Many years ago, a man died and left his camels to his three sons; one-half to the oldest, one-third to the second son, and one-ninth to the youngest. However, there was a problem–he had only 17 camels.
A dispute quickly arose among the brothers. The eldest son argued that the father’s will was in error because one-half, one-third, and one-ninth do not add up to a whole. He felt that he should receive all the camels because this was the tradition in the community. The middle son said his wife had the potential to be very ill and pleaded for an extra camel so that he could sustain his family. Although the story was not true, it seemed like a good idea at the time to get that extra camel at all costs and deal with the family fallout later. The youngest son argued that what was allocated to him was actually one-sixth because a number reversal had occurred.
The adversarial negotiation escalated. The feud became so heated that the families did not speak to each other. The brothers no longer allowed their children to play together and terminated all joint ventures between themselves. One of the siblings even thought of killing some of the camels or one of his brothers. The brothers desperately needed to resolve this conflict. They finally agreed to go to a wise old woman in the community and tell her of their problem. They gave her the right to arbitrate their dispute and to dictate a solution. She said, “I am old and unable to ride my camel anymore. Why don’t you take my camel? Then you will have 18 camels and you can divide them among the three of you.”
The brothers gave half (or 9 of the 18 camels to the eldest son, a third (or 6) of them to the second son and a ninth (or 2) of them to the youngest son. One camel remained. The brothers were able to agree that they should return it to the old woman.
When confronted with a challenging problem, remember the 18th camel and try to come up with an innovative solution.