A popular strategy for completing a jigsaw puzzle is to first find the edges. Once you’ve separated all the pieces with a flat edge from the rest you can then begin to frame the puzzle.

The tricky part is making sense of the mess in the middle.

It’s Busy in the Middle

Here’s the interesting thing about jigsaws. It’s really easy to find the edges. That is, when compared to sorting out the chaos of pieces that make up the picture in the middle.

You see, depending on the size of the puzzle (or the number of pieces), there are, typically, fewer pieces around the outside of the puzzle than on the inside. 

More importantly, edge pieces are distinctive (by virtue of their flat edges). As a result, they can be easily separated from the mass that makes up the middle.

In other words, fewer, easily distinguishable pieces make them much easier to find.

It’s the melee of similar-looking pieces in the middle that make jigsaw puzzles tricky to negotiate. It’s often hard to distinguish between one piece and another. And the temptation is often to try and force pieces together that we believe look like they should fit together. After all, they’re pretty much the same. Right?

But the edge pieces. They stand alone and apart.

Head for the Edges

Because of their ability to frame the entire jigsaw, the edges, it’s fair to say, are the probably most important pieces. They hold everything together and in place. They allow the bits in the middle to fit together, effectively containing them.

Of course, the edge pieces also have the function of drawing the line where the puzzle ends. No pieces may pass that line, because they won’t fit beyond it. Not only that, but they’ll leave a hole in the centre of the puzzle, making it incomplete.

Indeed, the edges are very powerful.

And if it wasn’t obvious by now that this was an elaborate metaphor, then here’s where I’ll unpick it.

Whilst everyone is busy trying to fit in, somewhere in the middle, it’s the outliers, living on the edge, that are leading the way.

Those with a unique take, view, idea, look. They’re the ones that stand out. There’s no space for them in the middle because they are different and don’t fit in. So they push the boundaries.

And that’s where the magic happens.

The Fringe vs. The Many In the Centre

The people we look up to most, those we aspire to be more like, are rarely the ones occupying the middle ground. Conforming. Fitting in.

We champion the mavericks. We revel in the stories of people who live life on the edge, knowing that it takes a special kind of person to do that. And, in so doing, we relegate ourselves to the middle because we convince ourselves that we don’t have what it takes to be an outlier.

And while it’s true, not everyone can or should be an outlier, carving their own unique path, it is also true that more of us should be brave enough to give it a go.

At least, even if we’re not ready to lead and be different for ourselves, we should certainly be looking away from the middle and finding the edges.

Ultimately, we can either work with constraints or push boundaries. Break new ground. Improve standards. Open things up for more people. Make things better, by making better things.

Because knowing where the boundaries are and how to work within and without them, that’s the part of the puzzle we need to solve first.

Find the edges.

Everything else will slot into place around you.