Do you enjoy Sudoku, or is the cryptic crossword more your kind of thing? Maybe you prefer those devilish nine-letter puzzles or perhaps you’re still looking for Wally. People love puzzles, they love wrestling order from chaos, the sense from the nonsense, that rush of dopamine to the frontal lobe when the last piece falls into place.
We can’t get enough puzzles, and yet we hate having problems. Which is weird, because a problem is just a puzzle without a solution printed on the back.
Problems are puzzles for people who like a serious challenge. For a start, nobody knows the answer, which is what makes problems the best kinds of puzzle; the chance to be the first person to crack the solution.
Like puzzles, problems are full of clues for anyone with the patience to go looking, but unlike puzzles, problems usually contain multiple solutions, so you’re bound to find at least one. So why do so many people take such a negative view of what to some of us is a wonderful kind of puzzle?
One reason might be that problems are about us. They’re not something we ‘do’ so much as a world we inhabit. They can be personal, even painful and the consequences of not solving them can be too awful to contemplate. (There are no ‘life and death puzzles’.) And worst of all, there’s no guarantee that there is even a solution to be had no matter how hard you work at it. That’s enough to throw you off your game.
Maybe that’s why the best problem solvers I know somehow manage to distance themselves from all that fear, pain and uncertainty and indulge themselves in the sheer joy of the problem, as though it was nothing more than the Saturday morning crossword. Maybe that’s why outsiders manage to see the solutions that the insiders usually miss.
That’s the trick: to have the knowledge of the insider with the clarity and detachment of the outsider, to care enough to want to solve the problem but not so much that you can’t. You need to somehow embrace the gritty realism of the problem while also feeling that unshakable optimism in the promise of a solution… whatever it might turn out to be.
To help you get there, in future posts we’ll be bringing you various tools and techniques that we’ve picked up over the years, tricks of the trade designed to get you into the right frame of mind to tackle just about any problem with enthusiasm and confidence.
We’ll look at how to split huge problems you can’t solve into lots of teeny ones you can. We’ll explore fresh approaches to old problems and the benefits of sharing a problem with people who might not care about it as much as you do.
It’s just our way of sharing The Joy of Problems.