Putting All the Pieces of the Puzzle Together

Jigsaw puzzles, enjoying a renaissance in these Covid-19 times, can teach businesses valuable lessons

Full disclosure: I’m not the jigsaw puzzle expert in our home. That would be my wife, Karen, who knocks out 1,000-piece puzzles with regularity. But I do find the occasional troublesome piece. And, yes, I do see some interesting business lessons in jigsaw puzzles, which have been much in demand in these Covid-19 times.

Natural light illuminates the puzzle table in the Perry living room.

If you think about it, business is all about putting the pieces of various puzzles together, whether it be the customer service puzzle or the product puzzle or the e-commerce puzzle. Success goes to the companies that do the best job of assembling all of those different pieces. And success in jigsaw puzzles goes to those who do the same thing — literally putting pieces together.

Here are some of the lessons that jigsaw puzzles can teach us in business: 

  • Nail down the borders first. This is what Karen does, and she relies on the cues provided by straight lines. Similarly, mattress companies today need to know the borders of their businesses. What are their straight lines — the things that provide uniformity to the business? Perhaps it is a mission statement, a code of ethics, a special work ethic, a proud history. What are the things that your company does well? And what are the lines that your company doesn’t want to cross? You’ve got to know your borders.
  • Follow the perfect picture. The picture on the outside of the puzzle box provides clarity: This is what you are aiming to piece together. In business it is much the same. Companies want to follow a successful model. They want to emulate the practices that bring them success. Looking at that perfect picture provides a roadmap to a perfectly executed business move.
  • Look for patterns. This is one of the keys to victory in jigsaw puzzles, and in business. It’s also one of the challenges of business, which, in these Covid-19 times, is giving us a changing industry landscape to analyze. Consumers’ growing preference for online shopping is accelerating the industry’s focus on digital marketing and sales. That is one pattern that affects much of the industry, and the players who understand that pattern have an edge on the players who don’t. The more patterns you can identify in a jigsaw puzzle, the more patterns you can use to your advantage.
  • Look for words. “Coca-Cola” appeared several times in a recent puzzle on our living room table. What are the words that spell success for your company? Isn’t it nice when the Chick-fil-A employee says “My pleasure” when he hands you a tasty chicken salad? Words matter.
  • Key in on colors. The hardest puzzles must be those that are blocks of a single color, or ones with only slight color variations. Red pieces were the key to a recent puzzle of a busy London street scene that was on our puzzle table. What colors characterize your business? Are you consistent in the colors of your logo? Does your logo need a colorful refresh?
  • Patience is a virtue. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It takes time to do significant things in business, and slow and steady wins more races than a fast and furious strategy. Set realistic timelines for your major business projects. Chip away at big projects one day at a time.
  • Don’t force things. Is that really a good fit? If it isn’t, you know you can’t leave that piece there. Same story in business: You want the right fit for your people and your products.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. When a puzzle in the Perry house is completed, a picture of that puzzle goes out on Facebook. Are you taking the time to celebrate your successes in business? Do you have a regular plan to recognize some of the good things that your team is doing? 
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