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How did a teenage wizard foil teams of illegal street gamblers?
How do smokers help prevent your car being broken into?
What do sex workers and tiger farms have in common?
Why do bees make the best sheepdogs for elephants?
And how do the phantom bus stops of Dusseldorf keep vulnerable old people safe?
What links these seemingly unconnected questions is good problem-solving.
Stevyn Colgan is an author, artist and popular public speaker. He’s one of the writers of the hugely successful BBC TV series QI andThe Museum of Curiosity. But, in a previous career, he spent 30 years as a police officer in London during which he became involved in a small but potent revolution. He and some of his colleagues realised that there was a smarter way to tackle crime and public concerns that didn’t always mean clogging the judicial system with copious arrests or flooding the streets with extra cops. This new style of intelligent problem-solving policing took the cleverest ideas from academic research, military strategy, business, marketing, public health and many other areas of work, mixed them all up with a good dollop of original thinking and solved problems that had previously been labelled as unsolvable.
In this remarkable book, he tells the story of his work in Scotland Yard’s innovative Problem Solving Unit and how the team tackled some of London’s most persistent problems. Along the way, you’ll find out how dog shows stopped young men killing each other, how lollipops prevented night club closures, how wheelie bins worked in cahoots with burglars, and why celebrities should be covered in chewing gum. You’ll also discover how bird tables can prevent car crashes, how fake vomit can clean up the streets, and why sitting down in Japan may just result in a sore bottom.
Why did the Policeman Cross the Road? is a celebration of original thinking, peppered with fascinating research and entertaining stories in the tradition of books such as Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk.
And it’s more than possible that the book contains some little tool or technique that could help you solve some of the problems in your own life.
Stevyn Colgan has been a chef, a farmhand, a milkman, a police officer, a writer, an artist and a public speaker. In a bizarrely diverse 50-something years he’s been set on fire twice, shot at once, been kissed by Princess Diana, written briefing notes for two Prime Ministers, and been commissioned to write scripts for Doctor Who and Gerry Anderson. He’s sculpted movie monsters for Bruce Willis to shoot at, helped build Dippy the Diplodocus’s new tail for London’s Natural History Museum, written and illustrated several books and currently contributes to TV and radio shows such as QI, The Museum of Curiosity and Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Good-ish. He has given hundreds of talks across the UK and USA on a variety of subjects including problem solving, creativity, and metacognition and is a regular at festivals and events such as Skeptics in the Pub, Cornbury, Harrogate, QEDCon, Hay, Latitude and the Edinburgh Fringe. He helped create the Safer London Awards, was a judge for the 2014 Transmission Prize (for the transmission of extraordinary new ideas), and is a consultant for Left/Field London. He merits four pages (83-86) of write-up in advertising genius Rory Sutherland’s influential book The Wiki Man and has a gold Blue Peter badge for ‘being a smartarse’.
‘Stevyn Colgan. Intelligent and humane’ – Prof Richard Dawkins
‘Stevyn Colgan was fantastic! Beautiful and inspiring talk’ – British Humanist Association
‘Quite simply, amazing’ – Police Chief Daryl Stephens, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
‘A brilliant talk. So much common sense’ – Simon Raymonde, Bella Union and ex-Cocteau Twins
‘I've found a new genius. Amazing speaker, fantastic stories’ – Ayd Instone, Eldamar Ltd
The Wizard of Waltham Forest
‘Roll up! Try your luck! Find the lady and win big money!’
I follow the voice. I’m not familiar enough with the various accents of Eastern Europe to tell if the speaker is Polish, Romanian or from the Ukraine. Maybe he’s Russian? There is a smile that comes with the voice, a big toothy nicotine grin that makes him sound like an affable Bond villain delivering an expository soliloquy before yanking the secret handle that sends 007 sliding down into the shark tank below.
‘Try your luck sir! Madam! All you have to do is find the lady!’
He’s standing behind a makeshift table made from two stacked milk crates and a sheet of corrugated cardboard. On the desktop lie three playing cards face up: two low denomination red suit cards and the Queen of Spades. He deftly flips the cards face down and shuffles them about. All you have to do, he explains, is identify which card is the Queen. Simplicity itself surely? After all, even blind luck would give you a one in three chance, wouldn’t it? But then our eyes meet and they momentarily lock. He sees something in me that sends alarm bells ringing inside him. I’m trying to look like an interested punter but maybe my interest is isn’t on the money. He’s sensed that I’m checking him out just a little too thoroughly. In an instant, the cards are whipped off the table and he’s off, running pell mell into the crowd of Wembley Market. I circulate a description on my radio but there’s little chance he’ll be caught. Every street gambler I’ve seen today is wearing non-descript clothing and there’s nothing stand-out about any of them. They know what they’re doing. They are masters of deceit.
These people are helping to fund Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?.