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Pick a Pebble

Pick a Pebble

If you outsource your billing, or are considering outsourcing your billing, be careful that you are not dragged into a “process trap”! It’s expensive and wastes valuable time. Let me explain…

In recent blogs, I wrote about my fond childhood memories of my Dad’s stories and riddles, each designed to provide me with a life lesson. Here is another that has a memorable lesson…

Many hundreds of years ago in a small Italian town, a merchant had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a moneylender. The moneylender, who was old and ugly, was very attracted to the merchant’s beautiful daughter, so he made a proposition to the merchant…

He said he would forgo the merchant’s debt if he could marry the daughter. Both the merchant and his daughter were horrified by the proposal. The moneylender told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty bag. The girl would then have to pick one pebble from the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would become the moneylender’s wife and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble path in the merchant’s garden. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick her pebble from the bag. What would you have done if you were the girl? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her? Careful analysis would produce three possibilities:

1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble (and her father would go to jail).
2. The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the moneylender as a cheat (not really solving any issues)
3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment (an ugly option).

The above story was used by my Dad with the hope that it would make me appreciate the difference between lateral and logical thinking. So how does the story end?

The girl put her hand into the bag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles. “Oh, how clumsy of me,” she said. “But never mind, if you simply look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”

Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an advantageous one.

So what was the moral behind this story? It’s simple. Most complex problems do have a solution, but sometimes we have to think about them in a different way. Solving your practice’s cash flow issues might involve rethinking your entire billing and collection strategy. Doing nothing would be similar to not picking a pebble. Think outside the box and take us up on our Billing Profit Analysis to find out if changing your strategy is required. A white pebble might just be waiting inside your bag!

For a complimentary Billing Profit Analysis, please email me at