Leadership Libations

August 10, 2009

Sudoku and Business, More in Common Than You Think!

Filed under: Uncategorized — robjelinek @ 3:05 pm

All right. I’m ready to admit it. I am addicted to Sudoku’s. As I sat working on my Blog posting this week, the temptation of the Friday Sudoku is too much for my will. Don’t get me wrong, I can easily walk away from Sudoku’s on Monday, Tuesday, and even usually Wednesday. But, once Thursday and Friday’s roll around the Sudoku starts calling106599_f260 out to me. Calling my name!
Interesting news, presentations, and even the keyboard is set down for a pen and the puzzle.

(And yes I said pen, one should only put their “final answer” down when they are ready to deal with the consequences of a wrong answer.)

So, as I wrestled with the puzzle, I started to reflect on this obsession. Ok, also was wondering whether there wasn’t a blog post in this obsession.

When did it all begin – that is the easy part. I’ve taken flights around the globe, set foot on the ground in over 30 countries and more airports than I can imagine. I’ve flown with Delta, Northwest, United, American, US Air, Southwest, Cathay Pacific, Atalia, Aeroflot, Malaysia, Thai, Dragon, China (All Directions –Southern, Northern, Eastern, Southwest), Shanghai, and Singapore Airlines (the best) to name a few. But the obsession finds its roots in Omaha Nebraska. You see, when I was leading the division of a mid-cap company, there was a monthly ritual where  we traveled in for monthly financials. These financials usually occurred on Thursday and led to a late-Thursday/early-Friday departure from Omaha. The Omaha airport has a few redeeming traits, can’t really come up with them off the top of my head, but the beer is cold. But one thing you can count on in Omaha, be it spring, summer, winter, and fall are flight delays. Mix in a little brain damage from the meetings and a USA Today….and abracadabra you have a Sudoku addiction!

So, does this addiction do anything to make me a better leader? I like to think it does and here is why:

Abstract thinking vs. Linear Progression!

You can do the early week Sudoku’s using a very linear approach. But as the end of the week arrives, straight line strategies will leave you frustrated. Instead of using the brute force method, to solve these you have to let the puzzle develop. You have to be willing to set aside one set of numbers and explore in a different arena. Dead ends aren’t always dead – problems aren’t unsolvable – you just need to look at it differently and stop trying to force a solution.

Sudoku’s are lost just like sales are lost!

By the time you realize that you have made a mistake and “lost” the battle with the puzzle it is too late. You rarely see the mistake you made within putting another number or two into the puzzle. If you do, you can often salvage the problem. No, with tough Sudoku’s by the time you realize there is an issue the puzzle is too far gone. I would tell you that this parallel’s a sale. You almost never lose the sale when the NO comes down. In fact, you lost it somewhere along the way. A wrong step, not hearing a need, misunderstanding the value of your product and service, or missing a critical player in the decision process, like Sudoku’s if you’re lucky you might see the error near when it happens. If not, the foundation for the loss was laid a long time ago.

Post-Mortem’s when we fail!

On the rare occasion (Slight attempt at humor) that I am unable to successfully complete a Sudoku, the first thing I do is figure out where I went wrong. What assumption did I make? What did I think I saw? What leap of faith did I make? Of course the 2nd thing I do is scribble the whole page up in anger, but not until I have reviewed. In business, we need to make sure we do the same thing. Somewhere our proposition didn’t meet the need of our target. It’s rarely what we hear when we lose the business, but some mis-match earlier in the decision process.

Post-Mortem’s when we succeed!

Sudoku’s have patterns. Thursday’s in the USA Today have some flows and patterns that are different than Fridays. Local papers have their own little nuances. When I travel, I love to pick up those papers and learn new patterns as there might be reapplication in other puzzles. This is true in business. We often do post-mortems on why someone didn’t buy our proposition. I would suggest that you can learn as much from someone who does buy your proposition. Why did they buy you, your company, and your product or service? If you know that, think of the application to other potential customers who might have similar needs. We usually High-Five the deal, but do we understand – truly understand – why the deal was done!

In case you wondering, the Sudoku was a success. Finished in just under 30 minutes over lunch. The 2’s and 9’s were rare, but if you were patient they came too you.


Today’s puzzle Learning – Patience truly is a virtue, let it come to you!



  1. Good post…I especially liked the “lost sale” parallel. It highlights that the post-mortem process for lost sales is pretty important. Of course, it takes a lot of insight and objectivity to find the misstep in a sales presentation or relationship, but the best seem to do it. Nice insight, Rob.

    Comment by LDM — August 14, 2009 @ 8:41 am | Reply

  2. Interesting ideas and good reading. Sudoku is certainly a fine game to exercise your brain. Best regards.

    Comment by Ervich — November 12, 2009 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

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