Hiding in plain sight
Sometimes when solving a problem it's all about the smallest of details. Therefore, it pays to be observant.
One afternoon in the early 1980s a young policeman was walking his beat in the back streets of Mayfair.
For those not familiar with this area, it is one of the most exclusive parts of London.
As such, it is awash with expensive cars. New models of Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes and Range Rover parked nose to tail.
As Officer Colgan progressed from one street to the next, his mind drifted off to a world of unimaginable riches not afforded by his modest policeman’s salary.
And then something woke him from his midday reverie.
At first glance, the street looked like all the others. Rows of luxury cars stationed obediently outside their masters’ properties.
But something was off. His spidey senses told him as much.
What had he noticed?
Unlike the others he had passed through earlier, he remarked that in this particular street there were a significant number of cars that were covered in a thick layer of dust.
As he ran his finger through the grime on the roof of a dark blue Bentley, the policeman contacted base via his radio.
“PC827 to base, can you do a plate check for me, over?”
A short while later, a voice at the other end broke the silence.
“That vehicle was reported stolen six months ago, over.”
His curiosity piqued, the officer repeated the same request for the other unclean vehicles in the street.
It turned out that of the 22 cars parked in the street 13 of them were stolen.
More than a million pounds worth of cars covered in dust.
The bigger question was what were they all doing there?
Further investigation revealed that a criminal gang were stealing luxury cars elsewhere and then using the fancy Mayfair streets as a place to store them before shipping them abroad.
Their clever strategy of hiding the stolen cars in plain sight would have worked if they’d been smart enough to simply clean the cars every so often.
Without doing so they ended up standing out instead of blending in and therefore caught the eye of the observant young policeman.
In day-to-day life we mostly don't notice the small things. However, when problem solving, it's critical that we remain observant at all times. It's often by noticing the smallest of details that we uncover the solution.
To learn more about problem solving from an expert check out our course 'Think Like Sherlock: Learn how to solve problems from a Scotland Yard detective.'