We’re gonna start with a story today because Timmy likes stories. Especially mine. And my acronym “OTTO” will be clear somewhere near the end of this tale.

Way back in ‘73 when I bought my first car – a red ‘66 VW Bug (which I talked about in When Complexity Comes Callin’) – I decided it could use some new brake shoes. A lot of us didn’t have fancy disc brakes back then. Mostly drums and shoes. Not as good as those anti-lock things today, but much simpler to maintain.

I decided to tackle the back ones first. Dad, who was a pretty good mechanic when it came to appliances, decided he’d supervise. Turns out he didn’t know much about cars though. We removed the wheel and since we didn’t have a proper wrench, we slapped a pipe wrench on the axle nut. And it didn’t budge with nearly 250 foot pounds of torque bein’ applied. So Dad slipped a 3-foot cheater pipe over the wrench handle and I romped on it and busted that sucker loose. Dad understood leverage.

Now the drum should just slip right off. But it didn’t. I tapped on it a bit, and nothing. We happened to have a sizeable wheel puller that we used for removing agitators from Frigidaire washing machines handy, so we tried using that. Still didn’t budge. We looked quizzically at it for a minute and Dad suggested we might oughta take it to Caskey’s Esso and see what they had to allow. I put it all back together and off we went, Dad following me as he figured we were gonna leave it and let the pros do the job.

EVEN THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST GAP OUT

I swung in and parked my Bug just as Dad pulled in. Clair was working in one of the bays, but turned to greet us as we walked in. Dad explained our problem and Clair looked at us, then the car, and back at us just grinnin’.

Then he asked The Question: “Did you have the emergency brake on brake on by any chance?”

Yeah, we kinda did. I forgot to release it after bustin’ the lug nuts loose. That drum ain’t comin’ off with the brake set Skippy. We looked sheepishly at each other because Dad was the guy who always asked people if their appliances were plugged in before dispatching a serviceman and taught me all about Phil’s First Rule of Appliance Repair.

Somehow, we forgot this simple rule and fell prey to OTTO – as we were clearly Oblivious To The Obvious. And you may argue that there are other ways to encapsulate that concept – like “Can’t see the forest for the trees” or “He’s got his blinders on,” but OTTO is a lot quicker to say and Timmy’s on board, so I’m runnin’ with it.

I suspect that OTTO drops in on many of us several times a week. We get so entrenched and laser-focused that we overlook the obvious.

MAYBE IT’S INTUITIVE FOR YOU

Why just yesterday, we were workin’ in a different CMS. It’s supposed to be so blindingly simple that even your cousin’s nephew once removed can build a website for you in an evening. Yeah. If it was all he ever knew. It’s all visual and there’s no apparent way to edit the CSS, which is something most web developers routinely do.

But with this system, everything is entered through an interface and the CSS is magically written behind the scenes. Kinda like the Wizard of Oz – “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” But any CMS that doesn’t allow even minimal access to CSS is way too draconian for my tastes.

Seems we muddled around and figured out how to add an element or two, but then we decided we wanted to delete one of them. That oughta be easy. Click that little gear thing. Nope, no option to delete. Right click the thing we just created. Nope. Go over to the panel on the left and click it. Hmmmm. No option to delete. After five minutes of this nonsense, we finally figured it out. Select an element and hit the “Delete” key. Full OTTO. Who’da thought? You live, you learn Timmy.

Then there was another epiphany for me in Photoshop this week. I’ve been working with it since version 1.0 and even taught it at a local community college for a couple years. And I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface yet. But even when doing the simplest of tasks – say using the Rubber Stamp Tool – new and better ways to do routine things often emerge.

As an example – I had an image of a feller on a fancy studio background. One of those mottled lookin’ things. But I needed a whole lot more background. I extended the canvas and began cloning. A lot. Like 2000 x 500 pixels worth. Then it dawned on me. Maybe I could find a similar background, drop it in and clone the feller and not the background. Much quicker. OTTO.

And I probably could come up with a lot more OTTOs, but I’m guessin’ you get the point. And you’re likely all remembering some of your very own by now.

So all of this to say that I suspect we often get in so deep that we don’t think about fresh perspectives from time to time. Or we get in a rut. That’s when it’s good to get a second pair of eyes on a task. Maybe even a set that has little or no experience with what you’re doing. They might just look at it and go “Why don’t you just do this…” and boom. There’s your answer.

But if there’s nobody handy, I’ve found that sometimes it’s helpful to just think like a child. Kids don’t know how things are supposed to work, so they often find ways of doin’ them that are nothin’ short of incredible. Keep that option in your back pocket, and don’t be afraid to just let your mind go back however many decades it takes when you get stuck.

And if you don’t believe in the power of kid-think, give a nearby young’n a child-proof anythin’ and see how long it takes them to unchild-proof it.

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