More Wisdom from Pop Culture – Let’s Build a Filter

In my work, I’ve often reverted to analogies between any current situation and something I have seen or heard elsewhere in pop culture, in that I feel I can learn a lot about ‘what to do’ through the comparison.  As a physics teacher, I frequently referenced one specific scene from Apollo 13 with my students as an exemplar in the problem-solving process.  Now, in a different role in school administration, I look back on this example as equally important to remember in helping to organize a system.  (I’ve edited the video in this link using Splicd to include only those 30 seconds that apply to the blog.)

“Those CO2 levels are going to be toxic.”  The team member starts out by recognizing a problem, and stating it clearly for everyone else on the team to hear.  Prior to this section, the rest of the team has laid out each of these challenges that they have recognized in developing a solution to this problem.

“Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole…rapidly.” The organizational leader has responded to the problem at hand with a goal for the team- a goal that has all of the characteristics of a SMART goal.  It’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely…all in 15 words.

The team dumps all of their assets out on the table.  Team Leader: “We’ve gotta find a way to make this [square filter] fit into the hole for this [round filter] using nothing but that [stuff on the table].” One of my favorite parts of this scene, the NASA team has collected everything available to the astronauts out in space and put it out on the table.  In physics problem-solving, we called that action, “Listing our givens,” or being really clear about what we know, and what tools we have available to us. Too often, I notice groups focusing all of their time on those first two steps above (identifying challenges and articulating a goal) without acknowledging the current state of “what we’ve got available to us.”

Team member: “Let’s get it organized.”  This one ‘throw-away’ line is my FAVORITE part of the entire scene, in that I think it is the most crucial for the team’s success.  There are myriads of ways to use this ‘stuff’ that the team has laid out on the table, but those pieces won’t necessarily do the team any good until they have been able to ‘see everything that they have.’  

More importantly, each of these assets is currently on the space shuttle because it was made to serve a specific purpose.  The team is going to have to ‘think differently’ about the stuff if they will be of any use in this re-purpose.  At any organizational crossroads, most of the assets available in the ‘current state’ currently serve a completely different purpose than that which they might be used for in the future, and it might be more important to use this asset to respond to the immediate challenge.  Being clear about the implications of any given change keeps the team thinking ‘big-picture’ while building a solution.

I’m always looking to learn: What are your ‘Words of Wisdom from Pop Culture?’  When have you learned something new about the problem-solving process by seeing someone else go through it on screen?  Feel free to share through comment below.