Can You Solve This Puzzle?

Let’s take a look at a sequence of numbers and determine the rational reason for the sequence. These numbers are not my birthday, driver’s license number, address, or the key to my gym locker. There is a rational, logical reason for the order of these numbers. What is the rational reason for the order? Take a few minutes and see if you can figure it out.


8   5   4   9   1   7   6   3   2   0


Do you have an answer yet? If you haven’t figured it out, don’t be too miffed. One in twenty people come up with the correct reason according to Dr. Alan Weiss, a business consultant who has written about The Rational Sequence in a book called Process Visuals. 

If you didn’t solve the problem you most likely...

Categorized the problem as a math problem. You gave it your best shot and instantly went to playing around with the numbers, quickly trying to unlock the right formula. Most likely you didn’t stop to think about it, you just aggressively attacked the problem. Perhaps you tried finding the difference between the numbers, and checking for patterns. Maybe you attempted multiplying the numbers, subtracting the difference, adding 10, dividing by every third number, and so on.

Now here’s the big reveal—the numbers are in alphabetical order. The point is, once you label anything, (a “number’s problem” in this case) you determine the limits of your ability to solve the problem.

The big question is……

How does this apply to you? Our jobs are ultimately centered around driving more sales. How do we get more customers? Why don’t we have more clients? How do we get new business now? What are we going to do to meet our numbers this month? This quarter? This year? On and on and on….

We turn towards and look for solutions categorized on the assumptions we make about the problem.

Let’s imagine…..

The sales team hasn’t been hitting their numbers for several quarters. In our scenario, the reps are all motivated, hardworking, and eager to close business. What could be wrong? You quickly label the problem as a “training problem,” and begin to focus on implementing the best training you can find. If your team’s performance remains flat, you look for more effective and relevant training.

If that doesn’t work, you hire more trainers, different trainers, high-profile trainers, sales fundamentals trainers, dog trainers, circus trainers, technical trainers…..and more! Hey, you’re a persistent leader who always goes the extra mile, with a strong work ethic, and a core belief that you’re a problem solver, or you wouldn’t be in this role to begin with, right?

As our example demonstrates, once the problem is labeled, the solution will fit into the same category. We labeled our lackluster sales performance a“training problem” and applied training solutions. When things weren’t working, and sales remained flat, we looked within the training problem solution set for more answers. We persisted, but with the wrong solution set. We never stopped to questions our initial assumption that we had a “training problem.”

The point is this: cautiously categorize problems. Quickly made assumptions can send you on a wild goose chase for solutions that will never produce effective results. Why? Because new ideas and remedies have to fit into the classification of the solution set, there’s no room for anything outside of the premise.

If you’re trying to solve a “numbers problem” with numbers, and it’s an alphabet solution, not even a mathematician will get you there. The most productive thing you can do is take the time to thoughtfully identify and categorize problems; apply multiple remedies, and consistently evaluate your assumptions, paradigms, and suppositions.  Because when you finally realize a “numbers problem” is solved with letters, you will get to the right solution.