You don’t have to be a puzzle lover to know that the most common strategy is to start with the edges. No matter how many pieces you have, the process is simplified with clear and defined borders. Instead of laboring out toward infinite possibilities, you can build into the middle, filling in the image of something complete and whole.
Starting with the edges is also an excellent approach for more than just puzzles.
If you work outward toward indefinite boundaries, you will have no definition of success or failure. If you want to write a movie about anything you want, you will be paralyzed with possibilities. But if you choose to pen a 1920’s film-noir, you have some genre guidance – you will have some edges to work from.
In business, you need some edges too. You will not build the company you want by putting random pieces together with no real direction. Starting with some edges around culture, client profile, product development, and customer service will make it far easier to fill in the middle.
The edge pieces are the rules of the game. The middle pieces are the details and story that unfold inside the rules.
But aren’t the edges just goals? Yes and no. You can have goals at any point in the process of putting together the puzzle. To use the analogy directly, you can set out to finish all the edges in 2 sittings and aim to complete 50 pieces of the middle per night. In other words, you can set goals in your edge-creating work and for filling in the middle pieces too. Starting with the edges isn’t a goal; it is a framework to define the bigger work.
If you have some big goals but no rudder guiding you forward, try setting up the edge pieces first and working inward – you may need to see the outline of the picture before connecting the other pieces.
Starting with the edges isn’t just for puzzles. Having clear borders around your life and work can help simplify completing the complete image.