Have you ever had a Eureka moment while explaining something to someone?
We could also call it a Rubber Duck moment.
I’ll get back to rubber ducks. But first, a little story:
Once upon a time, in the olden days when I worked at the phone company, we all eventually got computers. We also had an IT (Information Technology) department, but they were spread very thin. So they decided that each work group (let’s say 10-20 people) would have a Computer SME (Subject Matter Expert). And somehow, as you may have guessed, I was chosen to be my group’s Computer SME.
The idea was that if someone had a computer issue they would come to me before going to IT. If I couldn’t help them, I could escalate the issue. IT loved me because I hardly ever had to refer anything to them. Why not? Was it because I was exceptionally computer savvy? Ha ha ha! No. My actual knowledge of computers was only the tiniest bit greater than the others in my group. But it seemed like I knew stuff because I was a good listener.
Whenever someone came to me, I would listen to them describe their computer issue. My most frequent piece of advice was: “Did you try rebooting your computer?” Usually, they hadn’t. And, usually, it worked. More often than not, though, in the process of explaining the problem to me, they would realize something they had done, or not done, that probably caused the problem. Or something they hadn’t tried yet that might solve the problem. They would go away and usually it worked! And I got the credit.
I was their rubber duck.
But they didn’t know it, and neither did I.
It wasn’t until just recently that I learned about Rubber Duck Debugging. It’s a software developer thing. Essentially, Rubber Ducking is about talking through your coding problems with a friendly duck that won’t judge you. The idea being that the solution will come to you in the process.
And who doesn’t appreciate a friendly listener who won’t judge you?
Here are some ways I’ve thought of to Rubber Duck one’s life:
- Get yourself a rubber duck to talk to, or print out a picture of one to keep handy. Or describe your issue to your pet. It’s the talking it out that solves the problem, not picking someone who can help you. Perfect if you didn’t want to bother (or rely on) anyone else anyway.
- Call someone and ask if you can talk through an issue with them. Use them as a sounding board. A rubber duck, if you will. You could even say, “I’m not expecting you to solve this problem, but would you mind listening to me describe it?”
- Try writing your problem out. Depending on the nature of the problem, it could be in the form of a journal.
- Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts. Something I do fairly often is to start writing an email as if I am going to send it to someone for their advice. I pick someone real, because if I still have the problem when I’m finished writing, I actually send it. But, as often as not, I find I’ve answered my own question by the time I’m finished thinking it through and writing it all out.
- In business, think of your Ideal Client and write messaging with that person in mind. It will help you figure out problems such as what services to offer, for how much money, and how to schedule your work.
- Personally, think of your future self and talk through what you could do now that would make life easier for future you.
- When it comes to organizing systems, talk to your rubber duck (or sounding board, family, pet, future self, or professional organizer) about the logistics of who will do what, where things will live in your home, why you are doing things the way you are doing them, and what improvements you can make to your systems.
We all do these things naturally, but the results can be hit or miss if we don’t do them mindfully and purposefully. If you had a rubber duck with a history of helping you solve problems, wouldn’t it be comforting to know it would probably work in the future as well?
Also, happy belated National Rubber Duckie Day! I missed it (January 13) because I just found out about it while writing this post! (Scroll through the linked article for some great rubber duck trivia.)
Do you have a rubber duck? One that you talk to?
Will you try Rubber Ducking?
Can you think of other ways to Rubber Duck your life?
Please share with us in the comments below!
Copyright 2023 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life and Beyond
Hazel is an author, family historian, and retired residential organizer.
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Hazel, I LOVE this!
I talk things through with my dog, Josie, all the time. We walk, I talk, she listens. She never replies (picture me smiling) but, you are so right, just talking through the pros and cons helps me to arrive at a good solution.
I also love the questions and prompts at the end of this article. Really wonderful and helpful!
Josie is your rubber duck! And you both get a walk in at the same time: Win-win! Thank you for letting me know you like the post, Diane!
We have a few rubber duckies in our house that my kids have picked up along the way. One is holding a book, one is holding a heart, one has glasses–but I never thought of talking to one of them! I think I’d feel kinda silly talking to a duck, but hey–it’s worth a try. Ernie on Sesame Street SANG his heart out to to his rubber duckie and they had a very close relationship for years (ha ha)! Thanks for introducing us to ‘rubber ducking.’ I’m sure it’s a new concept for most of us!
Have to admit I’ve never heard of “Rubber Ducking.” Makes sense, though. It sounds like a focused, external processing of a problem. When we have to explain a problem, it forces is to be clear in our minds about what is going wrong. This can definitely lead to an “ah-ha.” I love that you got credit for being an IT whiz, though. That rocks.
I used to have a guy I’d go to for tech issues that I couldn’t figure out myself, and I lost count of the times that the process of typing out the problem in detail led me to figuring out the solution.
I love this idea! I realized as I was reading this that I am my 25-year old daughter’s rubber duck. When she asks me to help her decide between two alternatives, I ask her the pros and cons of each. I listen closely to what she says, and then recommend the alternative that she clearly prefers. She goes off happy and I feel so useful!
Rubber Duckie, you’re the one!
I know about Rubber Duck Debugging because I used to date a developer and read a lot of blogs to try to under stand the work style. I have always thought it was brilliant, because almost all my Eureka moments have happened when I’m explaining something to someone else. I once called Deb Lee, proceeded to talk AT her for ten minutes, found a solution that had me stymied for weeks (for my book, I think), and heartily thanked her for her help, which just made her laugh.
Sometimes, just the process of writing an email to someone to ask them for help helps me solve a conundrum, so I love all the different examples you provide for how to turn someone (even an imaginary someone) into your own Rubber Duck. But I will admit, I now regret not taking the nifty, free rubber duckies we were given at our hotel in Edinburgh. I didn’t want to overload the suitcase, but they were such cute Scottish rubber duckies!
I love your real-life example, Julie! And your (poor, abandoned) Scottish rubber duckie makes me fantasize about a version that includes tiny bagpipes that play when you squeeze the duck!
I remember that phone call, Julie. Love those moments when realization happens just as you’re telling someone about your problem. You find the solution *and* you get to talk to someone you like and trust. Win! Great post, Hazel!