10 ways puzzles are like problem solving

unfinished puzzle

I love jigsaw puzzles. I love doing them with my family at the cottage. I love how excited kids get when they make a connection or put the last piece in place. I love working on them late at night- too late because I just want to find one…more…piece. In this incredibly digital world, what’s the attraction with this hopelessly old fashioned pastime? Is it the satisfaction of completion? Is it the thrill seeing it come together? Yes and yes!

A few weeks ago at the cottage we worked on a puzzle that holds the Guiness Record for being the largest “find the difference” puzzle so there are 71 differences between the image on the box and the puzzle.

As I worked away at it methodically it occurred to me that puzzles are a great metaphor for social and organizational problem solving.

10 things puzzles teach us about problem solving

  1. You start with a view of the big picture.
  2. You establish a frame of reference.
  3. You sort through your “data” and start anywhere you see major similarities. (Quick wins are encouraging.)
  4. It takes time.
  5. Details matter. With close observation you gradually see small details – subtle nuances- in pieces that originally seemed uniform. Where you  thought the sky, snow or forest would  be next to impossible to assemble you see variations in shading. You make new connections.
  6. There are a million ways to solve your puzzle.  They aren’t solved in a linear way. Have you ever started at the top and worked your way down left to right or top to bottom?
  7. Sometimes large pieces fall into place.
  8. You may have to walk away, take a break or change seats to get a fresh perspective.
  9. You need to believe that you can finish.

When we cracked open the puzzle box during our cottage retreat my almost 8-year old daughter asked if I thought we could finish before it was time to pack up and go home. I said: “I’m not  sure. We’ll try.”  My bright girl huffed and said:

10.  “Well, you have to believe you can do it.” Puzzles and problem solving

Indeed! It appears that bit of wisdom applies to broader problems as well. What piece of the puzzle would you like to add to this list?

I hope you’re enjoying your summer.






Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

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