Sometimes people on the outside of a problem can have innovative ideas for a solution; other times their lack of familiarity with the situation creates its own difficulties.
For weeks now many people across the North have been hoping for a successful outcome to the long-running Haass talks process to find a way to deal with the problems of the past, parading and flags.
Some had high hopes for the process, pointing to Dr Haass’ experience and knowledge of the sensitivities of the North.
Those hopes must have been dented this week with the downright bizarre suggestion that a new flag should be designed for the North.
The suggestion itself is nothing new. In the past similar calls have been made by various fringe groups and, on the whole, have been rejected by the majority.
For a respected figure on the international stage to make such a suggestion, however, is a new development and not a particularly welcome one.
The goal of reconciliation and tolerance between the various traditions and identities will not be well served by a new, most likely divisive, debate on an unnecessary symbol, while existing difficulties remain unsolved.
International voices often preach about the need for fresh, creative and imaginative thinking to deal with our particular set of problems on this island.
This falls very far short of that and highlights the need to face up to the fact that we should be tackling our own problems instead of looking to others, however well intentioned, to do it for us.
Real dialogue about real problems may be uncomfortable but it is the only way forward if genuine progress is to be made.
Red herrings and distractions will not lead to lasting solutions.