It may seem a strange concept that there can be business learning from cryptic crosswords. From my experience, I believe there are some useful pointers to problem solving and innovation. This is backed by research carried out at Buckingham University.
10 Ideas for Business Learning From Cryptic Crosswords
and clues to solve. A-D (Provided by Henry Howarth)
1. Be open to opportunity
I first got involved in cryptic crosswords by a chance meeting at a networking event with the charming Henry Howarth. Henry is a cryptic crossword designer. I could have dismissed him as not relevant to my business. After talking for a while, it dawned on me that he could be very useful in a voluntary project I was running, The Phoenix Legacy. The aim was to encourage older people to keep physically and mentally active. From this initial meeting, we developed a working relationship. This led to Henry helping my project and writing training courses on cryptic crosswords, which in turn, challenged him to write a book. This is now sold worldwide. It also inspired me to learn how to do cryptic crosswords. Keeping the brain healthy and active is vital for long term mental wellbeing. Cryptic crosswords are my ‘gym workout’ for my brain.
How might you be underestimating the opportunities at networking events? What surprising and diverse synergy might you discover if you explore beyond the initial encounter?
A. In principle, AGM needs to be rescheduled to come after party (5)
2. There is no such thing as can’t.
How often do we say ‘I can’t do this’? This was my belief about doing cryptic crosswords. I thought it was for a special type of thinker (mostly warped!!). What I learnt from Henry is that, like any skill, it can be taught. Once you understand the principles and practice, it becomes easier. I now do a cryptic crossword every day. I am not up to the Times standard, but my skills and confidence are improving.
What are you avoiding doing because you believe you can’t? What skills could you develop to improve the business?
3. Understand the principles
Whether it is cryptic crosswords, business planning or people management, there are fundamental principles involved. When you understand these principles, the easier it gets. The brain becomes more comfortable in carrying the process out, the more you practice. When you understand how the brain works, the more you can harness its incredible power.
How well do you understand the principles behind aspects of your business you find difficult? Is there a development need there?
B. Business restricted by internet app start-ups in the Med (5)
4. Have an open mind
One of the things I quickly learnt when doing crosswords; was the importance of an open mind. Too often, I would be convinced I knew the answer. This closed down other options for my brain. I had tunnel vision.
How often do you think you have the answer to a business issue, which closes your mind to other options? How often is creativity suppressed by assumptions that limit thinking?
5. Use different ways of thinking
Solving cryptic crosswords or any business problem can require convergent and divergent thinking. Edward de Bono teaches us about lateral thinking. It requires taking the brain from its conventional pathway of ‘this is the way we have always done it’; off at a tangent. It is unhinging the mind from its normal pattern of working. As Albert Einstein said “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. The common jargon is ‘thinking outside the box’.
We have preferred ways of thinking and this can influence how we approach problem solving. Understanding your preferred thinking can help you develop whole brain thinking for better outcomes.
How easy do you find it to think differently? Is thinking encouraged and given time in your business? How open are you to other’s perspectives?
6. The brain likes patterns
The surprising thing for me when doing cryptic crosswords was the brain’s capacity to recognise and see patterns. A word became obvious when only a few letters were present. Quite simply, humans are amazing pattern-recognition machines. They have the ability to recognize many different types of patterns and then transform these into concrete, actionable steps. This is demonstrated in getting to work each morning, diagnosing disease, or solving a problem. Doing cryptic crosswords can enhance your pattern recognition ability.
How good are your pattern recognition skills? What patterns can you see in common problems that occur?
7. Try sleeping on it
A number of times when trying to complete a crossword, I would get a block. The danger is that the more you push for the answer, the harder it becomes. The old fall-back of ‘ this is impossible, I can’t do this’ can creep in. What is astounding is that the next morning, I would look at the same clue and the answer would be obvious! The brain needs time to work on those patterns and make connections. It works better when it has quiet space and it is relaxed. In the modern world with all the pressures of work, we are too often stressed. This reduces the capacity of the brain to work at its best. If you have a problem at work, rather than press on trying to solve it, you can give your brain some space. This might be just going for a walk.
It is important to know how much time to allow for problem solving. This will depend on its significance. Sometimes, it is better to get nearly the right answer, which is fit for purpose, rather than spend too much time looking for the perfect one.
How often do you solve a problem after having ‘slept on it’? Do you have a thinking environment at work? How might stress be impacting on the thinking capacity of your team?
8. Learn from it
Each time you achieve something new, it is a great opportunity to learn. Mistakes also provide learning on how not to do it. The important thing is to take that learning to new issues and apply it again.
How well do you encourage a learning environment? How is learning shared in your organisation? What have you learnt in the past that you could apply to a current issue?
C. Dispute the second stage of expanding GDP (8)
9. Two minds are better than one
There are times when I need to seek help from a Thesaurus or the internet with a difficult clue. I might also ask someone else. There is nothing wrong in seeking help. Whether you ask for help from family, colleagues or consultants, it is not a weakness. It brings in new perspectives and options. It can make problem solving much easier. Today we have a massive wealth of information at our finger tips. You can encourage your team to think for themselves and take the pressure off you.
How good are you at asking for help in problem solving? Who can help you more? Which problems could you delegate to others to resolve?
10. There’s always more, so enjoy it?
You will know that once you solve one problem, it creates another. There is always more to learn. You can see this as a pain, as a negative aspect of the job, or you can see it as an enjoyable challenge. When you approach problem solving in a positive way, your brain is more effective. Threat and negativity will reduce creativity.
I am exteremly grateful for my chance encounter with Henry Howarth. I have learnt so much from cryptic crosswords that I can bring to my work. It is a pastime I enjoy doing and is beneficial to my long term mental health. Creative problem solving is my passion.
How much do you enjoy problem solving? How much more could you do? What business learning from cryptic crosswords or other brain games can you discover?
D. What the attacking footballer may need to do to be innovative (5,7,3,3)
I will provide a free 30 minute coaching session for the first person to send me the five correct answers to the clues A-D. Happy problem solving!
“This is very interesting and thought provoking. A good read for people in business or interested in business even if they are not familiar with cryptic crosswords.” Henry Howarth
Also published on Medium.