Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

By Stevyn Colgan

Not so much police intelligence as intelligent policing

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Publication date: May 2016

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Everything up to talk level plus Steve will have a look at a local problem and suggest possible ways to tackle it based upon his knowledge and experience (Price includes travel and accommodation expenses)

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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.


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E-book edition.
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1st edition hardback and the ebook edition
  • Stevyn Colgan avatar

    Stevyn Colgan

    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.

  • Stevyn Colgan has written 1 private update. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    17th May 2018 One Step Ahead

    Well, it's taken a goodly while, but the paperback version of 'Why Did the Policeman Cross the Road' is due to hit the shops on 12th July. Although you probably won't recognise it.

    We had some issues with the hardback and where it was displayed in bookshops. Some put it in law. Some put it in biography. One even put it in humour (they thought it was a joke book). So me, Unbound, and Penguin Random…

    18th September 2017 Introducing ... Borrowed

    Hello all.

    Just a short, sharp shedpost (Is it called a shed anymore? I must check) about a project that I'm involved with that, with your help, will be published by Unbound.

    Borrowed is a short story collection featuring contributions from Unbound authors Shona Kinsella, Ian Skewis, Claire Patel-Campbell, Lou Allison, Paul Holbrook, Elena Kaufman, Erinna Mettler and me. 

    ALL royalties…

    8th November 2016 End of an era

    Hello Shedders!

    It's been a while since I've had a mooch about in this shed as new projects have demanded my attention. But this does seem the best place in which to mark the end of an era.

    In 1967, a big muddy field that had once been part of the wartime RAF Hendon site in North London, admitted a bunch of bulldozers and lorries to begin building work. Over the next year or so, what they constructed…

    21st August 2016 TED!

    My TEDx talk is now online. And here it is! 

    15th July 2016 Let's do Launch

    We had a nice little book launch party this week at the Narrow Boat Pub in Islington. The man who commissioned the book, Mat Clayton said a few words. Then I said a few more words. Then we drank wine and beer and I thanked people for not only making the journey to be there (one came from France!) but also to say thank you for pledging at the Launch Party level. Every penny helps to get a book to 100…

    20th June 2016 Chicken (News)Feed

    I did a TEXDx talk on Saturday in Clapham, London, in which I talked about some of the content of this book. Once I have a link to the video, I'll post it here in the shed.

    Meanwhile, I was doing some research for a QI podcast today and suddenly something caught my eye ... a headline that read Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? posted on The Namibian newspaper website. Thinking it might be a…

    16th June 2016 June Update

    Hello Shedders!

    I can't begin to tell you how nice it is to finally see the book out in the shops AND IT'S ALL THANKS TO YOU GUYS of course! YOU made it happen with your pledges. Be proud of yourselves. I'm proud of you certainly and hugely indebted. It's very tough for a non-celeb to get a toe-hold in the publishing world these days but, thanks to the philanthropy of people like Unbound subscribers…

    18th May 2016 They think it's all over ... it is now!

    I launched this book on the 30th June 2014, 687 days ago. And tomorrow it's offiially unleashed upon the word.

    The books are in the process of being despatched to subscribers and they look gorgeous. Unlike the trade editions that are starting to turn up in shops already, the subscriber editions have better paper, gold embossing, a stitched bookmark and gorgeous endpapers by cover artist Michael…

    5th May 2016 So close you can smell it!

    Ladies and gents! The books have started to arrive from the printers and they look 136 kinds of awesome. I'm very, very happy with the finished product. And this (in photo) is just the standard edition! You subscribers will have foil embossing, beautifully illustrated end papers, better paper stock and everything. I'm told they will start being posted out very very soon!

    It's been a long, hard…

    10th April 2016 A visit to the Monopoly board

    Hello Shedfolk!

    The final proofs have just been checked and, barring a few small last-minute edits, the book will be at the printers shortly. May 19th is so close now that I can smell it.

    This week I attended the launch party for Dr Sue Black OBE's book Saving Bletchley Park at Waterstones on Piccadilly in London. It was an event tinged with nostalgia for me because the building used to be Simpson…

    5th April 2016 How bad design causes bad behaviour #1: The Desire Line

    I went to the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday to do a double-header talk with Dr Sue Black OBE about her new book Saving Bletchley Park (to which I contributed some historical stuff).

    My journey involved using the brand new Oxford Parkway train station adjacent to the Water Eaton Park and Ride area. The station itself isn't too badly designed; it's outside that the problems occur as you wait…

    20th March 2016 Technology meets Philanthropy

    A poster that accepts credit cards - to help some of the world's poorest and most-in-need people. Genius.


    19th March 2016 Nearly there!!!

    The final manuscript has now been delivered to Unbound. Proofreading is done, photo permissions are sorted and we're just about ready for the printers. Excitements!

    Thank you for being so patient - the book is very nearly here!


    Now here's a fantastic example of clever thinking and great customer service from Dutch airline KLM…

    10th March 2016 They think it's all over - it so nearly is ...

    I'm currently doing last minute things like sorting out photo permissions and checking through the typeset manuscript for Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? It's looking great! I'm very proud of this book and Unbound have done a splendid job with the design, layout, artwork etc. as I knew they would.

    If you're one of my lovely subscribers, you'll be getting an email today or tomorrow asking…

    4th March 2016 My middle name is Nostradamus ...

    Hello Shedders

    Well, the book is currently being typeset, photos and permissions are being sorted and all is well with the world. Barring nuclear war, zombie apocalypse or leaves on the line, the book is on schedule for its May release date.

    And, in this past fortnight, I've been delighted to read that one of the theoretical social solutions I argue for in one of the chapters has become an exciting…

    20th February 2016 No one ever got sent on a linear thinking course

    Last Autumn I was honoured to be invited to do a TEDx talk at the UK IPO (Intellectual Property Office) in Newport, Wales. I was sharing the stage with: 

    Alex Aiken - Executive Director for Government Communications,  

    Alex Drummond - Activist, academic, artist, photographer and Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

    Andy Green - Expert on creativity, public relations strategy, brand and…

    2nd February 2016 February Update

    Hey lovely shedfolk

    I got the book back from the copyeditor yesterday. Thankfully, there were only a few notes and queries and I don't need to do much work in terms of editing (Yay!). I've also had the results of two proofreaders back so my job this week (in between everything else I have to do) is to go through the manuscript, make the necessary amendments and corrections and then submit the final…

    22nd January 2016 Recycling in the (paper) bag

    Epson have unveiled a clever way to cut the amount of waste paper produced by businesses - invest in a PaperLab.

    Okay, it's not a small machine. And it isn't very pretty. But you feed old used paper in one end and out of the other comes clean usable recycled paper.What's more, you can set the colour, size and the thickness too. Incredibly it takes The PaperLab just three minutes to do this…

    15th January 2016 It's a cover up!

    We have a cover! We have a very sexy cover. I'm so very excited by it. (Click on it to see a larger version)

    I'm also excited by the cover quote that Dubner very kindly supplied after he'd read my final draft. I hope that it helps get the book out there among the public in May.

    And when it does, remember that YOU BRILLIANT BOYS AND GIRLS MADE IT HAPPEN!

    I cannot express my gratitude enough…

    5th January 2016 Speakin' like a Freak

    2016 kicked off with rain, rain and a bit more rain. But, just before the New Year we had a gloriously sunny Bank Holiday Monday and it coudn't have been better timed.

    On that day I met up with Stephen J Dubner - co-author of the mega-bestselling Freakonomics books - in London to talk about policing, crime and this book, Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? that you, dear shed visitor, have helped…

    19th December 2015 December Round Up

    Hello lovely shedfolk!

    Before I do my final round up of the year, I just want to take a moment to say something serious about loneliness. 

    Many years ago, I was a milkman. Or a milkboy. Anyway, whatever the term is for a young lad who did all the running up hills and long flights of steps to deliver milk to people's doorsteps while the milkman sat in the milk float having a fag. This was in…

    13th December 2015 And ... we're done!

