Friday, June 9, 2017

Outside-the-Bag Thinking

The Black or the White Pebble?

Many, many years ago in a small Italian town, a merchant had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the merchant’s beautiful daughter so he proposed a bargain. He said he would forgive the merchant’s debt if he could marry the daughter. Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified by the proposal. The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag. The girl would then have to pick one of the pebbles. If she picked the black pebble, she would become the moneylender’s wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him, and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. But if she refused to pick, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the merchant’s garden. While they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked her to choose.


What would you have done if you in her place?  If you had to advise her, what would you have told her to do? Careful analysis would produce three possibilities:
  1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble from the bag. 
  2. The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the moneylender as a cheat. 
  3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment. 

The quick-thinking girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out one pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled it onto the path where it immediately became lost among all the others.

“Oh, how clumsy of me!” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag, you will see which pebble I picked.”

Since the pebble remaining in the bag was black, all would assume that she had picked the white one, for the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty.  And the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an advantageous one.

MORAL: Most complex problems have a solution - sometimes we just have to think about them differently.

Prepared. | For Life.™

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