Are You a Puzzle Builder or a Quilt Maker?
This spring I took a free online course through Stanford University entitled “Crash Course on Creativity”. It was a fun opportunity to connect with people from around the world while exercising my creatives muscles through individual and team challenges. The objective of the course was to help us increase our creativity through three primary strategies:
- Correctly framing and re-framing problems.
- Connecting and combining ideas.
- Challenging assumptions.
It was fun, wasn’t too time consuming, and the online platform was pretty intuitive and easy to use.
One of the metaphors the instructor used to describe innovation and creativity was the contrast between a ‘puzzle builder’ and a ‘quilt maker’. Consider these characteristics:
A puzzle builder:
- Has a very defined task.
- Job is to simply put all the pieces together.
- If pieces are missing, the puzzle remains incomplete.
A quilt maker:
- Often begins with a loosely defined vision or idea.
- Leverages what’s around them (even the scraps!).
- Creates something surprising and fascinating.
I believe that, at different moments in our lives–in work, in our families, or just as individuals–we will function both as puzzle builders and as quilt makers. There are circumstances in the world around us that call for puzzle builders. At times we need to align with someone else’s vision and simply ‘put the pieces together’. But there are also times when quilt makers, the true innovators, are sorely needed. Perhaps a new vision is needed, or ideas from the past and the present need to be connected or combined in new ways. Or maybe all the pieces didn’t come together, and something surprising is called for.
As you look at your life and the roles you have to play, what are you called to be? Today, will you be a puzzle builder or a quilt maker?