Operations Q&A: Is Your Thinking in a Rut?

The solution to difficult problems might require a different thought process.

Question: Is your thinking in a rut?

Answer: With today’s blog we are going to have some fun and learn a valuable lesson at the same time. Time to solve a puzzle. It begins with nine dots formatted as such:


The goal is to connect all nine dots. Seems easy enough, until you read the rules:

  1. You may only use straight lines.
  2. Once you put pencil or pen to paper, you may not lift your writing utensil off the paper until you are done.
  3. You may not retrace.
  4. Lastly, you only have four lines to work with.

Give it a try.

Bottom Line: If you have come across this puzzle previously, then you might know the answer. But you might not. For novices, good luck. The answer is not necessarily easy. The irony though is that many of you solve similar problems by applying the same approach needed to solve this brain teaser without knowing it.

Do you think that the inventor of Post-It Notes approached his challenge with conventional thinking? How about Bill Gates, Paul Allen or Steve Jobs? Did they apply orthodox thinking when they set out to change the world? I am sure that those credited with “inventing” the Internet stretched their brain cells to achieve their visions.

Back to the puzzle. Come up with the answer? For those insistent, dogged or downright stubborn, you might want to wait a few more moments before reading on. But for the curious – or those who have thrown their hands up in exasperation – here is the answer:


Most of us – me included – toiled with completing the puzzle because we are conditioned to stay inside the box, i.e. the imaginary boundary created by the nine dots. But as you can see, it requires moving “outside the box” to solve the riddle. The phrase “think outside the box?” This is a visual representation of that concept.

Next time you need to find an answer to a challenging problem, next time you need to solve your version of the nine dots, get outside the box for your answer. Condition yourself to reach beyond your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at what you will accomplish.

I welcome your commentsat lee@schwartzpro.com.

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