On Problem Solving

There is an old joke about an engineer, a priest, and a doctor enjoying a round of golf. Ahead of them is a group playing so slowly and inexpertly that in frustration the three ask the greenkeeper for an explanation. ‘That’s a group of blind firefighters,’ they are told. ‘They lost their sight saving our clubhouse last year, so we let them play for free.’ The priest says, ‘I will say a prayer for them tonight.’ The doctor says, ‘Let me ask my ophthalmologist colleagues if anything can be done for them.’ And the engineer says, ‘Why can’t they play at night?’

The greenkeeper explains the behavior of the firefighters. The priest empathizes; the doctor offers care. All three address the social context of the situation: the fact that the firefighters’ disability has inadvertently created conflict on the golf course. Only the engineer tries to solve the problem.

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Engineer's Lament" - http://www.newyorker.com/?p=3039159.

Gladwell goes on to note public misunderstanding of the crassness of engineering solutions to human problems. The joke also reminds me of a Non Sequitur cartoon from some years ago.