Stupid Puzzles

Some bosses like to present puzzles to their workers to teach them "critical thinking."  But sometimes that can backfire, especially if the boss screws up the description of the puzzle.

I'll use an example my former boss present to me once.

If machine A can produce 10 widgets a day and another machine can produce 5 widgets a day, how many widgets can the machines produce total?

This is a common logic exercise in business. But the way my boss presented it was all wrong. But I took the puzzle as he presented it to me, and gave the correct answer: "An unlimited number, unless they wear out first."

He gave me a shocked look and ask how I could possibly come up with an answer like that. I explained to him that there was no time limit in his question. He looked exasperated, so I decided to help him out. I asked, "Do you want to assume a time limit of one day?"

"Okay, if that helps," he said.

"In that case," I said, "15 widgets."

According to him, I had the wrong answer again. The problem, though, was that even with the addition of the time frame, the question still was not framed in the way it needed to be in order to produce the answer he was looking for.

"The answer is 5 widgets, don't you see it?" he asked?

I said, "If the input to machine B is the output of machine A, then sure, but you didn't say that. My answer was correct given your question."

At that point he decided to terminate the discussion.

So here is a man who obviously found this exercise in some management book, and thought he could impress somebody by regurgitating it. But he ended up posing the question wrong in two different ways, totally screwing the whole exercise up. He failed to understand the puzzle, he just read the answer, and thought that was enough to make him smart. He had used this exercise on others, but after our discussion, I never heard him use it again.

If it helps to show how stupid this is, consider this question, which is phrased exactly the way he phrased his:

If a chicken A can lay one egg a day, and chicken B can lay two eggs a day, how many eggs can they lay total?

Hell, for that matter how many eggs can a million chickens lay a day if one chicken can lay one egg a day. What moron (except for this former boss of mine) would say a million chickens can only lay one egg a day total?

That man never was a thinker. He was just a memorizer, and a bad one at that. This is a guy who bills himself as a "forward-thinking, entrepreneurial Operations and Business Development Leader with extensive experience in strategic planning..." and an "objective, analytical thinker and decision maker that sees through to the core issues...."  (See here for his full description of himself.)


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