Jigsaw puzzles can be both challenging and enjoyable. My wife likes to work on them. Finding little pieces that fit. Where slowly over time things become clearer. Sometimes needing to move to a different part of the picture to gain traction when stuck. Finding common links between groups of puzzle pieces building into a more coherent whole.
A lot of trial and error is involved. Where does the piece in your hand fit? What type of contour am I looking for to match the placed piece that now has my focus? Looking up at the box cover to remind us of what we are working towards accomplishing. Each little jigsaw piece carrying with it information while having a limited benefit by itself. Where the combination of groups of pieces gains both advantage and power as more fit together.
This process is never linear. Very different then our concept of learning taught to us in school. As messy as finishing jigsaw puzzles can be, there is excitement & joy as fewer pieces remain to be placed. A coherent whole, from random pieces emptied onto a flat surface, is quite an accomplishment after many hours of trial and error.
Emergent thinking is a higher level of thought best described by this process of jigsaw puzzle completion. All of us have some skill in learning something new. Single focus, isolated learning of a skill or technique. Learning to fry an egg for the first time. Discovering how to open an attachment in an email. Or learning the steps necessary to dance salsa or to create your first home budget.
Sadly, this is where most of us stop. Either we aren’t very curious or mistakenly conclude that there is no more to learn. Yes, we are excited when we can do something new. And learning new things always has some value. But the new learning in itself is quite limited in its application. The skill gained is essentially a single use application that requires us to be in need of it at a very specific point in time. Knowing the steps of salsa dancing never help when there is no music.
Emergent thinking is very different. Mastering a new skill or embracing a new piece of information is never the goal. There is a much larger picture in our mind that needs the cooperation and harmony of many different pieces of new skills, knowledge, relationships, and opportunity, The larger picture itself is usually blurry and fuzzy at first.
The order of acquiring all of these new pieces for the puzzle you are trying to put together may be totally random while certanly never being sequential. Trial and error seems so inefficient when compared to the immediacy of results we enjoy from a Google search. Yet very necessary in this messy process of emergent thinking.
Pattern recognition is just as critical as when putting together a jigsaw puzzle. More difficult because how something fits with something else is never quite as evident. Sometimes it may take a few years before something learned today fits with something else.
The excitement of emergent thinking manifests itself in two ways. First, as pieces in your life begin to connect there appears greater context and clarity as to what the larger vision could be. More importantly, as we begin to see that this vision is achievable, a new found energy is found. To keep going for we are close.
The term emergent thinking describes well the fact that you gain coherence and clarity the more you go down this path. Next steps emerge the more you learn. A better path emerges the more we know. As things emerge, we embrace more nuance. We begin to better recognize value and importance. Discernment emerges through this type of thinking by more clearly seeing what is helpful from what is not. Emergent thinking leads to more impactful personal development and change. Making the world around us different and hopefully better over time.
Giving us the gift of accomplishment, never seen for its difficult journey by those who choose this path. For they embrace the challenge of making something out of essentially random pieces that by themselves have little value. Always keeping in front of them a box cover in their minds with their vision. Picking pieces up along their road of life, finding ways to connect them into something greater. By embracing what emerges to guide them further along the path.
As with most things in life, it’s the process that eludes us. Making jigsaw puzzles and the work, necessary for completion, a worthy inspiration for us to follow.