Square Space

Here’s a jolt that demonstrates the power of lateral upside-down thinking in problem solving. This activity embeds a puzzle to drive home some learning points.


Ask the participants to arrange four pieces into a square shape. After 2 minutes, share the solution and debrief the process.


The explore the perception of negative space and the process of lateral thinking.

Training Topics

  • Problem Solving
  • Teamwork
  • Perception


  • Minimum: 4
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 12 to 30


5 minutes for the activity. 5 minutes for debriefing.



  • Pair of scissors, one for each team
  • Stop watch or timer (in your smart phone)
  • Whistle


Solve the puzzle. Experience the challenge presented to the teams: Run off a copy of the puzzle and cut out the four pieces. Try to assemble these pieces to create a square shape. If this is frustrating, cheat by looking at the solution and copying it.


Organize teams. Distribute the participants into 2 to 10 teams of 2 to 7 members each. It does not matter if some teams have one more member than the others. Seat each team around a table.

Distribute the supplies. Give each team a copy of the sheet of paper with the four puzzle pieces and a pair of scissors. Ask the teams to cut and separate the four puzzle pieces.


Start the activity. Explain that the task for each team is to arrange the four puzzle pieces to form a square. Announce a time limit of 2 minutes. Start a stopwatch and ask the teams to begin their puzzle-solving activity.


Conclude the activity. At the end of 2 minutes, blow the whistle and ask teams to stop working on the activity. Quickly examine the work done by each team. In the unlikely event that one or more teams have solved the problem, congratulate them.


Distribute the solution. Distribute the handout with the solution. Ask the teams to study how the puzzle was solved.

Explain the solution. If necessary, point out that the square was created by the negative space. Explain that the solution is a hollow square that is surrounded by the four puzzle pieces.

Conduct a debriefing discussion. Debrief the participants by using the following types of questions:

  1. What is your reaction to the solution?
  2. What prevented you from coming up with this solution (or a similar one)?
  3. What was the impact of the tight 2-minute time limit?
  4. Did working as a team help or hinder your ability to solve the problem?
  5. What insights did you get from this activity?
  6. What suggestions does this activity provide for solving problems in your organization?

Discuss the learning points. Present the points listed below. Encourage a discussion of each point, relating it to problem-solving in the real world.

Learning Points

  1. Pay attention to the negative space. Think of what is left over after you have arranged the puzzle pieces.
  2. Examine the data from different angles. Twist and turn the puzzle pieces in different directions. Arrange them in various configurations.
  3. Ignore irrelevant information. Some of the puzzle pieces protrude outside the solid figure. However, this does not affect the shape of the square in the negative space.