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Stuck? You know, at a place in your thinking where you can’t find a solution. No matter how long and hard you think about a solution to a problem you face, nothing comes to mind except ideas that don’t work. How do you get unstuck?


The good thing is that at least you recognize that you are stuck. Too many people are stuck and they don’t know it.

I remember the feeling of being stuck. Our grade six class was given a problem to solve. I don’t remember if it was a Friday afternoon or if our teacher was trying to pass the time before class ended but I do remember him drawing 9 white dots on the chalkboard.

He told us to copy the dots on a piece of paper. We were to link all 9 dots using four or fewer straight lines.

He added one condition. You can’t lift your pen or pencil off the paper and you can’t trace the same line more than once.

If you can figure out the solution come to my desk and show me your paper.


Stuck and Angry

Try as I might, I couldn’t solve it. I was stuck, frustrated that I couldn’t figure out the puzzle. Then I got angry. “Why can’t I see the solution? This is impossible. No one is going to get this.”

And then, one by one, my classmates started walking up to the front to show the teacher their solutions. And then I started to feel stupid. Why can’t I see it?

Mercifully, class time was coming to an end. Our teacher went to the chalkboard and showed the solution to the puzzle.

My first reaction was, “That’s cheating!” And I was angrier at myself, embarrassed. I kicked myself all the way home.

Misery Loves Company

Eager to have someone share in my misery, I challenged my dad when he got home from work to see if he could figure out the puzzle. It was too hard so I was confident that I would have to come to his rescue and show him the solution.

I drew 9 dots on a page of paper and gave the instructions.

Immediately, with no hesitation, my dad did exactly what the teacher had done. He drew four straight lines without taking the pen off the paper and solved the puzzle.

How did Dad know the answer?

He had seen the puzzle and learned the solution in a work seminar he attended as a manager for Kodak Canada. That puzzle had helped him solve problems he dealt with in his department.

Adaptive Thinking

Adaptive thinking is dispensing with as many constraints as possible.

Tod Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains calls adaptive thinking “going up to the balcony to get a view of the dance floor.” Adaptive solutions are all about perspective and not limiting yourself to rules that don’t exist.

And resist getting angry. Pause. Take a deep breath. Stand up and walk around. Come back to the problem. You don’t need to have genius creativity. A solution will find you.

Do you know the solution to the 9-dot puzzle?

Leave a comment at the bottom of this post that you are going to work on the puzzle. Solve the puzzle on a piece of paper, take a picture and email it to me I’ll draw one name from all the correct answers (if there are any correct answers). I’ll post the winner’s name on Friday and email the winner a $10 Starbucks eCard.

And I’ll trust you NOT to take your pen off the paper.

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Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 44 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vincent and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love inspiring people through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, and reading. I'm a fan of the Double E, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers


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