    A couple of shedposts ago (4th November) I was celebrating the fact that I'd just finished the edit of the first draft of Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

    I then passed it to my editor for comments and he sent it back.

    I have just spent a week completing the second edit and the finished book reads really well I think :)

    It's now time for a break but, as soon as we're all back to work…

    28th November 2015 November Round Up

    Hello Shedfolk!

    Here's a round-up of news and some problem solving interestingness from the past month.

    I'm conscious of the fact that I've been a bit too active in my shed of late and have been bombarding you with great stories. There's just too much good stuff not to share! So I've taken it back to a monthly thing. You can still expect some brilliant stories though.

    Like the cup designed…

    4th November 2015 Cheers!

    It's 2.02am on Wednesday 4th November 2015 and I've just finished an epic edit of the first draft of Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

    My first draft was 602 pages long and consisted of 170,708 words.

    This newly completed second draft is now 341 pages long and has 96,297 words.

    I've pretty much removed an entire book from the book!

    But now it flows better, there's no padding or waffle…

    31st October 2015 Consent

    A great little video from Thames Valley Police explaining consent by comparing it with making tea. Very clever.

    25th October 2015 Quickies #2

    A quick round-up of things that have caught my eye this week.

    Following a previous shedpost discussion about signs and how to communicate, how about this for a slice of strangely pleasing information:

    It translates as: 'All posters except posters about posters being prohibited are prohibited.'

    (Found via @ArchedEyebrowBR on Twitter)

    The next little gem relates to an interesting and…

    12th October 2015 Futureproofing the Writing on the Wall

    It is some time in the future. Mankind has travelled out to the nearest stars. And, on a long dead planet, our astronauts have found evidence of a once great culture. As they explore the ruins of an ancient city they discover a huge locked door covered in curious symbols and glyphs. What do they mean? Should our intrepid explorers attempt to gain entry? What were the aliens trying to tell us?

    11th October 2015 How to Crowdfund a Book. Or anything else.

    I recently wrote a short series of pieces about my crowdfunding journey which were published on Medium.com. Here they are, if it's something that interests you:

    Part 1: Bloodied but Unbound: My route to crowdfunding

    Part 2: Large helpings of innovation, fun and perseverance

    Part 3: The social side of selling, selling, selling your project

    I hope it helps some of you!




    11th October 2015 Looks like Reindeer

    QI returns to your screens very shortly (this Friday October 16th) and I can tell you that it's another great series. It's an utter joy to work on the show and I oversaw the scripts - such as they are (the panel kind of write the script in real time) - for two episodes this year.

    I was reminded a few days ago of a great problem solving story that we featured back in the L series last year. It concerned…

    2nd October 2015 It's Easy Being Green

    A little while ago, my mate Robert 'Kryten' Llewellyn crowdfunded a trilogy of utopian sci-fi novels here, with Unbound. News from Gardenia, News from the Squares and News from the Clouds are all witty, uplifting and optimistic stories and I urge you to read them.

    Gardenia, the first, is particularly interesting for me becuse it depicts a future where we get it right; where energy is free and clean…

    1st October 2015 Cover Up!

    We have a cover for Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? Yay!

    Or, rather, the illustration for the cover. It's by the ever excellent Michael Kirkham and it looks like this (click on the image to see a larger version):

    I like it a lot. Although, if I'm honest, I'm not keen on the font (we're looking at alternatives) and the strapline is a placeholder - it needs some work yet. I particularly…

    24th September 2015 But did it cure a fear of heights?

    My good chum Chris Wild - better known these days as The Retronaut - first brought these delightful inventions to my attention. As problem solving solutions go - not one of the best.

    'In the late 19th century, doctors began recommending that parents in urban apartments regularly expose their children to fresh air', he writes. 'It was believed this would strengthen the child’s immune system…

    24th September 2015 It's not about the money, money, money

    Now ... how would you feel if a book reviewer said this about your latest offering:

    'Do not read this book; do not sully yourself with it, no matter how temptingly brief it seems. All those who shepherded it to print should hang their heads in shame, for it’s hard to imagine anything this bad has been put between covers by anyone other than a vanity publisher. It is an unpolished turd of a book…

    17th September 2015 Freakin' Awesome

    I'm sure you've heard of Freakonomics.

    It all started with a 2005 book by economist Steven D Levitt and journalist Stephen J Dubner called Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. If you've not read it, please do so; it's brilliant. What Levitt and Dubner do is strip away the hype, the spin, the rhetoric and the polemic to reveal the statistical evidence at the heart…

    17th September 2015 What's your poison?

    I'm reading a really interesting book at the moment by Kathryn Harkup called A is for Arsenic: The poisons of Agatha Christie. It's a fascinating insight into Christie's life, both as a chemist and as an author and is peppered with facts about various toxins and the murderers who used them, both in her novels and in real life.

    Reading the chapter on arsenic reminded me of this story of great…

    13th September 2015 Yet another update

    I popped into Unbound's offices in London on Friday to chat to Phil, my editor. Things are going along very nicely - both he and I will be spending the next few weeks going through my first draft and whittling out the 'excess baggage'. To be honest, neither of us believe that there's anything in the book that should be 'lost'. However, the book is too long and needs streamlining. Whatever we chop…

    13th September 2015 A little bit of politics can go a long, dangerous, way

    It’s been a very political week hasn’t it? The announcement of Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader has been met with some extraordinary reactions. On the one hand, both David Cameron and Conservative HQ tweeted the stark and, frankly, near paranoid sounding warning that ‘The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security’. However, at the…

    11th September 2015 A tomb with a problematic view

    Some problems are bigger than others. For instance, how do you solve the problem of carbon dioxide damage to an ancient tomb when millions of visitors want to walk around inside it every year?

    That was the problem faced by Egypt's cultural organisations. Tutankhamen's tomb is one of the country's most popular tourist sites but its very popularity is its downfall. The tomb was made to last for all…

    9th September 2015 Quickies #1

    I'm always finding interesting examples of problem solving - some more successful than others. Here are some I've come across recently.

    No, not a new character from 'Adventure Time' but a genuine 1920s full face swimming mask to protect ladies' delicate skin from the damage caused by harsh sunlight. And not at all mildly terrifying. Seeing it reminded me of another innovation in masks, namely…

    8th September 2015 Dude, where's my Book?

    Hello shedfolk.

    Here's a quick update on things. As mentioned in several previous posts, one of the more interesting challenges associated with crowd-funding a book is managing your subscribers' natural impatience and, occasionally, their disappointment. It takes a fair amount of time to get a book from idea to physical reality and, unlike traditional publishers where the first you hear of a book…

    4th September 2015 No Butts

    I got sent this image today by Daniel John Bennett who saw me speak recently at the London Behavioural Economics Meetup.

    He contacted me via Twitter, saying: 'Good nudge to stop littering, or bad nudge as it potentially changes perception of smoking to be cool/interactive?'

    It's an interesting question isn't it? My gut reaction is to champion anything that stops smokers dropping their butts…

    22nd August 2015 Odd Behaviour

    The media recently had a field day with an initiative by Leicester Police. Here's how SKY News reported it:

    'A police force fully investigated attempted burglaries only at homes with an even number in a bid to see how they could save money.'

    And the Daily Telegraph:

    'Police only investigate attempted burglaries at even-numbered homes - A trial scheme in Leicestershire meant that people…

    5th August 2015 Happy little clouds - Unhappy little hairstylists

    You all know Bob Ross, right? He of The Joy of Painting, the happy little trees and that incredible 'fro. Well, it turns out it wasn't natural. Bob had it permed that way. ON PURPOSE. And as a great example of problem solving.

    Here's the story, as it was told on Mental Floss recently:

    'Back in the early ‘80s, Ross was embarking on his new career as a painter and instructor after serving…

    23rd July 2015 CL E VE R

    Hello The People In My Shed

    A busy few weeks. In fact, a madly busy few weeks that took in tortoise-sitting in Wales, a talk to Behavioural Economists, co-hosting a charity auction with a Doctor Who, the last few Museum of Curiosity recordings, the Cornbury Festival and some novel writing.

