Problem solving with digital watches

…most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

At a few times each year, a digital watch is handed to me with a request for it to be set to the current time. British Summer Time, GMT or some far flung timezone the trigger event. The owner of the watch does not know how to do it and despite several attempts, can not change the time.

But I don’t know how to complete this task.

I don’t do it frequently enough for it to be worthy of a place in my memory.

From an L&D perspective this should be a suitable case for a resource. A short set of instructions for me to follow to set the new time.

Yet it is typically completed in less time than it would take to search for and read such a guide.

So how would you develop someone to be able to do a task or solve a problem without having seen it before?

What I think I do is look for patterns:

  • One of the buttons will make one of the digits flash
  • One of the buttons will make a different digit flash
  • One of the buttons will change the digit
  • One of the buttons will stop everything flashing

Is four steps enough? Probably not. There are a few alternatives or exceptions that should be encountered:

  • It might be necessary to hold a button longer to achieve the desired result
  • Holding a button longer may make undesirable things happen
  • Not pressing any button may make everything stop flashing
  • Rather than a single press it may be necessary to press two buttons at once

Is that sufficient?

Again, probably not. Some personal attributes are necessary:

  • Be able to endure a number of failed attempts
  • To have good short term memory to prevent repeating unsuccessful patterns
  • To be motivated to compete this task with no expectation of reward

Finally, none of this would work without a well designed user interface. Because even though I can do this with the digital watch, twice a year the cooker is reset by the watch owner following the manual.