The Pebble Story

Many years ago, when a person who owed money could be thrown into jail, a merchant in London had the misfortune to owe a huge sum to a money-lender. The money-lender, who was old, ugly and wicked, fancied the merchant’s beautiful teenage daughter. He proposed a bargain.

He said he would cancel the merchant’s debt if he could have the girl instead. Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified at the proposal.

So the cunning money-lender proposed that they let Providence decide the matter. He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money-bag and then the girl would have to pick out one of the pebbles. If she chose the black pebble, she would become his wife and Her father’s debt would be cancelled. If she chose the white pebble she would stay with her father and the debt would still be cancelled. But if she refused to pick out a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail and she would starve.

Reluctantly, the merchant agreed. They were standing on a pebble-strewn path in the merchant’s garden as they talked and the money-lender stooped down to pick up the two pebbles. As he picked up the pebbles, the girl, sharp-eyed with fright, noticed that he picked up two black pebbles and put them into the money-bag. He then asked the girl to pick out the pebble that was to decide her fate and that of her father.

Imagine that you are standing on the path in the merchant’s garden.

What would you have done if you had been the unfortunate girl?

Refuse to take a pebble?

Point out that there are two black pebbles in the bag and expose the money-lender as a cheat? Take a black pebble and sacrifice yourself in order to save your father from prison?

None of the suggestions in this situation is very helpful, for if the Girl does not take a pebble her father goes to prison, and if she does take a pebble, then she has to marry the money-lender.

NOW, THINK LATERALLY! What do you think the girl did??

The girl in the pebble story put her hand into the money-bag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall to the path, where it was immediately lost among all the others. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said, “but never mind – if you look into the bag you will be able to tell which pebble I took by the Colour of the one that is left.”

Since the remaining pebble is of course black, it must be assumed that she had taken the white pebble, since the money-lender dare not admit his dishonesty. In this way, using lateral thinking, the girl changes what seems an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one!


Most complex problems do have a solution it is only that we don’t attempt to think. SO START THINKING…

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