Can you solve this……..

Many years ago in an Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to the village moneylender. The old and ugly moneylender fancied the farmer’s beautiful daughter, so he proposed a bargain. He would forgive the farmer’s debt if he could marry his daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal, but the cunning moneylender suggested that they let providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. The girl would have to reach in and pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble, she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. If she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail until the debt was paid.

They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the farmer’s field. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. The sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble. Now, imagine that you were the girl standing in the field. What would you have done? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her?

Careful analysis would produce three possibilities: (1) The girl could refuse to take a pebble—but her father would then be thrown in jail. (2) The girl could pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from debt and imprisonment. Or (3) The girl could pull out both black pebbles in the bag, expose the moneylender as a cheat, and likely incite his immediate revenge.

Take a moment to think through this story. I’ve used it with the hope that it will help you see alternate solutions beyond the obvious ones. The girl’s dilemma cannot be solved with traditional logical thinking.

You may be in a similar situation. You may be in a job you hate—but the pay is great. You think you have two choices: (1) You can stay in a job you hate. (2) You can leave the job but will then give up the great pay. Are these really all the options? Or you may not have a job right now. So you think either you must “find a job” or continue with no income? Could there maybe be other options?

Here is what the girl did. She put her hand into the money bag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble strewn path, where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.” Since the remaining pebble was black, it would have to be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl would have changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one.

Now, how could you see more creative solutions for your situation? A couple of years ago I coached a very successful media executive who came to me with a dilemma. Because he was so respected, he had been given increasing responsibilities over the years. His current position had squeezed out all his family and community commitments. He was working seventy to eighty hours a week, but he had also become used to the $180,000 in annual pay. He was considering whether to just accept his lot in life or to quit his job, give up his salary, and seek a more balanced life.

I proposed another choice. Since he was valued, why not approach his superiors with a new solution? Delegate much of his workload to allow him to contribute in his strongest areas of competence. They readily agreed. He was able to go back to a forty-hour workweek with no decrease in compensation. He began playing the cello professionally again, volunteering in his son’s school, playing in occasional golf tournaments, and managing his church bookstore. Simply by asking for a less than obvious solution, he was able to move into a new season of true success.

Moral of the story: Most complex problems have multiple solutions, if only we attempt to think beyond the obvious choices. Practice coming up with 4 or 5 possibilities for any situation you’re facing and you will begin experiencing success that few people discover.


This story and others are found in No More Mondays – with lots of new solutions to work issues. Use this coupon – NMMSPECIAL — for a $10.00 discount right now – we’ll send you the hardback book and also give you an immediate electronic copy. ($13 total)

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19 Responses to “Can you solve this……..”

  1. Matthew Casteel Says:

    If there’s one thing that keeps me coming back to Dan Miller’s materials, it’s his continued push to emplore us to look at our situations one more time and rethink the solutions. I have got to reprogram my thinking away from either/or to multiple solutions. Thanks Dan

  2. Brian Says:

    This is a great story and lesson. Our choices and solutions are not always black or white! This reinforces the concept of thinking outside the box. Creative people will look for these types of solutions, while others still live inside the box and feel constrained by the situation they are in.

  3. Tammy Vice Says:

    Hi Dan, I love this story. Just when you think you’ve run out of options, it’s time to think outside the box, or bag in this case.

    When you were telling about your granddaughter, it remeinded me of a song a friend & I wrote. We were talking about how tough our dads were, when we were coming up. Then we had kids and something happend to them. I hope you’ll visit the website when you get a chance and listen to “Somebody’s Grandpa”. Take care, tammy

  4. Andy Traub Says:

    Negotiation…I love it. Thanks Dan. I need to negotiate with myself on a few priorities. Appreciate it Dan.

  5. Dominic Encinias Says:

    This is a great story. it really helps me see how I have trained my mind to be completely the opposite of creative. I have trained my mind to do exactly what I have trained my mind to me.

    This story, as well as the book has helped inspire me to change my life and be more creative.

    Thanks for all you do, Dan.

  6. Tony Says:

    I love this story, I always need to remember that there are always more options. Speaking of which, I wonder what options the evil money lender could have come up with to put another twist in the story 🙂

  7. Christopher Browning Says:

    As a math major I love the use of the “Rule of inference” to help see new possibilities. If you remove the mathematical mumbo-jumbo ‘inference’ means to start with the end in mind and look backwards for ways to come to where you are currently.

