My wife has been putting together some very complex puzzles lately, with many pieces, odd shapes, and undifferentiated images from piece to piece. Completing them as quickly as she does requires intense concentration.

Along the way, there are times when she’ll get stuck; it will seem impossible to find the particular piece she needs next. Often when she’s in that situation, I’ll walk by, chat briefly, and she’ll find the piece (or I will) almost instantly.

She credits me with being good luck when that happens. While that certainly makes me feel good, it’s obviously not true. I suspect one of two things is going on when this happens and both tie directly to perspective, as so much of creative problem solving does.

If I happen to find the piece, it’s simply because I’m bringing no previous perspective to the problem. I’m seeing the patterns of shapes and images from a new and different angle than she is. And if our brief interaction is coincident with her finding the piece, it’s because the time we interacted is enough to break her concentration, allowing her if not a new, at least a fresher perspective as she reimmerses herself in the puzzle.

So next time you’re working alone, concentrating intensely on trying to solve a problem with the door closed and the phone on send, consider letting yourself be interrupted. The break in concentration may be just what you need to figure out the problem or to at least have the interrupter do it for you!

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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2 Responses to “Solving A Puzzling Situation”

  1. Jan says:

    I love jigsaw puzzles. Like your wife, I’ve been stuck finding pieces. I usually do something else for a while, then come back to it and fit a bunch more pieces. Another strategy is to turn the puzzle upside down or sideways; looking at it from a different angle presents all kinds of new possibilities.
    It’s best not to follow my dad’s strategy–find a likely looking piece, set it in the spot and wham! it into place. This method somewhat effectively fills the space, but does not really fit; you can’t force-fit solutions to problems.

  2. Mike Brown - mikebrownspeaks.com says:

    Jan – Turning it around is a good approach. I hadn’t really thought about it, but that’s probably what’s happening when I walk up to it – I’m seeing it from a different angle usually.

    As for your dad, there used to be a comedy group called the Ace Trucking Company that had a charcter who was a fix-it guy. His motto was, “If it don’t fit, force it!”

    Thanks for commenting!