Puzzles and First Principles

Puzzles and problem solving

As originally published by Partner & COO Christopher Powell Jones:

Since I was young, I’ve always loved solving problems. I prefer attempting the impossible, addressing the unanswerable, and slaying dragons to eating dessert. When I was little, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I would be a management consultant. In what area of expertise, I didn’t then know, but the pull of the world’s mysteries and challenges was something I couldn’t resist.  

As Chief Problem Solver for Secure Records Solutions, my penchant for solving complex problems has grown, and there is no shortage of problems to solve! In our industry, complexity comes in many forms. The volume and geography of a given set of records, the client’s specific access needs, their retention policy – these variables work together to create nuanced problems that challenge me to be my most clever self. Over the years I’ve developed a set of three first principles that guide our team at Secure Records Solutions to help our clients solve complex problems.  

First, there is always a solution. No matter the ugliness of the problem, we have faith there is a solution. I was always inspired by the line from Alice in Wonderland: “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” It strikes me as a challenge to allow your imagination the freedom to roam, and not to immediately discount the ideas you encounter. We give ourselves license to be creative, and while solutions might have found very good hiding places, we know they are out there – and don’t stop until we find them. This attitude keeps us in the fight. 

Second, we seek solutions that benefit everyone involved. Life isn’t a zero-sum game. Like any savvy business, we don’t engage in unprofitable exercises. It’s just as important, however, that we don’t move forward with solutions that don’t benefit all the other stakeholders, too. If we can’t see clear benefit to all concerned parties, we keep looking until we find a solution that does. 

We’ve all been asked, “How does one eat an elephant?” And know that such a feat is accomplished “one bite at a time,” but we often forget how this applies to the complex problems we are faced with daily. That’s the third principle – split the problem into bite-sized pieces

That reminds me of a recent getaway to the mountains with my boss, Betsy, and our two daughters. One clear evening, I sat on the front porch with my four-year-old, Sophie, working on a puzzle. Solving puzzles is something we’ve enjoyed since she was old enough to help hide the last piece, but this puzzle represented a new level of complexity. It was larger and divided into a greater number of pieces than any she had encountered, by a factor of 10.  

The box (and completed puzzle) featured a series of small retro travel postcards from around the world displayed atop a solid background. As we gazed at this intimidating pile of pieces, I suggested that we could sort the puzzle pieces according to the individual scene they corresponded to, allowing us to solve the larger puzzle one “scene” at a time. Throughout the week, we returned to the puzzle each evening, working through our strategy of completing the puzzle in parts. By the end of our week in the mountains, Sophie had proudly pieced together her most advanced puzzle yet.  

While it’s no competition for porch time with Sophie, there’s nothing in my professional life more gratifying than solving a client’s complex document management puzzle. When I’ve helped a client achieve the best solution for their business, while reducing their cost, and growing our team’s capacity to solve the next problem that comes our way, I’m not working – I’m having fun. 

Partner & COO,
Christopher Powell Jones


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