• Alexander Burkart

The World Needs More Problem Solvers: Coffee With Patrick McKeehan


If I asked you to tell me what the picture to the bottom right of this paragraph resembled, what would your answer be? If you’ve seen these drawings before, then your mind has already been prepped to think outside the box and answer accordingly. Although, if you were caught off guard like I was, you might return with a blank stare and stumble to come up with anything at all. It turns out these drawings are referred to as droodles, or optical mind games that ask you to think beyond the obvious and be creative with your answers.


Now why are these important? Patrick McKeehan, the Director of the Illinois Metro East SBDC and an adjunct professor at SIUE, demonstrated how these drawings can be used as a tool to introduce the idea of problem solving to students of all fields. Once he explained to me that the previous mentioned shape was a giraffe passing by a train car’s window, he asked me if I could describe the next drawing as seen below. I now knew what he was asking for, but still had trouble solving the problem by first glance. This one turned out to be a man riding a bike wearing a sombrero. The lesson behind these drawings are to teach us that the problem given to us might not be easily identified by first glance, and that it’s up to us to identify all viable possibilities.​



Now take this same concept and apply it to business, healthcare, engineering, or any field for that matter. We face problems daily. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us and easy to solve, but what about when they’re not? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a staff that was trained in the art of problem solving? What if you knew that by their college degree they were taught how to look at problems from every possible angle, question the original parameters, and actually be able to identify the root of the problem? This would then give your team the ability to develop feasible solutions, instead of throwing money at what end up being mere band-aids to these disruptive issues. This was the theme of my conversation with Patrick. We couldn’t agree more on the need for more problem solvers and an emphasis on teaching it in our classrooms across all fields of study. The amount of problems we face in this world are endless. With that said, we should never claim that there is a lack of opportunity, but instead a lack of emphasis on educating students to identify such opportunity and ultimately solve problems.