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Solving a Problem of Ice, Bears, and Honey Pots

In studies of the most creative work groups, there are nearly always 3 things present. The first is a team that works well together. The second is laughter, proving the connection between humour and creativity. And the third is a level of informality. All three of these are present in one of the most creative brainstorming sessions ever held by a major utility company, Pacific, Power and Light of Canada. Read how a flash of insight on one of their brainstorming sessions solved one of the organisation's most costly, difficult, and unsolveable problems.

A Problem of Ice, Bears, and Honey Pots

Pacific, Power and Light (PP and L) is the electric utility responsible for providing power to the NorthWest Cascade Mountain area of the United States. This area faces severe weather in spring and autumn each year resulting in heavy ice deposits on power transmission lines. Lines frequently come down under the weight of the ice.

The company's method of removing the iced lines is to send linesmen through the snow and up the icy pylons and to physically shake the ice off the lines. It is a long, arduous, costly and unpleasant way of dealing with the problem.

A brainstorming session is held to look at what can be done.
The PP and L group spend a whole morning looking at the problem but get nowhere. Frustrated and running out of ideas, the group decide to take a coffee break.

During coffee, Bill, a linesman, has everyone in fits of laughter.
"Last week I was chased by a bear. It even climbed a pylon after me."
As the laughter dies down, someone suggests,
"Why don't we get the bears to climb for us?"
"We could put honey pots on top of the pylons."
"No, the raccoons would get there first."
"Anyway we'd need helicopters to put the pots in place and they'd frighten the bears," says one of the secretaries. "I remember the vibrations from helicopters in the Vietnam war when I was a nurse."

There is silence as everyone realises they've struck gold.

Today it is standard practice in PP and L to use hovering helicopters to remove ice from frozen cable lines through the force of their swirling rotator blades.

Image 01: The Honey Pot

Here is another version of this anecdote from MTL's Stories that Coach.

Video 01: The Honey Pot

In this video from Epipheo, you'll learn the two factors that are necessary in creative teams.