Miles Kington Remembered: Every problem is actually a solution in disguise

Hospitals are plagued by people who put on white coats and pretend to be doctors. Dagstrom saw the solution: make the bogus doctors treat bogus patients
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The Independent Online

(3 june 1991) Professor Halbert Dagstrom is the head of the Reverse Logic Department at Milton Keynes University. It is the only reverse logic department in any British university. He thinks it may be the only one in the world. This does not depress him. He is a man who likes to be ahead of the field. But what exactly is reverse logic?

"It is the back-to-back meeting of pure logic and the market place," says Dagstrom. "It is the place where the result meets the cause, where the answer comes in first and the problem later. You bring me the solution, I tell you the problem."

Shouldn't that be the other way round?

"Only if you insist on being conventional. It is like only looking forwards, never upwards or backwards. Of course, logic can work perfectly well from cause to effect, but we ignore a large part of human experience if we don't work the other way as well. Many people come to me with what they think is a problem. I tell them: has it occurred to you that your problem may be the solution to someone else's quandary?"

His most famous case was that of bogus doctors. Hospitals are plagued with people so obsessed with medicine that they put on white coats and come to infest hospitals. Everyone knows this. But it was Professor Dagstrom who first saw the solution: make bogus doctors treat bogus patients, those people who put on false symptoms and come to infest hospitals. Now, thanks to Dagstrom, the bogus doctor is welcomed as someone who can neutralise the bogus patient.

"Another case I had was that of a theatre director whose auditorium was slightly too small for a break-even point. Part of the problem was that many seats in the theatre had poor or nil line of sight, being behind pillars and so on. What could he do?

"Now, this is where convention thinks of ways of improving the seats, removing the pillars and so on. But reverse logic says: who would be ideally suited to these seats? Which customers would gladly pay for seats where the vision was poor?"

And is there anyone?

"Of course. There are blind people. There are people going out with people they are not meant to be going out with who do not want to be seen. There are people who do not like the theatre but have to go, because the husband or wife does. There are celebrities, there are members of the Royal Family, who like to lurk out of sight. There are..."

All right, all right. And the theatre now sells those seats?

"Are you kidding? The theatre now sells those seats at a higher price than the others."

Another customer was a farmer, whose problem was what to do with empty fields.

"As an interim solution, I recommended opening one or two fields at weekends as car parks. You know when you drive through the country you see fields full of cars, with people at the gates waving drivers in and out? Usually it's a model aeroplane display or fete or something equally rural. But I told him to try opening a field just as a car park with no attraction attached.

"He was a bit dubious at first, but he tried it, and said it worked wonders. People drove into the field, assuming there was something going on, and paid £1 to park, then got out."

And beat up the farmer and asked for their money back?

"Not at all. For a start, lots of them wandered off into the woods or the farm and had a nice day in the country. For another thing, the farmer had laid on a doughnut stand, an ice-cream stall and a burger bar, and they did a roaring trade. You see, when people go to a 'show', very few of them actually see anything – they mostly just wander round buying ice creams. So being charged entry to an empty field turned out to be just what they wanted."

How far does reverse logic go? Are all problems the solution to some other problem?

"Certainly. No problem is so bad that it can't make work for a television documentary maker. You sometimes see ads saying: 'Will anyone who left school at the age of 12 with a drug problem and dyslexia please contact the director of Concern programme'? Suddenly that problem has become a solution to the director's problem: what the hell do I make a programme about now?"