    Lily the tortoise in her prison cell. And prison shell.

    Colin the Time Lord. Not sure…

    12th July 2015 Cornbury Festival 2015

    Yesterday (Saturday) I spent a fantastic day manning the QI and Unbound tent at Cornbury and meeting some extraordinary people.

    You can read my account of it (and look at photos) here.

    9th July 2015 Tag Nabbit!


    Do you use notebooks? I use notebooks. Lots of notebooks. And I always have a bunch on the go at once.

    And I have shelves of used ones, all packed with ideas and notes for stories, TV shows, songs, artwork, poems. And, here's the thing, they're almost impossible to make use of because NOTHING IS INDEXED! So, trying to find a particular scribbled note about a character…

    7th July 2015 Photo Wishlist

    Hello Shedfolk

    As the photography competition idea didn't work, I'm just going to create a list here of photos/photo montage images that I'd like to get hold of and see what comes in.

    Any photos used in the published book will be clearly credited with the photographer's/submitter's name.

    Any images chosen for use in the book will remain the copyright of the person submitting the image and…

    6th July 2015 No Photographs

    Well, the deadline has come and gone and, three weeks after launching the first in an intended series of photography competitions (see here), I've had exactly no entries whatsoever.

    Which is disappointing.

    I will have to rethink the idea I guess.

    I think what I might do is simply post a list of images I'd like but which I can't get myself.

    And, meanwhile, I'll go shoot the rest.


    3rd July 2015 The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier Clone

    A couple of posts back I talked about the importance of verifying data and periodically checking (monitoring) to see if data is still current. Craig Lewis then posted this reply (I'll put it here to save you hunting for it):

    'I was doing research for a conference presentation a couple of years ago and came across a publication from a pan-European research group naming popular websites among…

    29th June 2015 They think it's all over ... it is now (almost)

    It's 3.15am on a Monday morning and I've just typed the final full stop of the first draft of WDTPCTR. What started as an idea eight years ago has now taken, if not physical form, digital form at least.

    The book is written, all 600 pages and 172,000 words of it. Phew. I'm so tired I swear I can smell colours.

    I set myself a deadline that I'd deliver the book to my editor on July 1st and I stand…

    25th June 2015 Check please!

    Yesterday I had a discussion with an old friend - an analyst - about the problems of 'garbage in garbage out'; that if you provide duff information, don't expect to get back good analysis and useful recommendations. I'm currently writing the very last chapter of the book and the subject is evaluation. It's kind of hard to make such dry subjects as monitoring, assessement and review interesting, but…

    23rd June 2015 Booky Update

    Hello Shedfolk!

    I got the latest figures back from Unbound today and there have been no new pledges for a month now so it looks like 103% is a final total. And a damned fine total it is too! I can never really thank you all enough for making this book possible. All I can do is try to justify your faith in me by producing the very best book that I can.

    I'm perilously close to finishing the first…

    20th June 2015 McAccident McPrevention

    Whether you love or hate the Golden Arches, you do have to give them 10/10 for this clever new packaging for the 'McBike' meal. The packaging, designed by Tribal ad agency of Buenos Aires in Argentina, was launched in Denmark, before making its way to Colombia, and will soon be hitting Amsterdam, Japan and other bicycle-heavy countries. It may make it to the UK too if there's enough demand.

    14th June 2015 Photography Competition #1

    It's photo competition time!

    As mentioned a while back, I intend to illustrate the book with black and white photos. Now, I could just take them all myself (I will still take the majority of them) but where's the fun in that? This is a crowd-funded book and collaboration is fun! So how about you guys providing a few photos? It will make Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? a much more interesting…

    10th June 2015 Cornish Crime Wave - 1967 style

    I thought this might amuse you.

    I was rummaging through some old boxes of knick-knacks and gewgaws recently and discovered this - a crime report taken by my late father in 1967. Dad initially joined the Met in London in 1959 but became homesick very quickly and transferred home to what was then the Cornwall Constabulary. It eventually amalgamated with the Devon and Exeter Constabulary and the…

    6th June 2015 Brolly Good Show!

    My friend Steve is always losing umbrellas.

    If we go out for a drink you can guarantee that he'll have mislaid it within an hour. Or, as he often claims, 'someone steals it'. I'm not convinced that there's a thriving underground market in cheap £5 black brollys, if I'm honest. But it would be interesting to see if his story is true. How could we test if his loss of umbrellas is due to theft or…

    4th June 2015 Good things come ...

    The most common question I've been asked since Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road? hit the 100% mark is 'When will I get my copy of the book?' I found out yesterday. And I suspect the answer won't be what people want to hear.

    The current plan is for the book to be released in May 2016 although subscribers - you lovely people who were kind and trusting enough to fund me - should get your beautifully…

    31st May 2015 Sung to the tune of 'Aaaaaarrrggh!'

    Here's a story you might like from my coppering days ...

    Back in the early 1980’s, a sergeant from Lambeth borough came up with an idea that he hoped would help tackle the problem of kids being knocked down by traffic. He decided that he’d teach them road safety through the medium of song. The result was a slim printed volume called Road Safety Songs intended for use by police schools officers…

    28th May 2015 10 Books every Problem Solver should read

    This grew out of a discussion I had with some QI and Museum of Curiosity colleagues and fans after recording the first episode of series 8 of Museum with Holly Walsh, Dr David Bramwell and Stephen J Dubner on Sunday night.

    These are the 10 books (among many) that have had the biggest impact on me and the work I did as a problem solver. This list is by no means exhaustive - the bibliography for …

    28th May 2015 Target Hardening

    So ... you're a motor vehicle thief specialising in motorcycles. Which one of these take your fancy?

    Or how about from this selection?

    Putting a cover over a bike doesn't cost a lot. And it doesn't take very long to do (and you'll have a dry bum on the ride home from work). But it might just deter a thief because they don't know what's under there and it's hassle to get the cover off…

    25th May 2015 Freaky!

    I spent some time yesterday with a chap you may or may not have heard of. His name is Stephen J Dubner and, well, I'm a bit of a fan boy. You see, Dubner is one half of the writing partnership - with Steven D Levitt - of the hugely popular and groundbreaking Freakonomics books. 

    Their partnership began when Dubner, a New York journalist, went to Chicago to write about award-winning economist…

    23rd May 2015 The road to Utopia starts in Brighton

    I had a splendid day out on Wednesday (20th) at the Brighton Fringe.

    I was appearing, along with Dr David Bramwell and Robert Llewellyn, in a live edition of David's popular Odditorium podcasts and shows. Our theme was Utopia; how the world could be a better place.Or, more importantly, what we can do to make positive change happen.

    Performed in the Bosco Theater and splendidly MC'd by…

    22nd May 2015 Yes, Ireland! Yes! YES!

    If you can't see a video above (I'm having some issues loading video for some reason), click link here.)

    Okay, so this isn't a blog about politics. But a big part of my problem solving story relates to fairness, equality and justice. And today, Friday 22nd, Ireland votes whether or not to allow same sex marriages.

    If I could vote it would be a resounding Yes. 

    Why should anyone be denied…

    20th May 2015 Subtle Nudges

    Seen at Bankside near the Tate Modern gallery today - bins that encourage kids to feed them.

    And, found online, a not-so subtle way to encourage both boys and girls not to steal school pencils ...

    17th May 2015 FUNDED!

    Yes,indeedy. After 320 days of slog and self-promotion, 98 talks and continuous pushing this book on an unsuspecting public, I hit the 100% mark today. Thank you so much, each and every one of you, who contributed (and those who couldn't but still offered me goodwill and kind words). When your names appear in the back of the book, permit yourselves a pat on the back and a prideful flush. You've…

    16th May 2015 Now even the blind can hate it

    Rubik's Cube for the blind. Brilliant! :) Site here.

    16th May 2015 You get what you pay (not very much) for ...

