I’ll Turn You Into an Out-of-the-Box Thinker Yet

I got more email regarding last week’s column than on any one I’ve ever written. In it, as a way of inspiring you to come up with out-of-the-box ideas, I shared one that I cooked up—a way to reinvent high school education.

Well, ever wanting to meet my reader’s needs, here are two more unconventional ideas. These address what may be the Bay Area’s biggest current local issues:

San Mateo representative George Miller spearheaded a deal that would allow the 250-member Lytton Band of the Pomo Indian tribe to build a casino in the middle of the Bay Area, right off one of the busiest stretches of Interstate 80. Even if its originally proposed 12-story size is halved to a “mere” 2,500 slot-machined Loser’s Paradise, it would create hypergridlock in the already choked I-80, stealing precious time from already harried commuters while poisoning the air with all the idling cars and trucks. Worse, in the name of creating 250 millionaires, that casino would extract millions of dollars from the patrons who on average are poor, those who can least afford it.

My simple solution: Give each of the 250 Lytton Band members $1 million, which would cost each California resident only an additional $6 in additional tax, one time only! The 250 get to be millionaires while allowing countless poor people to keep their money and freeing our freeways from additional gridlock. But you say, what about the tax money that would have gone to the state? I dare any politician to say they’re in favor of such a regressive tax. If the state needs more money (and that is highly dubious), poor people are the last ones who should be expected to bail out the state.

Next issue. A month ago, tolls on Bay Area bridges were $2.00. Now they’re three. Backups at the plazas, already horrendous, immediately doubled and have stayed that way—it’s tough to dig up $3.00 on command while driving. The miles-long toll plaza backups rob commuters of precious time, and their idling cars and trucks worsen air pollution. And now they’re talking about increasing the tolls for the long-since-paid for bridges to four dollars and then even five.

My simple solution: Blow up all the toll booths (without the tolltakers in them.). Every time, a car passed a toll plaza, a digital license plate reader connected to a computer (already used at toll plazas to catch toll evaders) would add the cost of the toll to the person’s next-year’s registration fee. What about out-of-state residents? The hotel and car rental tax could be increased to match the amount in tolls paid annually by out-of-state drivers.

Let’s turn to you, my reader. They say we learn by example, and I hope that these examples will inspire you to think of out-of-the-box solutions for the problems you face in your worklife. But if you’d like a little more guidance, let’s look at the principles I used to come up with those solution. Actually, I used just one principle: Figure out what the real goal is and how it can be achieved with the fewest side effects.

So, with regard to the casino issue, I asked myself, “What do the Indians want, really want?” They don’t really want a casino. That’s merely a means to an end. They want money. And how can they get the money with as few side effects as possible?” Just give it to them.

I did the same thing with the toll collection problem. I started by asking, “What is the true goal here?” Again, it’s to collect money. And how can they get it with the fewest side effects?” Replace all mechanical toll taking with an automatic system that requires no additional billing systems.

Advice I’d Give My Child

If you simply keep your head down and do your work, you’ll likely always be a poorly paid worker bee. Constantly keep your antennae out for ways to build a better mousetrap. To ensure you get the credit, float the idea for feedback in an email to the staff or in a staff meeting. Or, consider the possibility that your better mousetrap might yield a self-employment opportunity for you.

© 2009, Marty Nemko

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He is the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in (NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on . 400+ of his published writings are available free on that website and is a co-editor of Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.

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