Train your brain

The 'Puzzling' Solution to Getting Smarter on the Cheap

The 'Puzzling' Solution to Getting Smarter on the Cheap
Image credit: BrainScope
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Making sure that employees keep up the pace on their end as an organization grows is a real challenge.

Some of the popular initiatives that we see many companies undertake with gusto include offering regular training and development programs, taking employees to offsite leadership events, sponsoring continuing education for employees at prestigious universities and establishing a well-crafted employee development program. Then there are those that believe that to have a nimble mind, you need an equally lithe body. That line of thought leads companies to build gymnasiums, yoga studios, juice bars and mediation retreats all on campus.

In other words, it’s a great time to be an employee at an organization that cares!

But how about it if intellectual stimulation, mental agility and a renewed focus were all achievable at almost no cost to the company at all? What if you could steer the money you spend on employee training and development programs back into the business?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way advocating ignoring the mental, emotional and physical welfare of your employees. All I’m suggesting is an alternate, cheaper path to smarter employees.

Related: 5 Ways to Turn Good Employees Into Great Leaders

Improve analytical thinking.

Everyone wants employees who can think of outside-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems. However, a genius idea comes along only once in a blue moon. Expecting virtuosity on a daily basis may be asking for too much. Or is it?

A Scottish study on school children shows the impact that puzzles and memory games have on analytical thinking and numerical problem solving.

A class of 30 students were made to play puzzles and memory related games on a Nintendo DS console for 15 minutes before the start of class every day. Another class did physical exercises meant to stimulate brain activity during the same period, while a third class was used as a control group. Each class took the same test in mathematics at the beginning of the ten-week experiment period and again at the end of the period.

The results were astounding. While all students showed an improvement in their test scores overall, the biggest jump in scores came from students in the group that played puzzles and memory games. They found that playing puzzles improved blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and was instrumental in improving logical thinking and deep reasoning among the students.

This finding is not limited to school children. Nor is it limited to complex puzzles and games on the Nintendo. Even fun puzzles like Azzl or Hop Hop Away that can be played on a smartphone can offer comparable results in adults like you and me.

Related: 4 Ways to Successfully Develop Employees Year-Round

Develop quick thinking, deeper focus.

A common refrain across organizations is a multitude of things to do and too little time for all of them. The plethora of distractions that surround us at work and at home make multi-tasking, task switching and deep concentration nearly impossible.

A study carried out among non-gamer students in Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University tried to understand the relation between video games and quick thinking. They chose four popular mobile games -- Modern Combat, Fruit Ninja, StarFront Collision and Cut the Rope -- and asked university students to play one game for an hour every day for four weeks. Each game belongs to a completely different genre, each requiring a completely different set of skills from the players.

At the end of the experimental period, the students were tested for improvements in their executive function. The group that played only the puzzle game Cut the Rope showed the biggest jump in their executive functions. They were 33 percent faster in task switching, 30 percent faster in adapting to new situations and 60 percent better at blocking out distractions to focus on tasks.

With all other factors held constant, the puzzles clearly had a strong impact on improving the students’ mental agility.

We see in the examples above that while playing games is great for a strong mind, puzzles seem to have a more significant impact than other games.

Enhanced cognitive abilities, quicker thinking on your feet and the ability to deeply focus on a task are qualities most people would kill for. Discovering that the secret to these qualities may lie in a simple puzzle game like Fact Mountain, and not complex strategy or speed based games can be a game changer at the workplace.

So the next time you catch an employee playing a puzzle on their phone at work, don’t tell them off. Offer them a pat on their back for their dedication to improving their intellect. Joining them in a puzzle or two yourself would not hurt either!

Related: Team Building Time? Escape Quest Challenges You With Puzzles And Clues