    I've been party to several interesting discussions this week on the subject of value for money. The first was prompted by the T shirt vending machine I told you about a few shedposts ago. I was speaking to some people who are 'crafters', for want of a better word. They make beautiful hand-made items ranging from crocheted shawls to tweed dog coats to embroidered cushions. When I joined the conversation…

    16th May 2015 The Pitfalls of Being Too Successful

    94%! Just 33 more subscribers needed and we're there! Then I can get this labour of love to you!

    But first, here's a story from Somerset ...


    A friend of mine used to be a school governor in Somerset. The school stands next to a busy road on a steep hill. After several meetings with staff and parents, she approached the town…

    13th May 2015 Blame of Thrones

    90% funded! I'm having a squee! And only 52 subscribers needed!!


    Okay. I admit it. I am slightly obsessed with benches.

    My mild mania manifested itself in the mid-1990s when well-meaning local authorities started to remove public seating because it 'encouraged bad behaviour'. Or they started re-designing benches to be less accommodating. Now, I don't…

    11th May 2015 Getting Shirty with Sweat Shops

    Would you buy a t-shirt for 2 Euros?

    Most people probably would. But would you still buy it if you knew how it was made?

    As part of Fashion Revolution Day this year, a vending machine was installed in Berlin, offering 2 Euro t-shirts. The machine was painted with an alluring turquoise and black pattern, and set in the centre of the city’s main shopping district, Alexanderplatz. However,…

    7th May 2015 Teaser Trailer

    86% funded and we're rubbing our calves in preparation for the final sprint to the finish line.

    Are you excited? I'm excited.

    And as I'm hoping to launch the first of the photography competitions next week, I thought I'd share a few of the images I've amassed so far - kind of like a teaser trailer. The prizes are stacking up nicely too. Stephen Fry has signed some books for me and other notable…

    6th May 2015 The Parable of the River

    There is an oft-told parable – popularised in the 1930s by social reformer and community organiser Saul Alinksy - about a group of campers on a river bank who are just settling down for the evening when one of them sees a baby in the water. He immediately dives in, braving the fierce current, and rescues the infant. But as he climbs ashore, one of the other campers spots another baby in the river…

    29th April 2015 Jason Donovan and the Police Shirts of Doom

    85% funded! I might venture a little 'squeee' of excitement if you don't mind.


    I was up until the wee hours (not the squeee hours) this morning sweating and labouring over a chapter on research and how vital it is. One aspect of research I was keen to stress is the importance of seeking data from more than one source to (a) get the best possible picture of what's occuring, and (b) verification…

    24th April 2015 And now ... The Gallery (Gummery?)

    What do you do with old chewing gum?

    It's a subject that's discussed in the book but I wouldn't want to steal my own thunder by revealing too much. What I will do instead is show you a few solutions that didn't make it into the book. They involve people using gum as an art material.

    First up, here are a few pieces by Maurizio Savini. Amazing aren't they? And all made from bubble gum.


    21st April 2015 Elevators smell different to short people

    Okay. So I'm late to the party. I only recently found out about the revolving cones on pelican crossings.

    What? You didn't know either?

    Well, they've been there all the time, quietly helping people with sight problems get safely across the road, for years. The small, unassuming plastic or metal cones are positioned on the underside of the 'WAIT' boxes. When the green man lights up, the cone…

    18th April 2015 Gotcha!

    Back in 2004, I travelled to the USA to give a series of talks and to spend a week working with US law enforcement agencies.The idea was to create a kind of 'cross-pollination' of ideas for solving problems. I wasn't terribly convinced by the idea; that old saying about the UK and USA being 'two countries separated by a common language' is very true. Politicians were always trying to bring ideas across…

    15th April 2015 It's all German to me ...

    Not so much problem solving but a glorious piece of journalism by a man desperately trying to cope with a problem.

    Telegraph sports journalist Ben Bloom was sent to a press conference today to cover the story that Jurgen Klopp intends to leave his job as manager of Borussia Dortmund. Unfortunately, the press conference was in German ... a language that Bloom doesn't speak fluently. And Bloom…

    14th April 2015 Hobart's Funnies

    73% funded ... so tantalisingly close to the 3/4 mark!

    Today's shedpost is the story of a man that you may or may not have heard of. I guarantee that you'll love him by the end of this post. He's one of my favourite problem solvers and, although I desperately wanted to fit him into the book, he just didn't fit the narrative. So here he is, in my shed, instead. Enjoy.


    10th April 2015 Drive slow, win fast


    Following on from my previous shedpost about carrots working better than sticks ...

    Swedish advertising firm DDB Stockholm devised a contest for Volkswagen Sweden that invited fun ideas and solutions for social problems. The project was called The Fun Theory. Kevin Richardson, a San Francisco resident, conceived and submitted the camera lottery idea which went on to win the contest. The idea…

    9th April 2015 Fake fry-ups, smart steps and kind cops - the power of politeness

    I've always believed that carrots are more powerful (and tastier) than sticks. You can force kids to eat fruit or you can make fruit fun:

    (That's peach yoghurt, a tinned peach half and apple batons - want to make 'banana dolphins'? Check out this earlier shedpost)

    You can 'nudge' people towards behaving in a more responsible way without being aggressive or official. Like footmarks on an…

    4th April 2015 Oops - have I upset the apple cart?

    Regarding my last shedpost and the photo competition ...

    There's been some 'lively' discussion on Twitter this morning with some people choosing to see this idea as exploitative and, in some way, me getting free images while pro photographers suffer and can't pay their rents. Really?

    Nothing could be further from my intentions. I'd naturally assumed that most of the people who'd want to take…

    4th April 2015 Photographic Competition?

    Now then. I've had an idea.

    In the world of problem solving (and, for that matter, crowdfunding) you quickly learn the skills you need to make the most of what you have. You also learn how to get the things you need for the minimum outlay but, hopefully, in a way that's beneficial for all concerned. One technique I've often used in the past is what I call The Free Swap.

    If I needed something…

    2nd April 2015 Now Wash Your Hands

    Here's an extract from the book as a teaser:

    Creative thinking has taken on a kind of mythic quality in recent decades that, frankly, it doesn’t deserve. Or, more accurately, that it doesn’t deserve any more than any other kind of thinking. You’ll find ‘creative thinking’ lurking somewhere near ‘problem solving’ in almost any corporate blurb you care to read and, based on a trawl of the internet…

    31st March 2015 Bring in the New, Help out the Old

    64% of the way there. The climb is tortuously slow but I'm doing all I can to get this baby to print. Any suggestions you might have to gee things up, they'll be very welcome!

    But now here's a brilliant story from the Netherlands.


    The cost of aged care is rising, as are rents for student housing. Now a retirement home in the Netherlands has developed an ingenious share house solution…

    20th March 2015 Fishing for Simple Solutions

    Many years ago, the often-called 'Father of lateral thinking' Dr Edward de Bono was asked by a government thinktank to suggest solutions to the Middle East problem.

    His solution was Marmite.

    Marmite, he explained, is rich in zinc as all yeasty products are. Most bread eaten in the Middle East is unleavened. He'd read that a lack of zinc causes copper levels to rise in the blood and that this…

    12th March 2015 Sir Terry Pratchett RIP

    I was very saddened to hear of Sir Terry's death today at the stupidly young age of 66. I was lucky enough to work with him on a few occasions and he was never less than charming, warm, and as sharp as a razor.

    He appeared twice on The Museum of Curiosity - once in the studio and once at a live charity staging of the show at London's Natural History Museum where his suggested donation was Darwin…

    10th March 2015 Think of Me. Keep it Free.


    Remember the furore back in April 2013 when chancellor George Osborne was spotted parking in a disabled bay? It's amazing how quickly people forget things like that. What a shameful thing for anyone to do, let alone a senior politician with control over benefits and disability issues.

    However, having seen a similar blatant misuse of a disabled bay in London yesterday I thought I'd pass on…

    28th February 2015 The Urge to Know


    Okay, you can watch the video if you want ... but wait until the end and it'll all make more sense.

