Friday, April 1, 2011

When "wrong" isn't

If you are taking a course in school, the course has particular objectives which the students need to master. So if you're taking a science class, you would be expected to demonstrate some level of scientific knowledge. If you do not demonstrate this level of scientific knowledge, you will fail the course.

But what if you demonstrate some other type of knowledge?

Some time ago, Patty Azzarello read a story in an airline magazine (she can't remember which magazine) that she has shared on several occasions. I read the story in SalesForce Magazine, but Azzarello has shared it in other places, such as in a post in her Business Leadership Blog. As Azzarello recalls, the question was phrased as follows:

If you needed to find out the height of a tall building using only a barometer, how would you do it?

If you were taking the science course, the "correct" answer required you to compare the air pressures at the top and the bottom of the building, and performing height calculations based upon air pressure.

But Azzarello was more interested in two of the answers that the science teacher marked as wrong.

One student said he would take the barometer to the top of the building, drop it off, count how many seconds it takes to hit the ground, and calculate the height based on the time of the fall.

Frankly, I'm not sure why the science teacher gave no credit for this response, since it did employ a scientific principle - just not the principle that the science teacher cared about at that particular time. (Presumably if the chapter had discussed gravity, the barometric pressure answer would have been marked as wrong.)

But the answer that really appealed to Azzarello was one that did not invoke a scientific principle at all, but a human one.

This student said, I would find the general manager of the building and say to him. “If you tell me how tall this building is, I will give you this barometer.”

Azzarello continued her blog post by trying to identify ways to find the creative people via a job interview process. Unfortunately, there are times in which creative questions are repeated ad nauseum until they become overly restrictive. Hint to interviewers: the round manhole covers question became passe a decade ago.
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