Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Puzzles are tests of ingenuity or knowledge. Solving them requires reasoning, study, and persistence. As games, puzzles present difficulties to be solved by clever and patient effort. Daring puzzle-solvers seek ever-more-demanding challenges. A puzzle can also be a situation that is difficult to understand, more along the lines of a conundrum, quandary and enigma. When we’re puzzled, we’re confused, perplexed and baffled. When we puzzle things out, we are exercising our brains with problems that can only be solved with study and reasoning, ingenious and imaginative and a hard-to-quantify cleverness.

The University of Miami

When I taught How-To classes in market research there, I told future MBAs to think of research as solving puzzles about customers and the competition. Because no one has unlimited time and money, these puzzles are tests of our ingenuity. Only when we make the right trade-offs can we hope to gain knowledge that is adequately broad and deep.

  • In some ways, market research is like doing a crossword puzzle. Using and interpreting clues, researchers must solve many small, intertwined puzzles, where every element must mesh seamlessly with others.
  • Sometimes, research is like a jigsaw puzzle, where pattern recognition and a discerning eye are needed to arrive at a big-picture solution where all pieces neatly interlock. 
  • Especially during planning, research is like the game of Twenty Questions: Customers or competition? Heavy users or occasional users? New or long-time? Happy or angry? Current or lapsed? Old or young? Levels of education, income etc.?
The simplest research puzzle is far more difficult than the hardest recreational puzzle 
  • Crossword clues are printed out and collected on a single page for us so we know what goes where. All the clues and the little boxes are neatly numbered and organized. Researchers don’t have it so easy, Their clues are scattered all over the place. Before they can even think about trying to solve their particular research puzzle, they must search for clues (and not in just the obvious places), recognize them as such when they find them, then collect and organize them. After that, it’s like detectives following leads.
  • With jigsaw puzzles, there is no sample. The entire universe of possibilities is right there in the box, none missing, no extras and a picture that shows exactly what it will look like when you’re done. Researchers don’t have a picture to copy. The big picture will slowly define itself once you’ve found enough of the pieces. Now if you only knew where to look for the pieces you need. Want to see how much harder a puzzle is when you don’t know in advance what the solution is? Turn all the pieces face down.
  • With 20 Questions, the answer to every question is a simple yes or no. Researchers need ranking and rating systems that capture nuances. With the 20 Questions game, you only get to ask 20. With research, questions are more intricate and twenty questions can easily lead to twenty more as you follow promising leads and avoid red herrings.


Puzzles are good for our brains

Just as our bodies need exercise to be fit and healthy, our brains need exercise so they don’t get flabby and rusty. Puzzles develop both of our brain’s hemispheres, popularly called our creative (right) and analytic (left) brains. Puzzles:

  • Strengthen problem-solving skills.
  • Improve visual and spatial reasoning. 
  • Boost memory. 
  • Increase IQ scores. 
  • Delay decline of cognitive skills.
Studies of consumer wants, needs and expectations are far more complex than simple word or picture games

They take more time, involve more people, cost more money, require more talent and have far more serious consequences for far more people. The attributes people need to solve puzzles are critical to successfully solving any knotty problem. Logic. Imagination. Dedication. Thoroughness. Patience. 

The single biggest difference between recreational and professional puzzle-solving is right at the beginning

The make-or-break of any research study is in thoroughly and clearly defining what the puzzle is before beginning to “solve” it. If your researchers are working on the wrong puzzle, or asking the wrong questions of the wrong people, the entire exercise will have been a waste of resources and your decisions will be deeply flawed. 

Free advice for research puzzlers
  1. Find people who use products and services (yours and your competitors’).
  2. Observe how they use those products and services.
  3. Listen to people talk about their experiences in their own words.
  4. Identify similarities and differences.
  5. Understand the big picture and the small details.
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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