(Distinctions are subtleties of language that, when gotten, cause a shift in a belief, behavior, value or attitude.)


Mystery and puzzle are words which are often used interchangeably, but there is a big difference — which causes a Distinction — between them.

Jigsaw, crossword, and Sudoku are all forms of puzzles. Puzzles share the characteristic that the answer is known….by the puzzle’s creator. It’s up to you to discover the answer or solution. You are then said to have ‘solved the puzzle.’

Puzzles exist in science, mathematics, accounting, indeed, everywhere in life. A puzzle exists because you don’t (yet) have enough information. Puzzles are very different from mysteries, but are often mistaken for them.

A mystery requires judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, at the very least the assessment of whether there even is a solution. Trying to discern what you know you don’t know is in the nature of a mystery. And frequently the hardest part is not that you have too little information, but that you have too much. The so-called ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ process.

When life seems confusing [gosh, when might that ever be?] you may be persuaded to assume that there is merely a puzzle to be solved and some smart person in charge will do so. But when the confusion and doubt are the result of a mystery, treating it as a puzzle will only exacerbate the problem. Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don’t.

Becoming good at correctly separating puzzles from mysteries is a life skill worth developing. You’ll then stop wasting energy trying to unravel mysteries using the ineffective tools of puzzle solving.


Coaching Point: Governments? Spirit? Humans? Your company’s direction? Are these puzzles to be solved or mysteries to be explored?


Copyright 2011 Steve Straus. All rights reserved.