    It's been a difficult week so this shedpost may get a bit ranty.

    You've been warned.

    A friend was involved in a car accident, my own car was declared officially dead and I failed to get to an event in Oxford that I'd been very much looking forward to (more on that in a mo). Plus, I admit…

    25th February 2015 Crime of the Century

    I simply had to post this ... if for no other reasons than the fact that I'm Cornish and the photo is so brilliant.

    Scilly police puzzled after fried egg found at crime scene

    By WBGraeme  |  Posted: January 10, 2015

    POLICE on the Isles of Scilly have been left baffled after a fried egg was left behind at a crime scene following a break-in.

    There are three police officers on the…

    18th February 2015 The Solution that Solves Nothing

    This is an unusually long shedpost. It's a researched piece on homelessness that I've reluctantly cut from the book due to length and the fact that I have better, more powerful examples to use. But I thought I'd include it here to give a sense of the book's style. Plus, it's an good example of what happens when people apply the wrong solution to a problem. Enjoy.

    Please note that not all…

    18th February 2015 Bench Marks

    A novel advertising solution from Australia.

    I can't say I approve.

    Though the cheek of it did make me smile. :)




    17th February 2015 We have a date for Brighton!

    Following on from yesterday's shedpost, we now have a date for the Brighton gig.

    On Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 7.30-9pm, myself, Dr David Bramwell and Robert Llewellyn will be taking part in the Odditorium series of talks in the Spiegeltent. Our show is going to be called The Road to Utopia and it's going to be great fun :)

    Get those diaries sorted!

    16th February 2015 Bad Dates

    Here's a little short I recorded for Channel 4 as part of a series called Bad Dates.

    You can see mine and the other five on the Channel 4 4OD website here.

    Bad Dates copyright (c) 2015 Channel 4 and Rumpus Media.

    16th February 2015 Crowd-Funding Blues

    Hello Shedfolk

    Another fortnight passes us by and the book has crept up by 1% to 58%. It's painfully slow but I'm really at a loss to know what else I can do to attract more pledges. I've pimped it on Twitter, had people doing the same on Facebook (I'm not on Facebook), written some magazine articles and told everyone I can think of. It's tough to get the book noticed among the media noise.

    1st February 2015 Not losing my bottle as we lurch towards 60%

    So, we're 57% funded and lurching towards the 60% mark and ... dare I hope ... 66% and 2/3rds of the way there. Progress is steady but very slow. It's difficult to know what else I can do to gee up the funding. Obviously, keep telling people if you can - you early subscribers have to wait the longest so it's in your interests too to get new people pledging.

    £10 buys a digital edition - that's the…

    16th January 2015 Blood sugars, Goth dates and being Quite Interesting

    Crikey and criminy, it's been a while since my last blogpost and I apologise for that. Life gets in the way sometimes.

    The first big distraction was discovering that I have Type 2 Diabetes;a bit of a shock, especially as I am completely asymptomatic. But, putting a positive spin on it, it is controllable and it's a huge boot-kick up my capacious arse to lose some weight. 22lbs lost so far (and…

    3rd January 2015 Hello 2015! Let's get this book published!

    Here's an exclusive extract from Chapter 8 of Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road; a chapter in which I discuss the many creative ways people have found for moving 'problem people' along. The chapter looks in some depth at the issue of homelessness and some innovative ways to tackle the problem in which everyone wins.

    Tokyo's Ueno Onshi is the oldest public park in Japan and is popular for…

    31st December 2014 Sweaty New Year!

    Yes, it's that time again folks. The turkey is gone, the tins of chocolates rattle with the few sweets that no one likes and your bottle recycling bin has never looked fuller. You daren't stand on the scales for fear of a heart attack and you promise yourself that one of your New Year's Resolutions is to lose weight. You consider joining a gym ... but it's so expensive! Mind you, it would mean you…

    19th December 2014 Signing off for 2014

    Have a great Christmas everyone and I hope that your 2015 is happy, healthy and prosperous and that you get a copy of my new book!




    16th December 2014 Ho ho hoping to get funded in the New Year!

    Hello Shedfolk

    Sorry it's been a while. I've been busy working on the book and some other projects and have neglected my shed a little.

    It's that time of year when everything starts shutting down in preparation for the Silly Season and crowd-funded publication is no different. Last week was the first week in the history of 'Why did the Policeman cross the road?' that it received no pledges at…

    2nd December 2014 Follow the Yellow Brick (Printable) Road

    It's fair to say that one of the most interesting and fastest-developing technologies right now is 3D printing. I am quite excited about the posibilities in 20-30 years time when old and dribbly me, instead of having to waddle to the shops, will be able to print household goods and possibly even food in the comfort of my own home. Yes, 3D printed food! Look!

    Well, how about 3D printed block paving…

    21st November 2014 The Dog's Bottles

    After the bottle bank that works like a fruit machine and the litter bins that sound like they are hundreds of feet deep, here's another clever way to make people dispose of their litter correctly - you help feed dogs.

    A company in Turkey called Pugedon has created the food dispensing bottle banks to feed the city’s stray dogs. The profit from the recycled bottles covers the cost of the dog…

    18th November 2014 The Top 10 Silliest TV Detective Shows

    By way of a change of pace today, I thought that I'd eschew the world of problem solving policing and look at the world of television policing. Here's my personal run-down of the top 10 silliest detective shows on TV:

    10 - Kojak

    You know that scene in the film The Break-Up where Jennifer Aniston shaves everything off in the shower and then, to the strains of the song ‘Who loves ya Baby…

    16th November 2014 Water, great!

    Forget constantly stopping to refill your water bottle on long bike rides. A designer has come up with a new way to quench your thirst on the go.

    Kristof Retezár, a student at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria, has invented a little thing called Fontus -  a self-filling water bottle for your bicycle.

    According to Retezár, This device collects the moisture contained in…

    10th November 2014 The Skeptical Feature Writer

    Last year, I travelled around the UK touring a talk called The Skeptical Bobby. The ‘tour’ took in over 70 venues including the Edinburgh Fringe, the Cornbury Festival, Latitude, QEDCon and lots and lots of Skeptic in the Pub meets. The theme of the talk was this: Skepticism isn’t just about UFOs, or religious dogma, or cryptozoology. Being a critical thinker should extend into every facet of everyday…

    9th November 2014 Oh, the agony in Tregony

    Not a problem solving shedpost per se ... although this is a post about me solving one of my own problems.

    I'm not someone given to writer's block - in fact, I'm quite the opposite. I'm a workaholic with more ideas than I can handle. The problem with that is that I keep starting new projects and dancing between the existing ones and things don't get finished. Just recently I've been hard at work…

    9th November 2014 Are we programmed to be bad drunks?

    I had a feature published in The Independent newspaper this week. You can read the original here. But, if you don't fancy that, here's the copy. As you expect, the editors hacked my original piece around to include several references to recent news stories and TV shows but the facts are all there.

    Are Brits programmed to be too disinhibited when drinking alcohol?


    28th October 2014 Coming out of the Water Closet

    As you'll know if you're a regular visitor to the shed, I recently appeared on a new episode of QI playing a public toilet. There was a time, many centuries ago, when the more bashful person could hire a gentleman with a big cape and a bucket to shield their ablutions from the public gaze.

    We take the smallest room in the house for granted but it wasn't that long ago that all waste disposal…

    27th October 2014 It's just the way I walk

    How you move gives a lot away. Maybe too much, if the wrong person is watching.

    A small number of criminals commit most of the crimes, and the crimes they commit are spread unevenly over the population: some unfortunate individuals seem to be picked out repeatedly by those intent on violent assault. Back in the 1980s, two psychologists from New York, Betty Grayson and Morris Stein, set out to find…

    21st October 2014 You need weeds

    Problem: Weeds have taken over your cornfield. What can you do?

    Farm the weeds.

