Seemingly simple solutions can solve complex problems

Duane Dailey

You’ve heard it: “There are no stupid questions.”

Now, let’s look at answers. Whoa!

As a college teacher it took me a long time to learn simple answers can be profound. To a supposedly smart teacher they seem so simple they sound stupid. They seem not worthy of saying. Everyone knows that! Wrong.

I’ve found the simplest fix for a non-working computer is to turn it off, turn it on and try again. By golly, that works so many times. The results are profound.

A surprise to me, the teacher, is to be thanked for teaching something that I didn’t know I taught. The student learned by watching me work. I never thought to spell out how I work.

I pass on a farm-boy work ethic without knowing it. Part of that says when things go wrong, you fix and go on. I call it the baling-wire ethic. It may not be pretty, but when it works it’s beautiful. The same applies to duct tape. Fix it, do the job and make a better fix later.

It’s getting the job done on deadline not how you do it that counts.

This column was triggered by a writer I don’t know in an e-mail received this week. Four months ago, I changed a writer’s approach to writing. Now he can write. I never knew until he thanked me.

At the Missouri Photo Workshop in Eldon, Mo., the writer was lost and wandered into our show. He picked up a newsletter I wrote about writing.

My first advice to would-be writers: “Put your butt in a chair in front of a computer. Put your fingers on the keyboard and wiggling them. Write something, anything. Ideas start flowing. (To meet this weekly deadline, I sometimes do that on Sunday mornings.)

I was retired and teaching an honors class to ag econ students when I learned to tell that tip. Nothing gets written, until you sit down and write. Simple.

It’s like the lack of instructions that come with computers. They don’t say: “Plug it in.” That’s so simple it’s stupid. But guess what, it must be done.

Recently I encountered a new-fangled coffee maker. I put a pod in the top and closed the lid. Instructions on the screen told how to make one cup of coffee. It didn’t. Finally, I reached behind the machine in the space between the machine and the wall. I found an on switch, which was not mentioned in the instructions.

I can now make mess-free coffee. Profound.

If you want to make someone’s day, thank a former teacher. That sounds so simple, that is seems crazy to write it.

I found the power of a thank you, long ago. I was asked back to talk to fellow high school alums and students at Mercer. Unplanned, I added a tribute to my former English teacher who saw more potential in my writing than I did. She had praised and urged me on. I told how her help put me on the path to MU and to being a journalist.

Afterward, people stopped to tell their stories and thank me. Last in line was my teacher. Tears were in her eyes. “No one has ever said that,” she said.

Thankfully I said it in public before she passed away.

In spite of that, I am falling behind in my resolution to thank kind people. It’s not hard to do. But, it seems easier to bitch, moan and complain than to praise.

That’s in spite of a recent note from a column reader in Seattle. In response to my second New Year’s column, he wrote: Profound. My kind of guy.

Those few words were uplifting. 

Those kinds of words keep me writing.

In fact, moan notes keep me going also. 

Knowing readers are out there counts.

Fire away to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203. You may set me straight.