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After a long day’s work, I arrived home to a distraught wife. Not, “Hi, sweetheart” but “This doorbell is driving me crazy!” 

Me: “What doorbell? What are you talking about?” 

People differ in how they perceive the world around them. In my case, for instance, I’m very easily distracted by movement in my visual field. Noise can be annoying, but it rarely rises to that level. For instance, when commercials come on, I simply “tune them out” and instead tune in to my own thoughts. My high frequency hearing isn’t too great either. So, at first, I didn’t understand what my wife was referring to. 


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“That! That doorbell beep!” 

Ah, now I understood. And, there it went again. Once I knew what to listen for, I had to agree it was annoying though much more annoying to my wife because she’s more tuned in to sound than I am and her ability to hear high frequencies is also better.

She then upped the ante. “I have to leave. I can’t stand it! You have to make it stop!” 

I looked at the wall between our entryway and the kitchen. That’s where the doorbell ringer was. I unscrewed a couple of screws and removed the housing. Inside was the actual doorbell and three wires. A quick snip should at least stop the noise until we figured out a more permanent fix. I sighed. I suspected we would have to buy a new doorbell. Then, I laughed a bit as the Hollywood scenes from a hundred movies flashed before my eyes:

The Hero finds the bomb, with its conveniently placed timer, but it’s counting down 30 seconds, 29, 28. He’s cut to cut a wire! But which one!?

The consequences of my error would not be so great. Still…So, I cut the black wire.

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OK. I cut the red wire.


OK. I cut the green wire, the last wire. I was having trouble understanding why it would be necessary to cut all three wires. But whatever. I had now cut all three wires.



Electrical circuits don’t work by magic. How can the doorbell be beeping when it has no power? 

It can’t. 

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It wasn’t the doorbell at all.

Months earlier, my wife & I had attended a Dave Pelz “Short School” for putting, chipping, and sand shots. At that course, we received a small electronic metronome — about the size of a credit card. The metronome was to be used to help make sure you had a consistent rhythm on your putting stroke. Since the course, the metronome had sat atop our upright piano. Apparently, one of the cats had turned it on and then slapped it onto the floor behind the piano. The sounding board amplified the sound and made it harder to localize. Eventually, we tracked it down, fished out the metronome from behind the piano and clicked it off. Problem solved. 

Except for the non-functional doorbell. 

I had initially “solved” the wrong problem. I had solved the problem of the mis-firing doorbell by cutting all the wires. That was not the problem. I had jumped on to my wife’s formulation and framing of the problem. There are plenty of times in my life when I had solved the wrong problem without any help from someone else. This isn’t a story about assigning blame. It’s a story about the importance of correctly solving the right problem. 

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It is very easy to get led into solving the “wrong” problem. 

In the days ahead, I will relate a few more examples. 


What about the Butter Dish? 

Index to “Thinking tools” 

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