Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tools to win favour with a difficult child

Perhaps one of the funniest episodes in Blackadder Goes Forth sees Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) awaiting execution for disobeying orders from his superiors.

As Blackadder waits in his cell, he is visited by the cheerful but simple Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson), bearing a sack of goods (disguised as a picnic lunch) and [the usual] 'cunning plan'.

The sack contains an escape kit, as Baldrick has surmised that Blackadder's appearance before the firing squad in less than 24 hours is otherwise inevitable. Of course, Baldrick's idea of a useful escape kit differs somewhat from Blackadder's. Blackadder begins to rifle through the sack:

Edmund: Let's see, what have we here? A small painted wooden duck.

Baldrick: Yeah, I thought if you get caught near water, you can
balance it on the top of your head as a brilliant disguise.

Edmund: Yeeeesss, I would, of course, have to escape first. Ah,
but what's this? Unless I'm much mistaken, a hammer and a

Baldrick: You ARE much mistaken!

Edmund: A pencil and a miniature trumpet.

Baldrick: Yes, a pencil so you can drop me a postcard to tell me
how the breakout went, and a small little tiny miniature trumpet
in case, during your escape, you have to win favour with a
difficult child.

Baldrick's 'cunning plans' pivot somewhere between the absurd,
the insane and the peculiarly plausible. As Blackadder unpacks
the remainder of the kit, the 'logic' of Baldrick is further

The inclusion of a Robin Hood outfit is ludicrous to Blackadder
but makes perfect sense to Baldrick ("I put in a French peasant's
outfit first, but then I thought, 'What if you arrive in a French
peasants' village and they're in the middle of a fancy dress

There is both madness and brilliance to be found in Baldrick's
plan. The obvious tools for a prison breakout won't be found

But what if Blackadder did have to 'win favour with a difficult
child'? What if he did turn up in a French peasants' village
and they were in the middle of a fancy dress party?

It got me thinking about organisations and how they problem
-solve. There is often a laziness to our problem-solving, an
'A or B' / '0 or 1' / 'On / Off' approach. The capacity to be flexible
problem-solvers, to walk around a situation and view it from
many different angles, to realise that if we can only come up
with one way out of a problem then we probably aren't working
that smart, leaves space for the Baldricks of our world.

We may be used to looking for a Swiss passport or a hammer in
our escape kit, but difficult children are not charmed by Swiss

Insanity may lie the way of a Baldrick-style 'cunning plan', but
that is not to say there is no logic to it. Sometimes wisdom
appears in the garb of foolishness (and, yes, sometimes
foolishness appears in the garb of foolishness).

Sometimes the 'obvious' solution falls short, and it is the painted
wooden duck that delivers the goods.

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