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Focus on the Issue at Hand, Not the Big Picture

By Finance4youth @Wil_Stanton

Pop Quiz:Focus on the issue at hand, not the big picture

Question:  How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?

Question:  How do you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

Question:  The Lion King is hosting an animal conference where all the animals attend, except one. Which one doesn’t attend?

Question:  There is a river you must cross, but it is used by crocodiles. You have no boat. How do you get across?

Now, I’ve heard this as a really dumb, bad joke, and also as an ice-breaker for training. I’ve used these questions when hiring employees, but not necessarily in the way they are intended. Most people get most of these questions wrong, but we’ll get to that part later on.

Focus on the issue at hand, not the big picture
The other day, as I was doing dishes, I noticed that the floor was really wet in front of the sink. After initially thinking F4Y: The Wife spilled water all over the floor (which she didn’t), I looked under the sink and noticed the cabinet floor was also soaked. To be fair, the sink wasn’t leaking profusely, but there was a steady drip when I would run water. There are words that grown-ups use when they are frustrated, and then there are words that the immature or the uncreative use. I used all of those words and I made up a few new words. I had some problems.

1.  I needed to call a plumber to fix my sink.

2.  I needed to talk to my landlord because technically fixing this problem is his problem.

3.  I still had a sink full of dishes that needed to be washed.

4.  I hated my house because there is always something wrong.

5.  I didn’t want to talk to my landlord because I knew he’d say something that might make me explode and move out (which would be really stupid considering how long we’ve been there, how reasonable the rent really is, and how the house has some good things going for it like a really large yard for entertaining).

The teacher in me wanted to look at this as I would any other word problem, but I couldn’t see how being able to figure out the markup on a sweater or how to calculate the area of a trapezoid would be helpful here.

The dude in me wanted to set the place on fire and blame a faulty wire, but then I’d have a whole new set of problems, including finding a new place to live and paying alimony on a teacher’s salary because I destroyed my wife’s sofa.

The Personal Finance guy in me decided on fixing the most important problem that I had the power to fix right then. My problem was that water was dripping on my floor. This was something I could change immediately. I took an aluminum pan and put it under the pipe that was leaking so I could finish the dishes without doing further damage to the floor.

So stupid it’s simple.

So simple it’s stupid.

Too often, I read stories about readers who are just drowning in problems dealing with their finances. My heart breaks for them. I try to give the help and advice that I can, and I know my friends in the PF world do the same. But sometimes, and I’m guilty of this too, we tend to over-think the solution or lose focus on the real problem. In fact, I bet many of you reading this initially thought that I should call my landlord first. Great advice, but it wouldn’t have solved anything immediately. I still had a sink full of dishes that needed to be done, and I still had a pipe that was dripping on my floor. Some people might have suggested calling the plumber first. That still wouldn’t have solved my most immediate problem immediately.

So when you read stories, or hear from your friends or family members, and they ask you for some advice, remind them to stick to the most important problem that they can solve at that time, and put off dealing with problems that you can’t solve, or problems that the solutions won’t solve your problem.

Back to our animal friends:

I’m going to give you the answers and the reasoning behind each. Again, this sounds trite and a little silly, but if you actually listen to the rationale, and try to put it in practice with other questions, you’ll find that many problems wind up being much simpler to solve than you initially thought.

Answer One:  You open the door, put the giraffe in, and close the door.

This question tests to see if you do simple tasks in a complicated way.

Answer Two:  You open the door, take the giraffe out, put the elephant in, and close the door.

Focus on the issue at hand, not the big picture

You probably said, “Open the door, put the elephant in, and close the door.” Sounds good, but you have to deal with the giraffe in the last question. This question checks to see whether you are able to think through the consequences of previous actions.

Answer Three:  The elephant. You put him in the refrigerator earlier, remember?

This question tests your memory.

Answer Four:  You jump in the river and swim across; perfectly safe because the crocodiles are at the Lion King’s meeting.

This question tests to see if you learn from earlier mistakes. You over-thought the other questions already; hopefully you figured it out by the last questions.

When talking about elephants, there is only one song that fits in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!


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