A Workforce Shift From Puzzles to Mysteries

Published October 13, 2020

What’s the difference between a puzzle and a mystery?

When you’re in school, you’re asked to solve puzzles. You are given problems that, with enough information, you can solve them and they have one right answer.

But now, in this climate, we’re in a world of mysteries. These are types of questions that haven’t even been asked yet. These are types of problems that have no clear single solution. These types of problems require a discovery process and all of your 16 Diamond Tools of Creativity at work.

It is important to know and internalize this awareness because as you continue to rebuild your creative identity, knowing the climate you are in will better position you to approach the situation with agility and confidence; because you know you are solving a mystery rather than completing a puzzle.

In Jeanne Liedtka’s book Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers, she says: “There’s another category of problem called mysteries, where there is no single piece of data, there is no level of data disclosure that will actually solve a problem.

In fact, there might be too much data and it’s about interpreting all the data that’s there. And that’s a richer, harder problem that requires more systems thinking, that requires prototyping and piloting. That’s really where the designers are often most adept.…design is tailored to dealing with uncertainty, and business’s obsession with analysis is best suited for a stable and predictable world.

That’s the kind we don’t live in anymore.

The world that used to give us puzzles but now dishes up mysteries. And no amount of data about yesterday will solve the mystery of tomorrow. Yet, as we’ve already noted, large organizations are designed for stability and control, and are full of people with veto power over new ideas and initiatives.

They are the “designated doubters.” The few who are allowed to try something new are expected to show the data to “prove” their answer and get implementation right the first time.”

With this new landscape of technology advancement and post-pandemic effects, we must rebuild our creative identity within ourselves and within our workplaces. Our trusted maps of old have quickly become obsolete. Our current workforce, and the young students coming through in the pipeline, will need even stronger creative thinking abilities to navigate a world of mysteries and unknown possibilities.

Large organizations are coming to the realization of the importance of building a creative culture with creative thinking teams that can thrive in mysteries. This strategy requires the strategic use of the 16 Diamond Tools for Creative Thinking as well a strategic management of innovation.

We can do this.

We can solve these mysteries but we need to start retraining our creativity now.