    Thank you for the reminder.


  8. Robin Says:

    This is a wonderful story, Dan! Thank you so much for telling the story and interpreting it for us too! It is very nice to see traditional problems linked with our own current concerns. This seems to unlock some doors.

  9. Says:

    I think that sometimes there are limitations to what we can do. And many times, those limitations are just in our minds.

  10. Shannon Says:

    Oh yeah, this article helped me come up with some great alternatives to working the job I currently loathe:

    * Talk to my boss, tell them the truth, and most likely get fired.
    * Hold on and hope for the best while risking my health, sanity, dignity, and strength.
    * confide in someone who could probably help me, but might be a potential client for the business. That’s a no-no.
    * Just say “forget it,” quit and go bankrupt and end up homeless.

    Tell me how a pebble with solve that!

  11. Dan Miller Says:

    Shannon – the girl with the pebble would obviously see some additional options in your situation. I suspect you can as well.

  12. Shannon Says:

    No, I can’t. I’ve been look for other options for two years. Got any suggestions?

  13. Emerita Spellman Says:

    Thanks for the article. I like to read your website.

  14. ThatGuy Says:

    Shannon – An additional pebble to your dilemma – You obviously deal with customers directly. I assume you’re in some sort of sales or consulting type of work. I have to think that since you visit other places often, perhaps your clients can “loan” you for some time, or get put on some sort of “special assignment” where you’re not in the same situations as you were previously. This might keep you employed while reducing your stress by escaping some of the office politics at your main office. It’s often been nice for me to go on travel and escape the situations of a bad office environment.

  15. Shannon Says:

    Actually, I’m an administrative assistance for a service oriented company. Therefore, I must do phone sales. I’m not good at it. I keep studying it and trying new things, but I’m wired for service–not sales. Plus the stress comes from not only tying to work in a weakness rather than in my strengths, I am nano-micromanaged by those in authority over me. When I walk in the door every morning, all I see are a floor full of eggshells I must not break. Try living that way for two years. I would leave, but how can I job search while working? i can’t take time off for job interviews (my bosses will want to know why I’m taking any time off). HELP!

  16. Shannon Says:

    Just as I thought. When the rubber meets the road, it all falls silent. Hmm…

  17. dandy123 Says:

    Shannon, do you have vacation/personal days at your job? If so can you use them to maybe make some contacts, go on interviews, etc? If your boss asks you why you’re taking time off I would just say it has to do with personal matters and leave it at that. Is there anyone at all that might be able to help you that wouldn’t be a “conflict of interest – potential client”? What about a career counselor?

  18. Shannon Says:

    I’m not sure who I can make contact with. I’m planning on purchasing Mr. Miller’s 48 days book to see if I can get something going. As for taking personal/vacation days to job search-it won’t work. You don’t understand my bosses. Just telling them it’s for personal matters won’t cut it. They want details. I work for two extreme micromanagers. You have to have a very good reason to take time off for anything. Don’t get me wrong, I very much respect them as my bosses, but their controlling nature is wearing on my nerves.

  19. Terry Says:

    Although I appreciate Dan’s positive, glass is 3/4 of the way full outlook, I am a little concerned in that there are many people out there like Shannon. In a perfect world, bosses would respond appropriately, salaries would be fair and more people would love their jobs as opposed to hate them. This is a very difficult economy right now for job seekers and unfortunately many companies / bosses know that. In addition, not all people are equipped to work for themselves. I work with a woman I am trying to assist in getting a raise as she has not had one in four years. She feels unappreciated, overlooked by management and it affects her morale. My offer to help has lifted her spirits, but management, who give each other thousands every time one of them breathes, is suggesting 5% to 10% only for an already low paid assistant. What I noticed in your story, which happens a lot where I work, is that the guy making $180,000 delegates his work to others who will get nothing. He keeps his big salary and is able to financially enjoy life while those getting the extra work, well, you get the picture.
    I believe in never losing the dream, but I think people are looking for real solutions to their dilemmas.
    Hang in there Shannon! Don’t lose hope. Train your self to see even the slightest good where you are at. Most people who are micromanagers are insecure themselves and worried about their own jobs. Maybe you could talk to them about company paid training. You would get more experience at their expense and make yourself more marketable.

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