Playing Puzzles Builds Artisanship

The following post is by Neil Denny, a collaborative lawyer, trainer and author.  Neil lives in Bath with his wife, two children, and their guinea pigs – he originally shared this post on his blog Get Artisan. You can follow Neil on Twitter.


June 11, 2012

I spent yesterday afternoon exploring my geeky games, toys and puzzle collection with my children and I was struck with what I learned.

Watching my children become completely absorbed by these excellent ThinkFun made me think about the artisan theme of complexity.

Here is my son playing the River Crossing puzzle.  I think he is only playing the first or second level out of 40 graded challenges.  It was amazing to watch though.

Neil's son takes on a River Crossing challenge

He would pick up a piece, try it, replace it if it did not work and try with something else.

He would pause and think, working out a new hypothesis and then test that.  If it worked he went on relentlessy to the challenge until, eureka! he had crossed the river.

At the same time his sister was playing Rush Hour.  She would touch this car or that lorry, move it or, if it could not be moved, try another.  (This idea of physically connecting with the work is a key thought of John Ruskin and craftmanship – more on that later)

I loved that there were no self-recriminations if they had got it wrong but, instead, a playful frustration, accompanied by giggles and squeals of “It’s making my brain hurt!” as they set about another attempt.

Whenever a puzzle had been solved there was a real hunger to move onto the nextharder level.

Thinking Fun games have brilliant shaped learning curves so that the next challenge is always a little bit harder.  As we progress through these successive challenges then our skill and mastery grows too.  We are able, through effort, struggle and gradual progression to build up to sophisticated levels of complex problem solving reasonably quickly.

The struggle is important.  Just reading the answer cards will not bring about learning.  We simply lose that ability to make and refine  the synaptic connections that will help us in future problems.

As adults, and as professionals, it is very easy to lose this playfulness.  We can get caught in believing that we know it all.  At the very least, we can caught up in what I call “The Expert’s Curse”, namely a self deluding conceit that if I convince myself that I know all I need to then I can call myself expert.

All the time we see professionals dismissing novel ideas without even a hint of curiosity.

We see reductive thinking where anything new or challenging is reduced to be an example or evidence of something we already know or have already dismissed.

Imagine my son saying, as he sets up the next harder challenge… “Oh, this is similar to the last one I did.  I can do River Crossing…”

The moment my son believes he is an expert at River Crossing, or my daughter at Rush Hour, well, that is the moment they stop reaching for the next challenge and continuing to grow.

One thought on “Playing Puzzles Builds Artisanship

  1. Jacky

    Get Artisan is fundamentally about taking a real pride in the work that each of us does” he states. ”The artisan longs to do great work for the sake of the work itself, to do work that has discernible value to the client and enriches their life in ways that may or may not have been intended.

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