer, engrossed in work when I heard a loud noise. It sounded like a bird whistle.
It startled me, and I looked up, almost expecting to see someone in the room. There was no one there. I looked in the direction of the noise, towards the table near the window. The shades were drawn, the windows closed. Could the noise have come from outside? If so, a person was standing right outside my window. I wasn’t about to look.
Unnerved, I thought about waking the sleeping man upstairs, but I knew he would not be appreciative. He doesn’t make a big deal of things, and to him, a noise downstairs is no cause for alarm.
I took a breath. There had to be a rationale explanation. I looked at the television. Could the noise have come from the TV? Possibly, but I felt it had come from a different direction. I looked at the fireplace. Could a bird have come down the chimney and somehow gotten into the room?
That seemed reasonable, birds can make a whistling noise. We had a bird and bats come down our chimney in a previous house. I walked around the room, pulling back curtains, looking everywhere, expecting to find a bird. Experience had taught me that if I opened the front door, the bird would fly out.
There were no signs of a bird. Then I noticed the heat register, under the table where I felt the sound had come from. Aha! The bird was in the heat vent.
It could wait until daylight. I was not about to go downstairs and start messing with heat vents in the dark, in the middle of the night. I’d get the hubs to do it in the morning.
My husband was skeptical, but he dutifully checked the heat vents- no bird. There were no birds in the basement, and no signs of birds anywhere. I made him check the dryer vent. I’m sure he secretly thinks I ‘m losing it. Only a few days earlier he had told me I should get out more, insinuating I spend too much time talking to the cats. Or to my computer, I’m not sure which is worse.
That night we were in the living room and heard the whistling sound again. He heard it too. The question of my sanity was resolved. They mystery of the noise was not. We looked around- nothing.
My brain demands an explanation. I listed possibilities. Maybe it was a noise coming from the TV. Our cat, Gatsby, was missing in action. Gatsby is playful and curious, perhaps he had found some kind of whistle, and while rolling it around on the floor it gave off a noise. But he wasn’t in the living room, and the sound was definitely in the room.
I was out of rational explanations. “Maybe it is a ghost,” I muttered.
My husband laughed. I picked my iPad up off the table and typed “whistling ghost” into the search bar. I am not familiar with the habits of ghosts, never having given it much thought. I thought I’d find something like “7 Sure Signs a Ghost is in Your House” with No. 1 being a loud whistling noise. There were links to a few forums where people talked about seeing whistling ghosts, and a couple of fictional stories about whistling ghosts, but nothing to scare me into believing we had a ghost.
I was consumed with figuring out what the noise could be. I made lists. I did research. I tried to think out of the box and generate creative solutions.
My husband shrugged. “It’s probably coming from the TV.” He was nonchalant and cool as a cucumber. I wondered how he could be so relaxed when THERE IS A WHISTLING NOISE IN THE LIVING ROOM! He thinks I am prone to drama.
The next day I was sitting at the dining room table working on a syllabus for a new course when I heard the noise again, loudly, a couple of feet away. The TV was off. Gatsby was sleeping by my feet. The shades were open and there was no one outside the window. I looked in the direction of the noise. There was nothing there, just my iPad sitting on the table.
I picked up the iPad and opened it. There was a notification: “One of the people you follow is now live on Periscope.”
If you haven’t heard about Periscope, it is Twitter’s new live streaming app. I had downloaded it a few days earlier and had been exploring how to use it in a course. I followed a couple of people I know from blogging and one of them lives in Australia, where it is afternoon there when it is 1:00 in the morning here. Bird calls in the middle of the night? It was Periscope “calling me” with sound effects, inviting me to join my friend for a live chat.
I called my husband and we had a good laugh. Thinking more about the experience, I realized that it was a perfect illustration of different kinds of problem solving skills.
Some people address problems analytically. They might list the problem and then possible solutions. They look for algorithms to solve the problem in a logical, step- by- step manner. They might use trial and error experimentation to find solutions, or draw pictures, diagrams, or even create models. They might research to gather information. These people understand there is a logical solution, and seek to find it.
Other people solve problems by trying to see things differently. Changing your perspective allows you to explore creative solutions. For example, when you hear hoof beats it is probably a horse, but it might be a zebra…or a ghost. Considering extreme cases may seem ridiculous, but it might lead to the answer. Sometimes problems need solutions which have not yet been discovered. This is how new things are invented.
Another way to find solutions is to let them come to you. People meditate, pray, or just leave the problem alone and let it come to a resolution. This was my husband’s approach, and it worked in this case. While I was busy trying to think logically and come up with creative solutions, he remained unfazed. He was content to go to sleep, and let the situation sort itself out.
I have never been good at letting problems sit. I am more likely to go after it like a bulldog with a bone. I wrestle with problems, worry, and try to fix things. I am often impatient for answers as I attempt to work through the problem and settle on an actionable item.
The bird in the vent, the ghost in the house and the new social media revealed that there is more than one way to solve a problem. I have mastered being logical and creative. It might serve me well to master the art of live and let happen. I wonder if I could have saved a lot of time and grief, not to mention stress in my life, by taking this laissez-faire approach.
I might have to give it a try. It will be a sign of a new, more relaxed and patient me. It is a stretch, but given birds, ghosts, and new technology…anything is possible.
What about you? How do you go about solving problems? Are you logical and analytical, open ended and creative or do you let time and the universe provide the answers? I’d love to hear about your problem solving methods in the comments below.