The Well Is Full

So, here’s an engineering problem for you. What do you do when you run out of room to store water?


Just go with it. Imagine this scenario. You are in charge of directing a flow of water to a well. Man-made well, natural well, it doesn’t matter. There is a well and you need to get the water to it. With me so far?

Ok, so what’s the first thing to do? Right, build a canal. To build the canal, you figure out a way to route the water from the source (and let’s just assume the source is known and definable…say a river) to the well. Fairly simple. Run pipes to get it from point A to point B. There are time-tested ways of doing this. No need to re-invent the wheel on this one.

Got it. Check!

We’re done, right?

Well, no.

Notice I didn’t say anything about how much water we’re talking about nor how big the well is. So, let’s define that now. The well has a volumetric limit. The water, so far as you know, is limitless.

Uh oh, now what?

Another constraint: You can’t build another well (everything has a budget, right?!) and you can’t modify the current well. What do you do?

Well, you keep the piping in place so that the “new” water still runs to the well, but figure out how to move the water currently in the well somewhere else. Ok, Lee, that sounds great, but where do you put the water you’re taking out of the well?

One thing you could do is build holders. Whether they be pitchers, cups, whatever you can think of. Something to get the water out of the well. You can start to stack these objects up on dry land, and therefore, take (and keep) the water out of the well. Hence, the “new” water has a place to go.

But you’re probably recognizing something if you’re thinking ahead. This practice can’t go on forever. Water has to go somewhere, and sooner or later, you will run out of space. So, what happens? You have a spill. Water goes everywhere and things get bad.

Well, crap. What a terrible story, Lee. Why did you tell us about this?

Very simple.

Because that’s what happens when you have to wait to go to the bathroom in the middle of a long presentation. What is on your mind during that whole time?

That’s right…don’t spill!


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