Solving Business Puzzles


I heard a wonderful talk by Malcolm Gladwell, who is the author of a number of groundbreaking books including The Tipping Point and Blink. In his talk, he made a distinction between solving a mystery and solving a puzzle. With a mystery, there is information that hasn’t been discovered yet. Before the mystery can be solved, all the relevant clues and key information must be found, gathered, and assembled. In the case of a puzzle, the pieces are all there from the start. They need to be identified, organized, and put together correctly to solve the puzzle.

When The Walters Group begins working with a new client, it’s like joining the business owner in front of a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle that they need help solving. Although there may seem to be mysterious elements to a business, they are more typically pieces of the puzzle that are difficult to identify in the current context. I always believe the client has the knowledge and most of the answers. We just need to work together to put it all in place.

In the same sense that the best way to begin a jigsaw puzzle is to first find all of the border pieces, I begin with a new client by framing the situation. This is often a visionary conversation with the client about their purpose and long term aspirations and goals. In our discussions we use open ended questions like:

  • What do you want from your business?
  • Where do you want to go with this business?
  • How will you know when you get there?

Just like we must use the picture on the box of the puzzle to arrange the border, I reference the big picture for the business as we work through these questions. The answers bring clarity to the owner and help me understand how to frame the direction and content to follow. If this step is ignored, the puzzle has no border, and we can’t determine how the partial segments should come together. As Yogi Berra quipped, “When you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” The frame we assemble to give this puzzle shape includes awareness of the current business reality, intentions for the future, and the metrics by which progress will be measured.

Once the frame is assembled, what will we tackle next? To continue with our jigsaw puzzle, we generally organize pieces into groups that contain similar patterns and colors. For our business puzzle, we’ll piece together recognizable sections of the whole picture. For example, marketing is a section that contains elements such as product, placement, promotion, price, and positioning. Finance is another group that includes revenue, cash flow, margins, and return on investment. There are still other groups such as capacity, resources, utility, and profit models. On their own and out of context, it’s difficult to see how any one element contributes to the business. As we take the individual pieces and start fitting them together, more of the picture becomes clear.

Finally, after grouping all of the relevant business subject puzzle pieces, there are always some tough ones eluding us that are keystones to the successful completion of the puzzle. These are the pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere until enough surrounding pieces are in place. The pieces that connect those grouped segments involve day to day business thinking, management, and effective response. This includes using critical thinking, making good decisions based on honest assessments and facts, asking the difficult and correct questions, and learning and adapting along the way.

This puzzle solving methodology mirrors our Momentum Model™, twelve critical leadership and operational components that help you to assess, act, and accelerate your business with clarity, effectiveness, and profit.

In your business, there may be puzzle pieces that are hard to identify. There may be some pieces that are misplaced but still at hand. Finally, there may be pieces that are right in front of you, but you are having difficulty seeing or identifying them. If you’ve been staring at your puzzle pieces for too long, call me and start solving it. Call 267-377-7240 or email [email protected]







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