Friday, November 11, 2011

Solving dilemmas: Odysseus and the Sirens. [Separation in Space]

In ancient Greek mythology, the Sirens were sea nymphs who lured sailors to their death with a bewitching song. On his way home from Troy to Ithaca, Odysseus has to sail by the flowery island of Anthemoessa, where the Sirens lived.

The man faces a dilemma. On one hand, he wants to listen to the Sirens' song because it is ones in a lifetime opportunity to experience the most beautiful song in the world. On the other hand, he doesn't want to hear the song because it will cause him to forget himself and steer the ship toward deadly rocks.

Odysseus solves the dilemma by using the Separation in Space principle. To get the best of both worlds, i.e. to hear the song and avoid the deadly rocks, steering should not be mixed with listening. Odysseus, "that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide", tells his crew (Space 1) to plug their ears with wax and do the steering. The crew cannot hear the song and can't run the ship into the rocks. So far, so good.

He also tells the crew to tie him (Space 2) to the mast of the ship, so that when he hears the song he can't take over steering of the ship.

As a result, we've got a Space 1 element (the crew) that does the steering, and Space 2 (Odysseus) element that does the listening. VoilĂ , the dilemma is solved!

tags: dilemma, problem, solution, separation, triz
P.S. From a behavioral economics point of view, tying oneself to a mast is a commitment device that allows you to overcome the temptation of the present in favor of the future.
P.S.S. Separation in Space is a one of classical TRIZ principles for solving dilemmas. I needed a simple illustration of the principle for my book draft about problem solving methods. This one should probably work.

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