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Keeping it simple

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Kim Kim | 13:27 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

Dear Enayat

I enjoyed reading your last post, and was reminded by your solution to the selection problem that the best ideas are the simple ones. You developed a fair and unbiased method of selecting council members that was acceptable to all because it was neutral, it didn't favour anyone.

A creative way to solve problems is to use a technique called brainstorming. To be successful in solving any problem we first have to believe that we can solve it. To do this we have to have a clear idea of what the problem is. So the first step is to write out the problem as simply as possible at the top of a piece of paper. We then try to write down as many solutions to the problem as we can think of - the secret is not to evaluate any of the solutions but to simply list them. Once you have a long list of possible solutions you can then start to evaluate them - to explore if they would work in practice. A factor in this would be how expensive they are and how simple they would be in to into practice.

I was told many years ago of a very clever example of brainstorming. There was a tall building in America that had a problem with people waiting for the lift. People wanted to get to work but the lifts were slow and so they complained. The owners of the building were concerned that the companies renting the offices would move out as there was no way they could make the lifts any faster. So they brainstormed solutions. They didn't evaluate any of them until they had a very long list. One solution was to employ a clown to entertain the people while they waited. This one didn't win. But the winning solution was to put full length mirrors in front of the lift doors. This worked because the people waiting had something to occupy them while they waited - looking at themselves. This was a simple and inexpensive solution. The simple ones are always the best.

Has anyone got any examples of when they have thought of as effective a solution as Enayat? It would be great to hear about them. Also, Enayat - could you tell us more about the Youth High Council? What will the Council be doing? Oh, and congratulations on becoming a member too!

Anyway, now to look at some of the language of your post. As usual, you are showing your skill at narrating an event - and you are using articles well in this post on the whole. There are some nouns which you are using in the singular rather than the plural form. Here are the examples - I have made the forms plural by using bold text - I've also added articles where they are needed:

'...to participate in a gathering where representatives from several other youth organization were also invited...'

'...and other high ranking governmental officials were sitting among the huge number of youth in the International Media Hall...'

'...the organizer asked the youth representatives to introduce candidates for the council...'

'...some of the representatives criticized on the process of the election...' (by the way, you don't need the word 'on' in this sentence)

'...some of the representatives supported the current election system...'

Then there are two places where you have used the plural rather than the singular form:

'I proposed the system of Lottery which was welcomed by audiences

'...on a piece of papers ...'

Next time you are writing something, look at the nouns in the text. Are they singular? Or plural? Do you need to add an article? It is hard to review everything in a text, but a good technique is to look for something specific. You can look out for the mistakes that you typically make.

I've noticed that in your posts you often use 'few' where perhaps 'a few' would be better, so I thought we could have a quick look at the difference between the two.

Few and a few

Few and a few are quantifiers - they are words which tell us how much there is of something. Both few and a few mean the same things, that is 'not very many'.

So when do we use few and when do we use a few? It is difficult to say when we use which as they indicate a similar number. The sentences below mean the same number of people (more or less). They both mean - a small number of people came to the party:

A few people came to the party
Few people came to the party

The difference between the sentences is in the attitude of the speaker or writer.

A few people came to the party means a small number of people came to the party but it was enough. The speaker sees it in a positive way.

Few people came to the party means a small number of people came to the party, but it wasn't enough. The speaker sees it in a negative way.

Note that you use few and a few with countable nouns, for example, people, chairs, members...

If you are talking about uncountable nouns, for example, money, then you use little or a little in the same way. Look at these two sentences as an example:

I earned a little money.

I earned little money.

Here is a task:

What does the speaker mean in the two sentences above?

Well I shall leave you to ponder that question!

Best wishes,

unbiased - being fair, not being influenced by your own opinions
neutral - not saying or doing anything to help one person
brainstorming - suggesting a lot of ideas very quickly
evaluate - consider the importance or value of something
factor - a fact or situation that helps you make a decision
lift - a machine like a box which taes people up and down buildings
concerned - worried
clown - an entertainer who has a painted face, wears silly clothes and makes people laugh
full length mirror - a long mirror in which you can see the whole of your body
occupy somebody - keep somebody busy
ponder - think about carefully


  • Comment number 1.

    I like the idea of brainstorming, but can,t agree to the so called a fair and unbiased method of selecting council members . When we try to slove a problem , we need to consider what is really needed.
    The reason why we select the member of the Youth Council is that we want a better life for the youth in Afghanistan. Although the lottery way can guarantee the fair,it can,t ensure the member elected will represent the youth in Afghanistan. So we need to let the majority youth in Afghanistan to be involved in the selection process and select those who can really perform to be members of the Youth Council. And it,s also necessary to have a deparment to supervise the Youth Council and make sure it serves the youth.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear Kim,
    Thanks for your work on my topic.

    I earned a little money.
    I earned little money.

    I earned a little money, means; at least i earned some money which is better than nothing.

    I earned little money means, i earned money which is not enough and i am not happy with it and i had to earned more.

    Hope i answered correctly.


    Enayat Safi

  • Comment number 3.

    That's right Enayat!

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Kim,
    Thank you very much for your good advice. It seems to me I hadn't got any such experiences as unusual solutions, at least I don't remember anything like in your story in my life.
    Famous american singer-songwriter Tom Waits in one of his great interviews tells that story:
    ...A judge in Baltimore, Mariland, in 1890 presided over a trial where a man who was accused of murder and was guilty - convicted by a jury of his peers - was let go, when the judge said to him at the end of the trial, "You are guilty, sir... but I cannot put in jail an innocent man." You see, the murderer was a Siamese twin...~(c)

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Kim,
    This is my first time coming to this site. I found it very interesting and useful. Thank you for your hard work.

    About the 2 questions at the end of your post, my guess is that

    I earned a little money. It means that I earned very little, just enough for basic needs.
    I earned little money. It means that the money I earned is enough for basic needs. I earned little money is that I earned more money compared to "I earned a little money"

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Arnold
    The amount of money earned might be exactly the same - it is more that the speaker sees it positively or negatively. In one the speaker is happier with the amount of money than the other - hope this makes sense!

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi.Liyun Wan
    I think news reporters and taxpayers(if they cost texpayers' money :)) will supervise the Youth council(although it doesn't happen in China, lol), So it doesn't need another department to cost texpayers's money. And about other problems, I think they will do better, Don't you think so?
    Best wishes.

    Mike from China


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