My younger son can get overly focused on things. A couple of days ago it was the Eight Queens Puzzle.

The puzzle is relatively simple to explain. You need to place eight chess queens onto a chessboard in such a way that no piece can take another piece. There are millions of permutations of how the pieces can be placed, but only 92 correct answers (many of which are rotations of the handful of symmetrical solutions).

Milo tried and tried, but every time he got to piece seven or eight he got stuck. He was getting frustrated.

So I got out a box of Lego, and placed a piece on each chessboard square. I then suggested he place a piece and then remove all of the Lego pieces that could be taken by the queen he’d just placed. It transformed the challenge. Within 10 minutes he’d found a solution.

The Lego enabled him to clearly see options and, most importantly the consequences of those options. It also stopped him thinking about it as a chess problem which, ultimately, it wasn’t.

Sometimes seemingly intractable problems can be a matter of framing more than anything else. Finding ways to reframe, whether by restating the problem or using metaphor, for example, can resolve things much more quickly than working harder to find a solution.

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