What the Humble Jigsaw can teach you about your Business

I’m just back from holiday and it was, for me, an unusually relaxing excursion owing largely to the bout of food poisoning I contracted, rather unfortunately, on day one. Settling down for a lot of rest, plenty of water and some good old fashioned holiday home activities, it wasn’t long before my stir crazy entrepreneur’s brain dug up a 1000 piece jigsaw to while away some time.

This’ll pass an hour or two. Or so I thought….

Three days later I placed the final piece in the puzzle. But not before I’d learned a few lessons about myself along the way, which I thought I’d share.

First: never underestimate the task at hand

1000 pieces sounds simple but, apparently, the complexity of a jigsaw increases with the more pieces it has. The jump from 500 pieces to 1000 is a fourfold increase in complexity. So a task I perceived as simple took days, not hours. And oftentimes, in between, I doubted we had all the pieces to make it happen anyway.

In business, the more factors involved, the harder the problems can be to solve. Even the simple ones.

Secondly: beware the bigger picture

I thought I had the best strategy to getting the jigsaw done quickly: lay out all the pieces face up, then it would be easy to fit them all together. I’d see patterns. It would be obvious.

It wasn’t.

It was frustrating for me constantly scanning the horizon of 1000 different minute pieces, trying to make sense of them. And, as a “bigger picture” kind of girl, it was doubly annoying to me that my tried and tested process wasn’t working on this occasion.

I changed tack half way through and started gathering up smaller pieces and examining each of these more closely. When I did that, things started to move much more quickly.

Sometimes – as in business – the devil is in the detail, and while you might know what the end result is supposed to look like, keeping your eye on the prize can perhaps distract you from the task in hand. It might take more patience to look at the detail but it was worth it in the end.

Third: resilience and patience are key

Rome was not built in a day. Nor were exceptional businesses. Or grand jigsaws.

I learned that, after a (very, in my case) short while the skills that are most important to finishing the job are patience and, bizarrely, resilience.

Now, I’m not going to pretend taking on a jigsaw was a battle against the odds. It wasn’t. But I also wasn’t having fun after the first 60 minutes either.

In the end it became an internal battle to sit it out and get to the end, as well as dealing with the demons that popped up to say: all the pieces aren’t there; someone else might have sabotaged the jigsaw before I got to it; maybe it would take forever; perhaps it couldn’t be solved…..

Sometimes, when things aren’t going quite to plan in business, you need to dig deep and call on patience and resilience to get you through. Some things just cannot be rushed.

And finally: success!

When it was finally done I was genuinely pleased with myself and took some time to celebrate my victory over the 1000 tiny pieces, photographed it for posterity, and let it be for a couple of days before popping it all back into its box – ready to torment someone else.

It was a minor success, in the grand scheme of things, but one I felt worth celebrating. How often do we ignore our minor successes in business? Too busy to take out a few minutes and really reflect on the good that’s happening all around us? Not often enough, I bet.

So, for me, it’s time to tackle my next puzzle and you can rest assured, I’ll be looking at it in detail this time….