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Hello, My Name is Problem: An Icebreaker
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/25/2017

Bouchard hello my name is problem The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Goldie Locks is a lesson for us all. Solving problems is a matter of finesse. The right amount of pressure must be applied to optimally conclude any difficulty. Sometimes we are too hard and sometimes we are too soft. Perhaps we can apply the ‘just right’ amount of pressure by looking at the extremes.

There are some who will employ a machete and others who will utilize a scalpel when a pair of scissors is the only implement necessary, It is in the extremes that one sees the distressing solutions.

For example, it is probably just as ineffective to kill a fly with a sledge hammer as it is with a feather. The former is an unwieldy tool that will be too slow to kill a fly. The latter is simply too soft. A just right solution is to use a fly swatter or a rolled-up newspaper.

Split the class into two teams. One team will be called Sledge Hammer and the other team will be called Feather. Each team will do the same thing as the other – solve the ten problems listed below. However, team Sledge Hammer will conceive of the solution that exerts the most force. Team Feather will use the least amount of effort to solve a problem, but still while doing something. Team Feather cannot resort to doing nothing in this game, though virtually nothing is permissible.

Everyone on each team is a contributor to the extreme ways we solve problems. Each team will also have a scribe and someone who reports out. Once all ten problems have been ‘solved’ in the prescribed style of each team, they are read in pairs, each reporter rendering their team answer.

For example:

Team Sledge Hammer: We were tasked with killing a fly. We burned down the house in which the fly was located.
Team Feather: We were tasked with killing a fly. We asked the fly to lay down and give up its life.

Then all in class try to solve the problem on the spot. Some moderate, sensible solutions to the fly problem are fly strips, newspapers and insect spray.

Some problems for Sledge hammer and Feather teams to solve are:
  1. Someone parks in your normal parking spot.
  2. You receive a past due notice on a bill that you know you mailed on time.
  3. Your neighbor’s dog continues to defecate on your lawn and your neighbor never picks it up or even apologizes for the multitude malodorous mounds.
  4. The transmission in your truck malfunctions five hundred miles after the warranty has expired.
  5. Despite your unimpeachable reputation, a coworker is spreading the rumor that you are engaging in marital infidelity. Incidentally, that co-worker is up for the same promotion as you.
  6. You make all arrangements for vacation, including the purchase of non-refundable tickets. You were given permission from your supervisor to do so, yet she is now rescinding this.
  7. You are pulled over by the police because a prankster at work wired a mannequin under your car and it looks like you are dragging a cadaver. Bonus: there are two problems, the ticket and the prank.
  8. Your three friends want to eat at an Italian restaurant and you want Mexican food.
  9. Someone darts ahead of you to buy the last window air conditioner unit. Record temperatures are predicted tomorrow.
  10. A prisoner keeps asking you the same question about policy and appears to be holding out for a different answer. You supplied the same policy driven answer for five weeks straight.
After these problems have been discussed, distribute this article.

Hello, my name is problem.

Have we met before? My name is problem. You seem familiar. In fact, I remember you from just about every difficult time in your career. How should we deal with each other in this round?

Corrections offers, even heaps, many challenges upon all who enter the profession. For many of these we cannot really do anything but react. We are largely helpless to fiscal strategies, political appointments, influx of new offenders and societal trends.

Certainly, this is not a sunny forecast. That does not mean that we are necessarily helpless. There are simply many variables.

Just as rain will fall on us, so too, will problems of all sorts. Here are five general sets of questions to apply to all varieties of that which vexes our profession:

Know the history – Has the problem occurred before? How was it handled? Was the resolution successful? Might the method work again?

Know the players – Who are the players in the open? Are there any behind-the-scenes agents of fortune? Do they work in competition or in complement? What sort of leadership (if any) may be needed to assist the players?

Know the ripples – When you throw a large stone in a pond, ripples flow outward from the point of impact. But what is the pond like in this scenario? What are the ramification of a hard and quick strike versus one subtle? In other words, are you using a sledge hammer to kill a fly? Do you know the possibilities and probabilities of your actions? Will addressing the problem in a certain way be worth the consequences?

Know the aftermath – What are the contingency plans when the solution is implemented but is not effective? Can you truly know when the problem is solved when you do not have a definition of success? What are the preventative measures for the next round of problems?

Know yourself – How are you looking at the problem? Is it in line with those on your team? Are you a solo artist at heart or a team player as needed? When you look at all of the questions posed above, do you dive in head first or hesitate?

So please remember my name. I am problem. You will never know when I will return or how often I will manifest. Despite those unknowns, I will definitely return. What you choose to do about me is up to you.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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