Thursday, June 7, 2012

Paradigm shift

Big word for a simple concept. The term is normally used to describe a large shift in scientific thinking. This post describes a couple of small shifts in personal thinking.

On Saturday, as I examined a large tree, I noticed a 6d nail protruding from its bark. Diagram here, with the tree on the left, showing only the bark, with the part of the nail inside the tree colored gray.
Knowing a bit about nails and wood, particularly soft bark, I began to gently wiggle the nail head back and forth, all while pulling it straight out. I couldn't get it to come out.

While wiggling the nail, I happened to give it a bit of a twist, and suddenly, my mental model of the hidden part of the nail changed.

Oh, the nail had been pounded in at an angle and then bent. With the new understanding, it came out in seconds.

A small shift in thinking had a huge impact on my ability to remove the nail without tools.

Several weeks ago, I moved into a newly renovated office space. In each area of the office, the lights come on automatically as one walks into or through (or out of) the area. After some time without any motion, they turn off automatically.

Last Wednesday, I noticed that they weren't coming on. So, I went over to the sensor and waved at it. Still no lights. Shrugging, I returned to my desk and turned on a lamp. There was enough ambient light to see the keyboard and the screen lights up, so there was no real need for lights anyway.

The next day, same thing. I happened to see the office manager in the break room, so I asked him about it. He said, "That's odd." We walked over to my area, and sure enough the lights didn't come on. Then, he said, "Oh, I know what it is." He walked over to the door into the area from the hallway and flipped a light switch. The lights came on. And the motion sensor has worked since.

Now, I have known about light switches since before I can remember. So it was really odd. The office manager mentioned that when this had happened to him a week or so earlier, he had had to ask someone too. While trying to get a light to come on, why didn't we think to look for a switch?

This is an interesting bit of human nature. If something is done for us long enough, we forget how to do it for ourselves. In this case, only a couple of weeks of having something done for me was enough to disable me. I can't help but see a parallel with the "Nanny State" and believe that it is not necessarily good to do things for people when they are capable of doing for themselves.