Thursday, November 14, 2013

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Love, Friendship or Benevolence – Solution from a Consultant !!

While one of my random trips across the maze of internet, I came across this aptitude question on one of the forums and I am sure most of you would be aware of the solution. In fact, the solution seems so logical and simple in the hindsight and I confess I could not come up with the exact solution. But once I knew the solution, I wondered if someone asks me that question now, how I would answer it so that I stay true to my profession. And so plays in mind this conversation which makes a simple question into convoluted business problem!


One of my clients (Mike) asks me an ice breaker question on one of our lunch outings and here goes sequence of the conversation-

Mike – Hey Tarun, let me give you a situation and let’s see how you solve the conundrum
Me – Sure Mike, shoot!

Mike – Suppose one evening, you are returning from work and you see at the bus stop there are three people standing waiting for the bus. Out of these one is an old lady who is ill and needs to reach hospital for treatment. Other one is a friend of yours who wants to reach to one of his job interviews for a position he needs badly. Third is a beautiful girl and is looking for a ride home. Now you know that bus service is off that evening and your car is only a two-seater vehicle. Now what would you have done in this situation?

Me – Huh, interesting situation!! But let’s tackle this in other way round. Let’s say I am a consultant and you are faced with this situation. Let’s us both try and assess this issue at hand and analyze the intricacies involved here. We should identify the options that you have here and weigh pros and cons of each of them. After evaluating all the options we would try and solve your problem.

Mike – Fine by me…let’s do it this way.
Me – Okay! Let us identify the stakeholder – I see there are 4 in this case – You, the old lady, your friend and the girl. Our aim is to find a solution such that you come out from the situation so that you satisfy as many stakeholders possible. So the metric for us here is – Sum of Stakeholders satisfied score, M. Let us calculate this metric as sum of a proxy variable which is defined as below:
Stakeholder satisfied, S stakeholder = 1(if a stakeholder is happy or satisfied);  0 (if stakeholder is in-different), -1 (if stakeholder is angry or disappointed)

Moption = Soldlady + Sfriend + Sgirl + Smike

So the maximum possible score here is 4 while the minimum could be - 4 right? Let’s set 50% of maximum score as a threshold!!
You need to find the solution so that you maximize the score. The lower the score the more you alienate others. You need to take this up seriously.
Mike – It definitely looks like a serious issue now. But yeah sounds like this is what we need to answer for this question.
Me - We would need to assess your psychological situation to understand you level of satisfaction under various situations. Here is a short questionnaire for you to answer –
Q1 – Do you know someone in your family who is old and needs medical attention frequently?
Q2 – Would you consider yourself social? How often do you hang out with your friends?
Q3 – Are you married?
·         If no, are you looking to get in a relationship?
·         If yes, are you happy in your current relationship?

Mike – Ummm, well let the answers in the order be – Q1: No; Q2: No(seldom); Q3:Yes(we do have seldom fights). But I don’t understand how that helps.
Me – Let me help you understand that. This helps us evaluate your satisfaction score in case of one of options you may have. You will get it as we move forward in our analysis.

Mike – Ohh okay! I trust you. Let’s move ahead.
Me - Also, we have three obvious options here, let’s look at them one by one to start with:
Option A – You pick the old lady and drop her off to a nearby hospital
Obviously, the lady would be happy as it solves her problem àSoldlady = 1
Your friend would be disappointed in you as he expects you to help him à Sfriend = -1
Girl does not know you so she does not care à Sgirl = 0
You, we know you are dissatisfied in your marriage so you would be disappointed for losing the chance of hanging out with the girl à Smike = -1
So in all, MoptionA = -1, Does not seem to be a good option.

Option B – You pick your friend and drop him off for his interview
The lady would be indifferent as she may not expect you to help her àSoldlady = 0
Your friend would be definitely happy à Sfriend = 1
Girl does not know you so she does not care à Sgirl = 0
You, would be disappointed for losing the chance of hanging out with the girl à Smike = -1
So in all, MoptionB = 0, Even this does not seem to be a good option.

Option C – You pick the girl and give her a ride to home
The lady would be indifferent as she may not expect you to help her àSoldlady = 0
Your friend would be disappointed in you as he expects you to help him à Sfriend = -1
Girl would be happy à Sgirl = 1
You may or may not get lucky and probability says you have equal chance. Lets give it a .5 score à Smike = 0.5
So in all, MoptionC = 0.5, Still not what we are looking for.

Option D – You simply drive off not stopping at the Bus Stop
The lady would be indifferent as she may not expect you to help her àSoldlady = 0
Your friend would not know that you were there à Sfriend = 0
Girl does not know you so she does not care à Sgirl = 0
You, would be disappointed for losing the chance of hanging out with the girl à Smike = -1
So in all, MoptionD = - 1, worse off again.

Now let us see what we have:
MoptionA = -1
MoptionB = 0
MoptionC = 0.5
MoptionD = - 1
None of these is what we want.

So none of the options we had works here. We probably have to increase our scope to look for an out of the box solution. What do you think?

Mike – Ahh okay..let’s try that. (There I earned more hours and hence more money)
Me – Okay let us first assess our current situation:
You are in a car which can seat two people. Old lady, friend and the girl are at the bus stop. Right?

Mike – yeah (he probably is thinking that was the question itself)
Me – Okay and now looking at the ideal goal state:
The old lady is at hospital; the friend is in office for the interview; girl wants to be at her home but there is not time constraint for her.
And what about you, where are you in ideal goal state?

Mike – I am not exactly sure? (he probably wants to say – I want to be back home watching a movie with my wife and munching nachos)

Me – Mike, you don’t care where you are as long as you are next to that girl…remember you are not satisfied in your marriage.
So, how to get to the goal state?
Let us put the girl at the bus stop for some time. So you want to be at the bus stop. The only people who want to leave the bus stop are the old lady and your friend. So we have two people who want to leave and a vehicle which can carry two people. See it is so simple. We have a new out of the box solution – Option E. Give the car to your friend. He can drop the old lady to the hospital and then go for his interview. You can walk the girl to her home (or to a coffee place if you get the chance). Let’s see where our metrics is now:
The lady would be happy àSoldlady = 1
Your friend would be happy à Sfriend = 1
Girl would be happy or unhappy, lets average it to 0à Sgirl = 0
You may or may not get lucky and probability says equal chances. Let’s give it a .5 score à Smike = 0.5
So in all, MoptionE = 2.5…….. Hurray we cross the threshold (I may have gone back and changed the threshold at this point of time)!!
This is what we needed. Mike your problem solved. Hey why have you not eaten anything?

Mike – I don’t really feel hungry. Just satisfied that everyone is happy now.


To all those who were tempted at many points of time to bring out the basic flaws in this entire sequence of assumptions, deductions or confusions - go ahead - do not shy away from posting it in the comments below!!

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