I just love the Graham Norton show.  Clearly I have a natural affinity, being a Brit, but his wit, candor and his ability to enable his guests to shine, be humane and laugh at themselves in a positive way is just great.  But this is not a plug for Graham Norton.  What I am about to tell you, however, I discovered on his show.  He recently had a guest who demonstrated a particular logic problem, which I found very interesting.  But before I explain why, here is the problem and let’s see if you can figure it out.

The Logic Problem
I have four hats; two red and two blue.  I ask three of my colleagues to stand in a line, one behind each other as if they are queuing and all facing the same way, not looking at each other – as shown below.

I then place a hat on each person’s head without any of them knowing what colour hat they have been given.

  • Kerry gets a red hat but is not able to see the colour of any of the hats
  • Graham gets a blue hat but can only see the colour of Kerry’s hat
  • Mauer gets a red hat and can see both the colour of Graham’s and Kerry’s hat

Each person has to try to determine what colour hat they have been given, red or blue, without touching and removing the hat from their head, or turning around and seeing what colour hats the others are wearing or even asking the others any questions.  The first person to shout out the colour of the hat that is on their head wins.

Who do you think can actually win? And why?

Any thoughts?  Okay so before I tell you the answer, here’s why I love this logic problem.  The answer requires you to think big picture.  It requires you to take in all the information that is at your fingertips, literally everything.  And to get the answer, you genuinely have to think about and appreciate the problem from someone else’s perspective.

Okay so take another minute and see if you can figure it out now.  Who; Mauer, Graham or Kerry, is able to actually figure out what colour hat they are wearing without using any props or cheating?

Here is a little more input to help……Mauer, doesn’t shout out what colour hat he has on his head…

Okay, so enough teasing.  The answer is ‘Graham’.  Graham is the only one who is able to know for sure what colour hat he has on his head.  Why?  Because he’s smart!  Only kidding, although he is, it’s because he knows the following…

  • There are 2 red hats, and 2 blue hats
  • Kerry has a red hat on her head, which leaves 1 red hat and two blue
  • If Mauer could see two red hats then he would have immediately known that he himself was wearing blue and shouted it out to win the game.  But he didn’t.  Therefore, Graham can deduce that Mauer must see one red hat and one blue hat.
  • Therefore, Graham knows that if Kerry is wearing red, he must have blue.

This is so pertinent to business.  Challenges come up all the time and so often, but because maybe everyone is running at a mile a minute, the issue isn’t really addressed holistically, or looked at from different but important perspectives.  While a solution is often quickly evident, a better or more appropriate approach might be missed. For example, when sales are down in a store, it’s great to ask consumers for their perspectives as to why, but you also need to look at the sales data, ask the front line teams, store managers, cashiers etc. to get the 360 degree view.  You also need to think about what people are ‘not’ saying, as this can be just as telling, or more so, than what they do say.

It’s about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.  Figuratively and sometimes literally!  Lucky for me, I have small feet!

Understanding everyone’s thinking is also a great way to see if everyone is on the same page.  It becomes very clear when perspectives are not aligned.  We often see this, particularly between marketing or managers and front line teams.  This misalignment can then create friction, which as we all know is never good.

So when your next challenge comes up, whatever it might be, try and see it from all angles, from different perspectives, and think through what they might do or say and why.  This might sound incredibly obvious, but so is the solution to the hat problem above, when it’s given to you!

Caroline Freakes

Caroline Freakes

If you’re looking for someone with astute talent in unearthing richer insight, and getting to the heart of issues, Caroline is it! (British wit included!)
Caroline Freakes

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