About Mysteries and Puzzles


By looking at Gregory Treverton’s perspective, there are two categories of problems: Puzzles and Mysteries.

Puzzles are relatively easy, we know the kind of data we need and where to find it. We just need to collect the different pieces and put them together in the right way. Even if any part is missing we can navigate and figure out how to solve the problem by finding the right tools and expertise.

Mysteries are different. There’s no pathway. There’s no data at all, or too much and messy. And we don’t know where to start. The problem seems too broad at the very beginning.

The solution will depend on the questions we ask. So, looking at the problem from different perspectives will help us to find the right questions. That also requires prototyping, iterate and deliberate learning from failures.

Organizations are good at dealing with puzzle problems, they count on frameworks and expertise.

But… how to confront mysteries? Which type of expertise do companies need? And even more important, which type of environment enhances people to go hunting for mysteries?

It takes big doses of curiosity, imagination, and creativity to decipher mysteries. The problem is that most of our organizations are just focused on analysis, efficiency, control and waste reduction. They often don’t deal well with mysteries because there’s no creativity capacity built within the organization.

If you think about it, mysteries are the type of problems we want to solve when innovating. Innovation is about hunting mysteries!

Adapting organizations to allow people to co-create, collaborate, experiment and level up the creative capacity among themselves seems to be the first step to move onto an innovative organization.