lessons from jigsaw puzzlesWintertime memories of my kidhood include doing jigsaw puzzles in our living room. And in the first two weeks of this year, while far from a kid, I have completed two jigsaw puzzles. When I was a kid, I was just doing puzzles. But now, as I find the next piece, I have been thinking about what I can learn from his activity – lessons from jigsaw puzzles.

As it turns out there are quite a few important ones.

Here are a few of the things I have learned.

  • The importance of preparation. The start of the puzzle is the least fun. There is anticipation, but pouring out the pieces and doing all that sorting, when you want to be putting pieces together? That’s not what I signed up for. How many projects have you been a part of that deserved more time in preparation, but you (or the group) jumped again to the “real work” and created later problems because of it?
  • The power of a framework. The framework of a puzzle starts with the border pieces. Of course, you could start by putting any part of the puzzle together, but once the border is completed, so much more makes sense. You know the size and scope of the task, and you have boundaries. When you create a framework for any work or project you accelerate your progress.
  • The reality of different strategies. There are several possible strategies for completing a puzzle. After the border you can start in an area and keep radiating from that area, or you can start to complete images inside the puzzle – the house, the road sign, or the tree, connecting those components together later. I’ve learned that the nature of the puzzle itself changes the possible (and better) strategies to employ. We are more effective when we have experience with different approaches and are willing (and able) to shift approaches based on the situation we face.
  • The value of perspective. If you have ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle you have experienced this. You look and look (and look!) for a single piece – so focused, and yet often so inefficient. Then, after moving on to another area or challenge, when you come back to the initial challenge, the piece seems to be right there! There is value in this approach to a project too.  Focus is important, but when you are stuck, move on, and come back – you might be amazed how much a change in perspective will impact your success.
  • The significance of vision. Imagine trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without the box or picture. Perhaps if the puzzle has 20 pieces you could do it.  But with a puzzle of 1000 pieces, you must look at the picture regularly (and you do it instinctively). That picture reminds you of the vision, changes your perspective, shows your progress, and keeps you motivated.  How many times have you mired in the work and have forgotten the vision for a project?  Keep the vision in front of you and you will be more effective and efficient in your work.
  • The effect of fun. Fun is an underappreciated component of work. Doing a jigsaw puzzle is work, but when you find fun in it (whether doing it alone or with others), it goes faster – and even though it is work it aids your mental health, rather than depleting it.  Find fun in your work and you will be glad you did.

Whether you are a puzzle fan or not, these lessons are valuable. But if you are a fan, the next time you are working on one, think about these lessons from jigsaw puzzles, and find your own too. When you do you will be having fun and learning at the same time.


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  1. I love this analogy. I have been receiving a puzzle for the last 3 winter holidays and I have fun completing them – IF they are the right level of difficulty for me. Too hard – not fun. Too easy – insulting. Just like delegating the right level and amount of work. It has to be challenging but achievable!

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