    Recent research sponsored by Defra shows that Corn Gromwell (Buglossoides arvensis), a very common weed, is rich in omega-3 and could potentially be grown commercially in the UK for the first time.

    Corn Gromwell is native to Europe, North Africa and across Siberia and Western Asia and has also been introduced…

    17th October 2014 Bottle Bank Arcade

    More fun from VW's The Fun Theory.

    When I was a kid, we got money back on bottles so it was in our best interests to collect them and hand them back in for recycling. But these days, when a bottle of beer costs less than a bottle of water or a chocolate bar in some supermarkets, how do you incentivise people to use bottle banks more often?

    Make it FUN.



    16th October 2014 The Waiting Game - The Realities of Crowdfunding

    I launched this book 107 days ago - just under four months - and I'm delighted that I'm 48% funded; the halfway mark is in sight. That said, there was a big flurry of pledges at the beginning, which means that, realistically, it's taken three months to achieve 20%. It doesn't take a mathmo to work out that, at the current rate of pledging, this book won't hit 100% until this time next year. That in…

    15th October 2014 Supercar Superfix

    This is a common sight every Summer in the streets of Chelsea and Knightsbridge; hordes of young supercar owners, mostly from the Arab States, descend on London to basically show off what they own. And, for a fortnight or so, the streets are full of Rolls Royces, gold-plated Range Rovers, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bugattis.

    Residents complain about the noise of the cars revving and streets…

    14th October 2014 Sexy Data

    So ... here's the problem; you're a researcher and you want to understand more about human sexuality and sexual habits. How do you get good data?

    The problem is that people don't always tell the truth. People lie about frequency, size, kinkiness and all manner of other subjects because they don't want to seem 'unusual'. But, of course, by not having accurate data, there's no way of knowing what…

    13th October 2014 Why did the Portaloo cross the road?

    Last Friday I made a surprise and unheralded appearance in the most recent new episode of QI. It was great fun to do. But it does worry me that my CV probably now reads: 'Jason Manford's Portaloo.'


    13th October 2014 Colossal!

    Hello Shedfolk!

    Sorry for the absence but I've been rather busy working on my contribution to Dr Sue Black's brilliant new book Saving Bletchley Park. It's here on Unbound - I believe it is still the fastest crowdfunded book ever - and it will be out next year.

    Sue's written an amazing story of how the campaign began, grew and eventually resulted in Bletchley Park's rescue. I've been writing…

    2nd October 2014 A Quick (and Poetic) Hello!

    It's National Poetry Day. And, while it's nothing to do with my book, I thought I'd share my love of poetry with you. Well, my love of bad poetry anyway. So here's a podcast of mine from last year (or was it the year before?) in which you'll hear what I consider to be some of the direst poetry ever written. You'll also hear some pretty bad music too.

    Oh, and so that there is at least a smidgin…

    26th September 2014 We apologise for this break in transmission ...

    Hello shedfolk.

    Just a quick 'hello' to say that there will be a short break in these probem-solving shedposts. I'm under the whip to finish my contribution to Dr Sue Black's book Saving Bletchley Park and I also have to consider new ways to promote my book as pledging has pretty much ground to a halt.

    Rest assured, I'll be back very soon!

    To keep you going, have a tiny sleeping baby…

    24th September 2014 Taking the sea air in a sea chair

    Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

    It's an area the size of Turkey in the North Pacific where several currents converge, bringing in all kinds of floating detritus and creating a Sargasso Sea of rubbish. Plastics account for a goodly proportion of the mess and many forms of plastic will take hundreds of years to bio-degrade. In the meantime, the plastics leach chemicals into the sea…

    23rd September 2014 (Ux)Bridge of Memories

    While it is packed to the gunwales with stacks of problem-solving goodness, Why did the policeman cross the road? is also, partly, a memoir. In order to tell the story of my work with the Problem Solving Unit at Scotland Yard, it was necessary to give the reader some back story. And prompted by watching an old movie at the weekend, I thought that today I'd give you a small excerpt from the biographical…

    22nd September 2014 Not Very Uplifting

    This is glorious isn't it? Except, sadly, it's not quite what it seems ...

    All but the final photo are genuine and record a real incident that took place at Roundstone Pier, Conemmara, Galway in September 2004. Sadly, the final photo is a fake (Snopes - the urban myth debunking website - has the full breakdown here) but it's the final photo that does act as the punchline.


    17th September 2014 Pinch me, I'm Virgin

    These are cute aren't they? It's a cruet set that Virgin Atantic gives out to Upper Class passengers. They are so cute in fact, that people kept nicking them. Which was a problem.

    So, how did Virgin solve it? Well, they could have taken the 'scorched earth' option and done away with them altogether. But they didn't. They were smarter.

    Firstly, they made the cruet out of chrome-plated plastic…

    15th September 2014 White Line Highway

    It's wartime. The Germans are sending waves of bombers across the English Channel to blitz London and other cities. When the sirens start, so does the blackout; curtains are drawn, lights are doused and everyone heads for their Anderson shelters or huddle together on the platforms of Underground stations, praying for the best.

    But what if you need to drive a car around? Or an ambulance? How do…

    14th September 2014 Watch the Birdie ... after doing bird

    Yesterday I travelled to oh-so-trendy Shoreditch in East London to be one of the speakers at Birdie, a photography conference for the passionate snapper. This was an event aimed at both professional and amateur and the speakers covered a wide range of subjects and approaches. It was a really great day; very relaxed, very informative, very casual. 

    You can find out more about the speakers and…

    12th September 2014 Tom gets radished

    This is Tom Whipple of The Times newspaper.

    The reason he looks like that is because he's just experienced some painful problem-solving from Japan.

    A couple of years ago, I was taking part in a press event for the 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes UK tour. The Ig Nobels, if you're not familiar with them, are awarded every year, just after the Nobels, to 'science that first makes you laugh, then think…

    11th September 2014 Quollity Problem Solving

    Well, I'm FINALLY off that damned 39% plateau and have entered the roaring forties of fundedness. It must be time for a new shedpost. Though I do wonder how many people read this stuff. I don't really get much feedback. Don't be shy to leave a comment or say hello on Twitter. I am, rather uninventively, @stevyncolgan.

    Anyhoo, here's some great problem solving from Australia.

    So. How do you…

    5th September 2014 On yer bike

    With it having been 'Ride your bicycle to work day' in London this week,I thought a quick shedpost on bike locks might be appropriate. Around 20-25,000 bicycles are stolen in the city every year. But there are a few things that every cyclist can do to decrease their chances of it happening to them.

    Firstly, use a good lock. DON'T use one of those flimsy rope/chain things with a tumbler like this…

    4th September 2014 This sucks

    Thumb-sucking is a problem. It can lead deformed upper teeth by forcing them outwards. And, unfortunately, unlike a dummy/pacifier you can't take it away. Well, not without surgery anyway.

    I saw a child wearing one of these devices (above) today. I'd never seen one before and had no idea that such things existed. But they've apparently been around for some time.

    But what stops the kiddies…

    2nd September 2014 Fun is the best incentive

    So. How do you get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator or lift? It's a genuine problem during peak times in places like train stations, hotels and airports.

    A few years ago, the British Heart Foundation tried to appeal to our desire to be healthier with a poster campaign.

    And I once stayed at a hotel in Manchester where, at the foot of every stairwell and on every landing,…

    31st August 2014 Joined-Up Thinking is back

    If you enjoyed my previous book Constable Colgan's Connectoscope (also on this Unbound site), you'll know that it was the sequel to a previous book published by Pan Macmillan called Joined-Up Thinking. You can still get copies of the original hardback and paperback in shops and on the web. However, I recently got back the rights to J-UT and so I've updated it and slightly expanded it and it's now…

    30th August 2014 How to solve the problem of skateboarders

    Great cartoon by the brilliant Andy Riley from his book DIY Dentistry.

    Of course, there are more conventional methods. Like this:

    Either works :D 

    29th August 2014 Win free books forever!

    Here's a message from one of Unbound's founders, Dan Kieran ...

