Things that ‘shouldn’t’ work

Virtual learning is a challenge for all this year. My wife is a teacher and is struggling in that boat. She encountered a scenario which was very frustrating for her and reminded me of a very important and often over looked point of problem solving. 

She was on the phone with administrators and technical support for her virtual learning platform for several hours, because she couldn’t login. They tried password resets, support staff tried to reproduce the error on a different computer and couldn’t (they were successful), but my wife was not successful on a different computer and others were successful on her computer. All to no avail. After trying many things, in the end, the third tier technical support professional tried to give her a new username. He said, “this shouldn’t work” but let’s just try it. Lo and behold, it worked. A spelling error in the database for her email (as a username) had led to her not being able to login, because she had been using her email spelled correctly. The company and others trying to help, had been copying her misspelled username from the database and it was working for them. Frustrating, to say the least, that many had not double checked the spelling of “schoos” instead of “schools” in the email. 

The idea that I want to promote here is not the Sherlock Holmes quote “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This quote shows up in at least six books of Doyle’s. I am also not promoting the idea of trying to break the things that you have made, in order to test them. Although, this is also a very good idea. I am also not saying do nothing but question what has already been well established. If we do that, we never progress. 

No, rather I want to promote the idea of perpetual self-reproach and self-questioning. In order to be a good problem solver, one should have a practice of trying things that shouldn’t work. One should try the things that you know in advance should fail, because HOW they fail is so very important. 

This is fundamental to nuclear physics, where we learn so much about nature from watching things decay and from watching things explode and collide and reveal constituent components. It is vital in life, to ask myself, “What are my preconceived notions?” or “Have I been rude or prejudiced today?” or “Is there anything that I can do today to be more considerate of the people around me?” 

I find my faith life helps me here. I have a spiritual practice of knowing I am redeemed in my life. That I am capable of doing some good, because there is one who is good that lives for me and in me. I know that “all have sinned”, but that I am “free from condemnation” to use some quotes from Romans. So, I can approach myself continually, loving being wrong. I can confidently ask myself, “Am I evil?”, I can answer, “Yeah, probably.” Then I can take a deep breath, recognize the very spirit of God in every breath and heart beat, and I can be better today than I was yesterday without being crippled by shame.

I can learn. I learned today that it may not unfortunate that style often wins over substance (this thanks to MC in a learning community that I’m a part of called Penny University (pennyuniversity.org)). Maybe style is simply a vital part of substance. 

The point is this, I shouldn’t wait to prove all the other things impossible before I consider the improbable. I should build a life where I question myself and my most cherished ideas. I’m convinced that taking old and well practiced ideas and converting them to new and better ones is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. When it happens though, it is a revolution and new ideas have the power to solve all kinds of problems. 

Be well, Stay safe

N