Recent stories of toilet paper hoarding remind me of my own toilet paper apocalypse and the lesson I learned from it. On a 3-day visit to a remote atoll in French Polynesia, I awoke on Dec. 17, 1977 at the home of my host family—nature was calling…
First Problem: Where’s the bathroom?
Noting that there was no bathroom in my host family’s home and not being able to speak either French or Polynesian, I expressed my needs to the family using my charade skills. They understood and pointed me towards the lagoon.
I walked down the path to the beach and from there I could see out in the shallows an outhouse on stilts just above the water line. I waded through the warm water to the facility and opened the door.
Second Problem: Where’s the toilet paper?!
Back I went, wading through the water and then back up to my host family’s home for another round of charades. This one was more difficult, but after a while they produced a somewhat small, waxy piece of tissue paper. That would have to do.
Precious tissue in hand, I waded out to the outhouse, climbed into the structure, and sat down on the roughhewn wooden seat. It was at that point I noticed some French newspapers placed next to the seat. My 13-year-old brain thought, “it’s awfully dark in here to read a newspaper.”
Ask the Right Question
Later that day, reflecting on my morning adventure and anticipating a similar dilemma the following morning, I asked myself, “If toilet paper is not available, how is everyone dealing with this common problem?”
Reframe the Problem
At that point, I realized that my problem was not a lack of toilet paper but the need to clean myself. Once I had reframed the problem, my mind instantly presented new ideas. For instance, I realized that the newsprint in the dark outhouse was not for reading. Also, I realized I had access to a warm-tropical-water bidet. There were many ways to solve my problem!
Not Invented Here
Sometimes we become wedded to a certain idea or way of doing things. Especially when we are faced with the stress of solving an urgent problem, we suffer from the myopia of amygdala hijack. Taking a moment to understand the underlying root problem, you are apt to open yourself to new ideas and new perspectives.
How do you develop a rich set of diverse ideas for consideration to solve the challenges that you face?