“I have to solve problems every hour to survive. Nobody asks me how"

What is a Problem Solving Booth? Charlie explains how the project was inspired

“What would make people happier in your community?” I called across to the fishmonger at a busy street market. Then I asked the same thing of the traffic warden. And the lady selling fried chicken.

Everyone knew everyone else. I was the outsider. But I was with a local resident. So people seemed to trust me. I got many answers and quickly. But one conversation stood out. It was the young man in the sandwich shop. “A problem solving booth right here on my street,” he said.

My head started whirring. I could see strangers talking to each other. In chairs on the street. Helping each other out. The young man’s phone rang. And he left. I called after him: “this problem solving booth idea, tell me more about what you meant”.

He was gone. I didn’t even get his name. But he had planted a seed. He probably has no idea. He likely doesn’t even remember the conversation.

Problem Solving Booths are informal street booths. Strangers can discuss problems with one another. They encourage relaxed two-way chat as an alternative to formal consultations.

A bit like when I asked a homeless guy to help me. “Help you?” he said. “Yes,” I said. “It will take 5 minutes”. He gave me advice from a totally different perspective. He wasn’t like my friends or family. Or people I usually ask.

It was refreshing and we had things in common. I wasn’t the sort of person he usually helped either. “I feel valued for the first time in years,” he said. “I’m a good problem solver. I have to solve problems every hour to survive. The trouble is, nobody asks me”.

Problem Solving Booths consist of two chairs that face each other. One is for the “helper” and the other is for the “helped”. One has a problem. The other listens. And might give advice. The concept is flexible. People can swap roles. That’s it. Or is it?

This is the first in a five-part series explaining the concept of Problem Solving Booths. Find out more at www.problemsolvingbooths.com


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