For those of us who are old enough to remember, connect the dots was to me the simplest but most effective toy or puzzle we had when we were young. Wikipedia says, “Connect the dots (also known as dot to dot or join the dots) is a form of puzzle containing a sequence of numbered dots. When a line is drawn connecting the dots the outline of an object is revealed. The puzzles frequently contain simple line art to enhance the image created or to assist in rendering a complex section of the image. Connect the dots puzzles are generally created for children. The use of numbers can be replaced with letters or other symbols.”
In adult discourse the phrase “connect the dots” can be used as a metaphor to illustrate an ability (or inability) to associate one idea with another, to find the “big picture”, or salient feature, in a mass of data.
If I have had any success in my career, I attribute it to “Connect the Dots”. When I interview folks I always try to determine their ability to see the big picture. To understand just how does this problem really look to you and what ways you might attack it? Connect The Dots taught us how to anticipate where the next line was going to take you and to look ahead to see what shape things are taking in front of you. Just what you were drawing or just what problem are you solving? Were you going to end up where you thought you would be? Connect the dots prepared us for all of the business problems we’d be facing over the next forty years. It positioned us to look at things in solid form as well as abstract.
A lot is said in today’s business world about vision and the ability to navigate through problems, the ability to anticipate what could go wrong and the ability to tackle those problems. Those with a unique sense of vision can anticipate the problems and have the knowledge in their hip pocket just how to avoid disaster. Business problems to me are all the same. If you think you have a corner on the markets in the problem area, I would argue that you are dead wrong. I can’t but think how these simple toys helped prepare us for some of life’s complexities.
I was teaching my operations class the other night and last week I had taken the students on a tour of a small factory that made spaghetti and barbeque sauces. One of the students commented on how simple he thought the processes were in the factory. I asked him, “How do you make sauce at home? And he said the same way”. I said, then why does that plant or process surprise you? He seemed puzzled. I told him, had I taken you to NASA and we were building a rocket, I would expect you to be perplexed. Go back to thinking about connecting the dots. The processes are simple, one step after another produces wonderful sauce. Why do I know that? Because once upon a time I learned how to connect the dots.