    'It’s now more than three years since we launched Unbound and put the power of publishing in the hands of the people that matter - authors and readers.


    Since then you've funded 54 books, 42 (the answer to life, the universe and everything) have been published and we are on the verge of reaching an astonishing £1,000,000 in pledges…

    28th August 2014 Licence to Confuse

    Who is the most wanted man in the Republic of Ireland?

    It's Prawo Jazdy, a Polish chap who has somehow managed to evade the law while repeatedly speeding and clocking up parking fines across the Republic.

    Except he hasn't.

    An examination of the paperwork in 2009 revealed a somewhat embarrassing truth; the 50+ outstanding offences were recorded not under the Polish drivers' names but…

    25th August 2014 How to solve the problem of a wobbly table ... using maths

    Hello Shedfolk.

    I'm back from Edinburgh, the weather is typically Bank Holiday crappy and it's back to the grindstone.

    The book is 36% funded, which is brilliant, but we still have a long way to go. I'm going to carry on plugging it and I think I'll have a competition when I get to 50%. With a nice prize. :)

    In the meantime, it's back to the regular problem solving shedposts. Today - how…

    23rd August 2014 Hunky Dory in Auld Reekie

    Just a quick shedpost today as I'm still in Edinburgh - normal service will be resumed from Monday.

    It's been a cracking Fringe so far and I've seen some brilliant shows. As usual, it's not necessarily the big shows that float my boat, but the smaller, more intimate shows. Chris Coltrane's There's no heroes left except all of us show was so good that I almost forgive him for using 'there's…

    18th August 2014 Off to the land of swirling kilts

    This will be my last shedpost for about a week as I'm heading North to the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow and I'm going to be busy busy busy (and have no idea how good my wifi will be). Mind you, I don't get many responses to these shedposts either on here or on Twitter so I have no idea if they're actually entertaining or informing anyone!  

    I'll leave you with a clip from an April 2009 episode…

    18th August 2014 Hide and Seek

    Back in June last year, I was asked to record a short segment for Josie Long's wonderful Short Stories series for Radio 4. Each show has a theme and the theme of this show was 'lost and found'. I spoke about playing Hide and Seek on the night shift as a fun and effective way of learning your way around an unfamiliar new 'manor'.

    Anyway, I did my bit, the show went out, and then a few days later…

    16th August 2014 Messing with your Eyes

    Following on from yesterday's fake mouldy sandwiches, here's another example of clever food-related problem solving - the Seat Saver.

    These are made of soft, flexible, cast and painted vinyl but look so much like the real thing that, if you need to zip off for a wee in the middle of the show, your seat will still be unoccupied when you return.  

    They come in a range of sizes from burst…

    15th August 2014 Mouldy Old Dough

    Sight is our primary sense. It’s so dominant that it can subvert the others. I once saw a lecturer melt chocolate and pour it into a mould shaped like dog excrement. Even though everyone in the room knew that it was chocolate, only a few would have a bite of the resulting object. The visual input far outweighed taste, smell, touch and even commonsense.

    Designer Sherwood Forlee recently used this…

    14th August 2014 Unsafety Film

    In 1976 the British Aircraft Corporation wanted its staff to understand the dangers of not wearing safety goggles. They decided that the best way to do this was with a film that involved graphic reconstructions of eye injuries taking place. How they came to this decision is not recorded. Presumably, it seemed like ‘a good idea at the time’.

    Thirteen employees needed to be helped out of the cinema…

    13th August 2014 Meet Rory Sutherland

    I was delighted earlier today to receive a tweet from a big hero and acquaintance of mine, Rory Sutherland. Rory's an extraordinary thinker and drives much of the creative brilliance at advertising giants Ogilvy. I first met him a few years ago when he appeared as a guest on The Museum Of Curiosity and endeared himself to many with tales of brilliant problem solving. One of my favourites (which has…

    12th August 2014 Sod off butterfly (in 3D)

    So. How do you keep Cabbage White butterflies off your brassicas without harming the little perishers?

    Shaan Hurley decided to employ some state-of-the-art technology.

    Having read that they are highly territorial and won't go into a garden area where another is, he decided to print himself a Cabbage White.

    He designed a 3D butterfly in AutoCAD and used STLOUT or 3DPRINT command to generate…

    11th August 2014 What's another year?

    It's my birthday today, 11th August. It's a curious date upon which almost nothing of any note has ever happened. And the most famous people born this day are not kings, queens, dictators, philosophers or groundbreaking scientists but people like Enid 'Noddy' Blyton, Steve 'Apple' Wozniak, Ian 'Palpatine' McDiarmid, Chris 'Thor' Hemsworth, and Hulk 'Hulk' Hogan. Nature seems to like this date though…

    10th August 2014 Grave Concerns

    A great bit of problem solving here to catch a truly despicable thief.

    'A MOTHER hunted down a heartless thief who stole from her murdered son’s grave by stitching a tracking device in a teddy bear.

    Mother-of-four Joan Holland, 50, who has visited the grave of her 16-year-old son Andrew every Sunday for seven years, was devastated when items started going missing. Carer Joan, whose son was…

    9th August 2014 Bangers and smash

    ‘The population of the United States is 300 million, the European Union 450 million, and Japan 127 million. These numbers alone ensure that rare events – even one-in-a-million events - will occur many times, every day, making the wildly improbable perfectly routine’ – Dan Gardner from Risk.

    Every so often I'm reminded that, with all the planning in the world, sometimes life will throw you the unexpected…

    6th August 2014 How to swear without swearing

    Father Ted made popular the Irish people's use of 'feck' as a non-swearing swear word. But, when I was growing up in Cornwall we had something just as good. It was the word 'tuss'.

    As this short video (made in 2010) will explain, it can be a verb ('he tussed his bike up in a crash'), an adjective (he's tussing joking!') or most popularly as a noun ('He's a complete tuss').

    So, if you want to…

    6th August 2014 Problem LAX solution

    With airports and flights very much in the news today, here's a good example of how focusing on the wrong problem can make situations more fraught than they need to be.

    Business advisor Ian Lurie was once on a visit to Los Angeles Airport: ‘The flight was right on time, smooth as silk. Then we landed at LAX', he explains. 'The jetway was busted. So, for the next fifty minutes, eight airline and…

    2nd August 2014 Oh, and ... 25%!

    A quarter of the way there shedfolk!

    2nd August 2014 Save the Whale Poop!

    Saving the whales is obviously a good thing. And not just because they’re stunningly beautiful, majestic and smart. In an eerie parallel of the plot of Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, it turns out that the whales may just have the key to saving the planet.

    When larger whales evacuate their bowels what emerges is something that looks like pink diarrhoea containing a few hard squid beaks and undigested…

    1st August 2014 No more pains in the butt?

    With the increase in use in e-cigs, the sight of fag ends on pavements may soon start to dwindle. However, good problem solving means that some people are already looking at them not so much as litter but as a resource. This is from 2010:

    Here's a message from Chinese scientists: "Stop throwing out your cigarette butts!" Researchers have devised a financially viable process for recycling cigarette…

    31st July 2014 Nine things that rich and successful people do. Apparently.

    I was interested to read this at entrepreneur.com recently.

    Thomas Corley spent five years studying the lives of both rich people (defined as having an annual income of $160,000 or more and a liquid net worth of $3.2 million or more) and poor people (defined as having an annual income of $35,000 or less and a liquid net worth of $5,000 or less). Among the many things he discovered were nine particular…

    31st July 2014 Getting shirty

    In July 2010 West Midlands Police issued its front-line officers with new shirts that (a) allow more freedom of movement when worn with body armour and (b) allow the public to tell at a glance whether someone is a police officer (black) or a community support officer (blue). The total cost was £100,000. The Taxpayer’s Alliance was immediately up in arms. Spokesman Mark Wallace said: ‘I think it's…

    30th July 2014 Tree Cosies

    Guerrila knitters are wanted to knit cosies for city trees.

