Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Those who have had their homes burglarized had to submit claims to their insurance companies. Only a few had safely put away somewhere the updated lists they tell us all to have, with photos and serial numbers. Only after the claim we filled out by memory has been paid do the rest of us realize oops – we forgot some valuable stuff. Most of us with this experience learned how hard it is to see what’s missing. Some of us know it is also easy to overlook many things that are hiding in plain sight.

Tell your friends, family members and colleagues you are conducting an experiment

Ask them this question: “What is the first thing you do when you are trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle?” Ask 10 of them and you will very likely hear some say they start with the corners and edges and some say they start with colors. You conducted a short, informal survey. Now let’s do a simple experiment that looks into how Americans go about solving jigsaw puzzles.

How good is your mind’s eye?

Close your eyes (after you read this paragraph) and imagine you are looking at 10 people in a large rectangular room, each seated at a table about the size of your front door. They are an interesting mix of sizes, shapes, ages and walks of life and all are in the early stages of working on a jigsaw puzzle. The walls are mirrored from the inside, so study subjects cannot see the observers who are watching them and making notes. The rooms are constructed so observers can walk all the way around the lab and watch each person from the front, back and both sides. Cameras in the ceiling allow us to watch each of the study subjects from above and cameras in the tables allow us to observe their expressions and track their eye movements. Take as much time as you need to wander around and observe each of them. Then open your eyes when you think you’ve seen all there is to see.

As you watched those people, what things did you see them doing?

Most of the those who have participated in this mind’s-eye experiment see people working on corners and edges and grouping colors together. They compare notes with other observers and all agree we can now conclude with some certainty that the things most people do first when solving jigsaw puzzles is work on corners, edges and colors.

Let’s go back to the lab

We came in when the puzzle-solvers were all busy at work. That’s coming in at the middle of the movie. What did all 10 really do first? Let’s rewind the video back to what happened before we got there. Study subjects came into the room, put a puzzle box down on the table and sat down. 

Every one of them opened the box

“Well, sure, everyone knows that” some like to say at this point. But good decision-making does not rely on things “everybody knows.” Better decision-making understands what people actually do, instead of what they say they do.

And what two things did we observe all the puzzlers did next? 

They took all of the pieces out of the box and turned all them right side up. The actions that must occur before anyone can solve any jigsaw puzzle are almost always taken for granted by non-scientists, even when they’re the crucial part of the question: What do you do first? 

What other things have been hiding in plain sight?

As we watch, what do we see all the puzzlers doing? If we put on our special glasses (figuratively) and take a closer look, we’ll realize all are using flat surfaces on which to place the puzzle pieces. None are trying to do it on a big round exercise ball. All surfaces are horizontal; none vertical. We notice that the room is well-lit so people aren’t doing this in the dark. We realize that the roof, floor and walls around them are keeping the wind and rain off and they’re sitting still, not bouncing down a dusty country lane in the back of a pickup truck. Silly, some say. Everybody knows that. Did you notice that no one is blindfolded and none are wearing mittens?

Okay, everyone knows those things

But only because we’re familiar with puzzles and all of us know how to solve them. We also get a picture on the cover that we can use a guide.

When it comes to collecting the information people need to make important decisions (the puzzle pieces), it’s important to know everything that must be in place for you to be able to solve your puzzle.


There are huge opportunities for those with a deep understanding of what people actually do versus what they tell you they do. 

Want to look at old things in new ways, see the commonplace in greater detail and hear complex subject matter explained in simple, conversational language?

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