Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What to learn from puzzles

Here a brief posting to express my thoughts what skills can be learned from playing with puzzles. Michel Kraaij triggered me to share my thoughts about this using twitter were he is involved with a discussion with James Bach. Somehow there is a 140 character restriction and also for him this posting.

As I'm no part of their discussion I will not summarize their ideas. The main idea to trigger Michel is to tell him about my idea "ppl become better in solving the puzzle, only they got trained in other skills which helps them solve." http://twitter.com/JeroenRo/status/19645539452

With this statement I intended to express my thoughts that there are other things people learn from playing with puzzles and even repeating them. It is not only the notion of remembering the position of certain pieces.

In my opinion the following things can be learned:
- position of pieces
- shape of pieces
- how does pieces of for instance jigsaws fit Initially

You can also extend the perception of puzzles. Initially I would think also in terms of jig-saws, this might be disadvantage of my native language (in the Netherlands I was trained to call jigsaw puzzles and forgot about not all puzzles are jigsaws)

So what else can be learned from playing with puzzles? To understand this you can look at the outcome: "A puzzle is solved or is not solved."

Not solving is not a failure; even in the process playing with the puzzle you might have learned things.
What can be learned?
- new approaches to solve a puzzle
- new languages
- other visions
- different approaches.
- looking in patterns to jigsaws
- identify differences between the puzzle which is being solved in comparison with puzzles previously solved
- awareness you have gained new information
- ability to use that new information to use in different approaches
- new attitude to approach things like under time pressure, too less information etc

Perhaps the main result of playing with puzzles is the creation of awareness of the persons capability/ability to identify differences in environments and to use different ways to approach "complex" situations with the available knowledge. The person might teach himselve about the sufficiency of information/skills to perform the task or the need more training/guidance/information. If a person learns when to ask for help, a valuable lesson is learned.

The main idea is that there is more to learn from puzzles then repetition.

@Michel, perhaps we should meet each other again to evolve our thinking about this.


  1. I'll split up one of your sentences which exactly makes the statement i made on Twitter:

    "Perhaps the main result of playing with puzzles is the creation of awareness...". To me this is becoming familiar.

    "...of the persons capability/ability to identify differences in environments...". Here is the learning part. Changing a gutt feeling (familiar feeling) to something usefull.

    "...and to use different ways to approach "complex" situations with the available knowledge...". And here is applying previously learned lessons in new situations.

  2. Hello Michel,
    Splitting uop things is an option, in that context I can agree, only the challenge is see to see the whole context. there is more beyond your vision about familiarity. intially it seem to be obvious that becoming familiar is the main objective. within a broader context persons can learn more, in time when the are skilled the will learn more and gain the ability to solve also other types of puzzles

  3. Great post Jeroen.

    Improving our problem solving skills is crucial for testers. I am currently reading '101 for Teaching Creativity and Problem Solving' by A B Vangrundy, to give me some more workshop based creative thinking examples when running Exploratory Testing Workshops.

    I like to use the Brain Purge activity where each person writes down an idea and passes it on to the person to their right. They then read out each idea and asked to create a new idea and pass that on and so forth.

    With regards to solving puzzles and not solving the puzzle does not mean failure I like to quote F. Wikzek

    If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems. And that's a big mistake.

  4. We need more discussion like this. This reminds we used to buy the complicated puzzle and solve it over Christmas period laid on the dinner table after the last Christmas meal.
    There are lots of things you learn from puzzles. For me pattern recognition is the most important one. This concept is widely used in Agile development and testing in general. If you are good at pattern recognition you can built automation script that would not require much re-work as your application evolve.
    Puzzle solving help you with you everyday thinking and make you versatile as an individual.
    I hope this helps. Continue with the discussion

  5. Thanks John and Mohinder, These kind of respons motivates me to keep on writing.
    @John: I think you have a good point here. Improving our solving skills to be crucial for testers. This is far beyond the perception of gaining certificates. Thanks for pointing me out to the book 101 for Teaching creativity and problem solving. will add it to my list, seems to be interesting.
    Im currently "addicted" to geocaching, am working on a posting related to it and testing.

    @Mohinder: I support your idea on pattern recognition. If you are skilled to identify patterns not only based on your perception of testing, also derived from other fields of expertice you will extend you vision and skills. This can be of great support when using a "blink test approach"

    If you like puzzles, create an account on geocaching.com and find the caches with the question mark. you will learn from others and force to learn yourself to think in other directions.