    It may sound like a barking idea but Christine Fraser of Exeter Parks Watch believes it could save Exeter trees from attacks by dogs.Last summer there was a spate of trees being attacked in St Bartholomew’s Cemetery and several had to be felled as a result, and now attacks have been reported in Bury Meadow Park.

    Ms Fraser said:…

    30th July 2014 Today's 'how to fill my shed' solution


    Oh how I hate that word.

    Or, rather, what the word ‘solutions’ has become. It began worming its way into business jargon in the 1980s when companies started to append it to their business names and descriptions of services believing that they were sending a positive signal to the customer. Phrases like ‘Your Number One provider of recruitment solutions’, they believed, implied…

    29th July 2014 No Va? No way!

    Chances are you've heard the story about how Chevrolet had problems marketing the Chevy Nova in Latin America. Since no va means ‘it doesn't go’ in Spanish, the oft-repeated story goes, Latin American car buyers shunned the car, forcing Chevrolet to embarrassedly pull the car out of the market.

    Chevrolet's woes are often cited as an example of how good intentions can go wrong when it comes to translation…

    28th July 2014 Taking the hiss

    Why did the policeman cross the road? is a book about solving problems, big and small. Many examples are from my time in the police. But many others are from wholly different areas of work and, indeed, from history and from around the world. Here's a short extract and an example of what can happen if you opt for the quick fix without considering the repercussions:

    ‘Let’s imagine that a member…

    27th July 2014 A lesson from Dave Trott

    Dave Trott is an advertising man. He's also a very original thinker. His blog is one of my favourite things. Here's an example of why:


    Bean Counter Logic

    The US Navy, the US Air Force, and the US Marines each needed a new fighter/bomber.

    But instead of making a different one for each, the government decided to save money.

    By making one plane they could use for everyone.


    25th July 2014 Peelings. Nothing more than peelings.

    Banana peels could keep pollutants from slipping into your water.

    Current methods for purifying water are expensive, with some materials used in the process being poisonous themselves. However, research is showing that coconut fibres, peanut shells and other plant materials can remove potentially toxic heavy metals such as lead and copper from water. This includes banana peels which are thrown…

    23rd July 2014 Kakapo Update!

    I've learned today that the world Kakapo population is 126 individuals as of 2014. 6 hatchings were born this year, the first since 2011.

    Maybe the 'kologne' is working :)

    23rd July 2014 Chute to kill

    I found another great example of clever problem solving today that highlights the use of incentives ...

    Back in WW2, US paratroopers had a serious problem - allegedly, one in 20 parachutes failed in some way, despite frequent checks of the 'silk' and release mechanisms. The cause was suspected to be poor packing.

    The solution was to require that the packers and inspectors regularly jump out…

    22nd July 2014 Kakapo Kologne

    A nice little bit of problem solving here:

    'With only 91 kakapos left in the world, New Zealand scientists began looking for a way to improve breeding among the parrots. Researchers noticed that some kakapo males had females lining up for a romantic fling while other males stood idly by, and the scientists hypothesized that some male birds simply smelled better than others.

    The solution…

    16th July 2014 Hey you, can you help me move this planet a bit to the left?

    Whenever I met people who told me that solving a particular problem was impossible, I liked to remind them of just what people are capable of. We're extraordinary. We're a species of problem solvers. Hell, we're the apes who moved a planet.

    No, really.

    Dr Benjamin Fong Chao of the Goddard Space Flight Center recently identified that the earth's rotation has slowed by 0.2 millionths of a second…

    11th July 2014 The difference between problem solving and not problem solving

    I'm just writing a chapter of the new book that defines what we did in the Problem Solving Unit. Here's an extract:

    'There is an oft-told parable – popularised in the 1930s by social reformer Saul Alinksy - about a group of campers on a river bank who notice that a baby is in the water and drowning. After pulling the infant ashore, the campers notice another baby in the river in need of help. Before…

    7th July 2014 13% - lucky for me!

    Thank you so much for dribbling me over the 1/8th funded line in so short a time! Keep spreading the word m'lovelies!

    Meanwhile, as a sort-of reward, here's a little extract from the first chapter. Tell me what you think :)


    'There are many reasons why people choose to become police officers. For some it’s a sense of duty or the desire to contribute to a better society. For others it’s a…

    2nd July 2014 Why hot chips can give you hot spots

    I was chatting yesterday to another ex-cop called Peter Kirham who told me a great story which I simply have to put in the book as an example of how a clever, quick crime solution is often possible if you use your brain.

    He was working at Brixton in London at the time and new analysis software had just been introduced that collated reported crimes and generated crime 'hot spots' in order to show…

    1st July 2014 7% in just 24 hours!

    Wow. You guys. I hardly need say more. Thank you so much for getting the book off to a great start!


    1st July 2014 Evenin' all

    Hello Shedfolk!

    And welcome to 'Why did the Policeman Cross the Road' - my new book.

    Well, I say new book ... that's not strictly true. This one has been in the making for quite some time. In fact, I first started gathering bits together for it as long ago as 2006. I knew that I had some extraordinary stories to tell. I knew that there was something really good in the material. I just didn't…

  • These people are helping to fund Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?.

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  • Gianfranco Cecconi
    Gianfranco Cecconi asked:

    Stevyn, the premise for your book could be used also to justify the surveillance state we live in. Will your work discuss the ethical boundaries of that kind of "problem solving"? I believe that including that kind of conversation in the book would elevate it from a collection of anecdotes into food for thought. Good luck with the funding!

    Stevyn Colgan
    Stevyn Colgan replied:

    Hi Gianfranco, Yes indeed, CCTV is discussed as is the use of other technologies that could be seen as either 'preventative' or 'oppressive' depending on your viewpoint. I'm thinking in particular of devices like the Mosquito: effectively a sonic weapon solely designed to irritate and disperse children which many local authorities bought into but which the police service, as a whole, didn't. The importance of ethical behaviour is a golden thread that runs throughout the book. Steve

    Ben Cope
    Ben Cope asked:

    Hi Steve, do you think publication of your book is looking likely in the next 3 months?

    Stevyn Colgan
    Stevyn Colgan replied:

    I'd love that to be the case! The reality, however, is sadly no. The book is only at 53% funded at this time and needs to be at 100% to meet production costs. Even when the total is reached, there will then be the process of editing, proofreading, typesetting, design and printing to go through which, at a conservative estimate, is a minimum of three months' work. One of the joys, but also the pains, of crowd-funded publishing is that there's nowhere to hide; the entire process is transparent. What's happening with my book is no different a process than what happens with traditional publishing - a book may not hit the shops for a year, maybe even two years, after being bought by the publisher. But the first the buyer knows of the book is when it appears in the shops and can be purchased. With Unbound, the reader puts the money up front and, unfortunately, then has to endure that wait knowing that the book takes time to create. The sooner I'm funded, the sooner the book will be a reality. I can't wait. I think it's the best thing I've ever produced and I hope it will have been worth the wait. S

    Jo Fitzgerald-Gibson
    Jo Fitzgerald-Gibson asked:

    Not a question but a comment - CONGRATULATIONS! My book arrived today, I've read the first two chapters and I'm really enjoying it so far. Thrilled for you. (Anyone who's appeared on stage with the Pogues is alright by me).

    Stevyn Colgan
    Stevyn Colgan replied:

    Thanks so much Jo! The book was a labour of love and took up 8 years of my life. But it would never have happened without people like YOU. That's the wonderful thing about Unbound - readers make books happen. Stevyn x

    Greg McDougall
    Greg McDougall asked:

    Are you aware of any issues with the .mobi format on Kindle. I'm copying it over but it appears on my device with a title of 'Untitled-1'. I'm going to edit the metadata to fix it but I suspect i'm not alone...

    Stevyn Colgan
    Stevyn Colgan replied:

    I'm wasn't aware but I've just loaded it onto my Kindle and it does the same thing. I'll get on to Unbound. Thanks for letting me know. Hope you enjoy the book regardless :)