A Fresh Perspective on Problem Solving

On Friday afternoon, as we were walking back from a family trip to the beach, a somewhat distraught looking woman stopped us to ask for help. She was standing next to the driver's side of her car with the rear door ajar. She told us her dog was trapped in a pet carrier in the back seat.

The car still felt cool from the air conditioning, so I suspect she hadn't been there very long, but her concern for the dog was escalating toward a state of panic.

Like many pet carriers, this one was a plastic frame with a metal door with two rods that extend through the top and bottom portion of the plastic. The spring mechanism that allowed the bottom metal rod to retract was broken, which meant that even though she could release the top portion of the door latch, the bottom rod still held the door firmly closed.

The woman was trying to figure out a way to force the bottom rod up into its plastic housing to release the metal rod from the bottom of the carrier. I tried this once and realized it was never going to work. The spring that normally allows the door to retract had slipped down around the top portion of the rod, rendering it useless.

Instead I simply slipped the top portion of the rod out of the plastic latch housing and then easily removed the rod from the bottom of the pet carrier. The door swung open and her curly-haired dog was free.

All of this happened in a matter of a couple of minutes, but it's hard to say how long the woman had been trying to free her dog. Long enough that she felt a sense of urgency.

Time for a Fresh Perspective

Reflecting on the situation today got me thinking about times when you need a fresh perspective to approaching a problem.

When something doesn't result in the outcome you expect, it's time to try something different. And if you're too close to the problem to see a solution, asking for help is always a smart course of action.

In this case, squeezing the latching rods on the pet carrier to release the door was never going to work, even though that's the way the pet carrier is designed. The woman had probably opened that same door hundreds of times before without a problem. When it didn't work, she just kept trying the same approach. It took a complete stranger offering an alternative approach to free the dog from the carrier.

The next time you feel like you are about to give up because something isn't working, ask for help. It might give you the break through you need to succeed. I know there are times when I need to remind myself that asking for help is okay.

We all need a little help from our friends from time to time. How do you approach problems from a new angle when old way stops being reliable?