Puzzles not problems...how a simple reframe delivers massive impact

Uncategorized May 04, 2020

It was a rites of passage.

Each birthday, I’d receive an Airfix model aircraft kit. Between the 23rd and the 31st of December, what started as 10 unfathomable plastic moulds, a sheet of stickers and a tube of glue became a Spitfire, a Hawker Hurricane or some other outstanding feat of engineering. 

My mum, my sister, my friend next door and numerous babysitters would each play their part - reinterpreting instructions, holding intricate parts between their finger and thumb, rubbing transfers onto wings or simply bringing the odd cup of orange squash. 

What seemed improbable at the start very quickly became a fun, collaborative almost cathartic experience created miniature aviation magic. 

And never once did I look at the task in hand as a problem; the lost piece, the jammed up glue, the wrong colour code on the paint.

All were simply part of the puzzle to be solved. 



Where suddenly, there were hundreds of problems. 

Big, unwieldy ‘gnarly’ problems

People becoming problems

Ownerless problems


And I quickly learned that;

Problems become the currency for inertia. 

They become the beacon for the disgruntled. 

And they become blockers in your business. 




“Don’t fall in love with a problem. Fall in love with the puzzle”


In our recent book “Creative Superpowers” we talk about the importance of hacking: hacking big challenges into smaller parts so you can deal with them much more easily and focus your efforts on the right solution. 

We used to talk about this as a primer for helping you ‘fall in love with the problem’. 

However, I found that, even when doing this, people could still have their creativity blocked with the legacy of said ‘problems’.  They couldn’t see beyond the problem itself and think about how it could be solved with collaboration, outside thinking, fun and engagement. 

Sometimes, I even heard the 2 biggest momentum-killing phrases in business - ‘but that’s always been a problem’ or indeed ‘that’s how we do business here’.

That’s when I reframed to puzzles. And, once we started talking about them as puzzles, something incredible happened. 



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People started to recognise that, actually, like an Airfix model, quite often everything was there in some form but it just required people working together in a different way to achieve the result. It meant thinking about ‘business as unusual’ rather than just the way we always did things.

Leaders who deployed the new ‘Puzzle Mentality’ realized that it required different people with diverse views and thinking to cover off gaps. That way, instructions were reinterpreted, lost pieces were found and glue was unplugged (and as a result used to stick departments together) 

Finally, they started to enjoy this approach. They actively thought about how they could inject a sense of fun and collaboration into solving puzzles across the business. They’ve been christened ‘Puzzle Calls’ and ‘Puzzle Points’; a new language has been created and it has unlocked and unleashed new thinking and actions that have driven businesses impact. 

A simple reframing yields huge changes in your team’s ability to create impactful solutions. Powering them up with a ‘Puzzle Mentality’ fundamentally empowers them to join the dots in new way and unleash their teams to collaborate to success.

So next time you have a challenge, stop talking about the associated problems. Reframe them into puzzles.

And fall in love with the shift that it brings. 


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