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The Puzzle


Each morning I go for either a long run or walk. When we lived in Pennsylvania that morning run took place in Valley Forge Park. Every day I would see deer, wildlife and beautiful sunrises. I enjoyed the company of good friends as we ran together and thought about the winter George Washington spent there and the perseverance of his troops. Their service as a militia was always an example of perseverance that spoke to me especially on cold January mornings.


Now that we live in New Jersey I run the streets of Palmyra, Riverton and Cinnaminson. What I see each morning is different. Some days I run in Palmyra Cove along the Delaware River. I still see deer and the occasional wild turkey and now I also see boats, driftwood, plastic bottles washed to shore and the occasional tennis shoe. Some days when I am running along streets and through parking lots I find money. For instance yesterday I found a nickel and then I found a penny about 5 feet away. I always pick up pennies through the inspiration of my wife who says that it is a reminder that it is in God that We Trust.


This morning I had a first. I found the piece of a puzzle. Somewhere there is a puzzle that is missing one piece! There is a person trying to put that puzzle together and is frustrated because it’s all there except for one missing piece. If this is your puzzle, I have the missing piece!


Some situations in life are like that puzzle. Most of the pieces have been found, but you just can’t fully figure things out because there are some missing pieces and you have no clue where to find them. Yesterday I was on a phone call with someone who said, “I am tired of people telling me yes I know we have a problem but I don’t know what to do”. I responded by saying I agree with you we have a problem and then I said like the others, “I don’t know what to do”. Some puzzles are just like that.


I have a theory.


Could it be that you are not finding the missing pieces in your puzzles because the pieces that are missing are not actually on the same table with the other pieces? The problem is that you keep looking on the same table looking for what is not there.

The work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky from Harvard University on Adaptive Leadership is very informative when it comes to the “missing puzzle pieces” in our lives. Their insight was that there are technical responses and there are adaptive responses. In a technical response there are tried and true problems of which there is a known solution for the problem. When that problem appears we apply that solution and it works because it’s technical in nature and has been figured out.

Adaptive responses are different. A problem or an opportunity presents itself and people don’t know how to respond.


The disconnection occurs between a problem and the right solution when people apply technical solutions to solve adaptive problems. They keep using technical responses to solve the puzzles of life and it doesn’t work. They’re responding with the wrong solution for the question being asked. They are looking to the “wrong table” and not seeing the other places where a solution may be found.


In exploration the key first premise is recognizing that the individual or organization is going to a place that is unknown. Explorer’s deal with unknowns that are different from situations dealt with previously. There is knowledge to be discovered and at first little control of the situation. Without proper framing recognizing this is a different situation there’s a perception that a person knows from what they’ve done before what to do next. Consequently with that improper framing they approach the problem from the wrong angle using technical solutions when they need to say this is a new situation that I need to seek adaptive solutions. Embracing the unknown takes an adaptive leadership approach.


This morning when I found that puzzle piece I realized someone somewhere was frustrated because they had a puzzle that would never be solved. They were looking where their other pieces were located to find the missing puzzle piece. They were seeking a solution that would never be found. Instead they needed to be out on the street.



When you need a solution to a problem that seems unsolvable, look in a new place. The solution may be right before your eyes, in the “wrong” place.

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