On jigsaw puzzles and emergent working - Christmas Puzzles 2

This is the second of three posts on work-related thoughts I had whilst puzzling at Christmas time.

I have almost finished the 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle pictured above. It is hard: lots of nondescript pieces. As I work on it I have been trying to pay attention to what is going on in my head and how this might relate to work challenges.

Jigsaw puzzles are not intrinsically Wicked Problems. There is a clear goal; progress is measurable and visible to all; and there is no arguing about when they are done. They can now be solved by computers; see this natty video. I am usually fairly systematic in my approach (i.e. recursively completing parts of the puzzle whose pieces I can readily identify - like the perimeter, then the large orange doorway, then the sky and so on) but… as I work I notice myself being quite random and how much a part serendipity plays.

At the beginning it was hard to say to which part of the picture many of the pieces belonged; but as I got to know the puzzle I found that I could rummage through the heap and instinctively select pieces based on subtle differences in texture and shade. Occasionally, I would see a piece from the corner of my eye and, almost automatically, my hand would pick it up and place it, seemingly without my (conscious) brain getting involved. I'm sure this is not an unusual phenomena but fascinating when it happens.

I choose which part to work on next based on my emerging familiarity with the puzzle - rather than any plan. I guess I could have made a Gantt chart with bars for each part of the puzzle - and estimated times based on the number of pieces - but that would have been mad (wouldn't it?). When I get stuck with one part, I start another and, as often as not, I happen across the pieces I need for the stuck part in the process.

One person doing one jigsaw puzzle is a very different problem to those typical in organisations; but I can't help feeling, even within the context of a systematic organisational change, there are benefits to be had from working in more emergent ways.

I also wondered how I might tackle a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces changed shape when they were placed and whose picture changed with time.


The posts in this Christmas Puzzle series

  1. On crosswords and collaboration
  2. On jigsaw puzzles and emergent working
  3. On fiddling with things and getting in knots