When I was six or seven years old, we had this family tradition…

It revolved around two puzzles.

Each puzzle had 1,000 pieces. But we didn’t just scatter the pieces and put them together any old way.

We put them together “Dad style.”

See, as a world-renowned statistician, my dad was often away from home during the year.

There were always places that he had been to and wanted to share with us.

And so, we discovered the world and its magic in those puzzles.

The First Puzzle

The first puzzle was the one with the goal in sight.

My mom and dad would leave a wrapped puzzle box on the dining room table. We’d tear the paper open and sprawl out its pieces.

Over the course of a week, whenever we walked by the table, we would put a few more pieces together.

Dad would put the photo side of the puzzle box upright. That way we could see the goal of those puzzle pieces.

I remember one puzzle vividly. It was of the Swiss Alps, complete with multi-colored-brick-red rooftops dusted with shimmering snow.

At that time, I was also reading the book Heidi, which is about a young girl who goes to stay with her grandfather in the Alps.

There’s a chapter in the book where the mountains are so covered with snow that she and her grandfather move to the village for that period.

The puzzle reflected that chapter – a peek of a village and mountains.

We would put together this puzzle by looking at how the pieces combined relative to the photo that we could see.

We knew the goal. It was in front of us. We would match pieces with certain colors to the box photo when we got stuck, using it as a guide.

Then, when we were done with the puzzle, we would sit around the table together.

Mom would make hot chocolate. We’d have popcorn. And we would talk about what the puzzle showed each of us.

Dad would share stories about Switzerland and some math conference he’d spoken at there.

I would think about Heidi running around in the Alps.

The Second Puzzle

A few days later, Dad would take another puzzle box. He would open it up and scatter the pieces on the dining room table.

For this one, he would not let us see the photo on the box as a guide. All we could do was join the pieces together by shape and color.

We would make piles of certain colors, clouds, or snow. It became a big pile of bright, glistening, and wispy white.

After a few days, we would come up with… lo and behold, the same puzzle!

It didn’t occur to us that we were doing the same puzzle until it was close to being completed again.

We would put the pieces together by examining the individual shapes and how they connected to each other – without knowing what we were going to create in the end.

After we finished that “second” puzzle, we would talk about a different aspect of it. Also with hot chocolate and popcorn.

We would discuss how the colors in the sky are similar to the colors of some of the house doors or how the hues of the twinkling snow were like those of puffs of clouds.

By doing that, we got a sense of how to create something from noticing its parts.

Seeing the Connections

Come to think of it now, maybe I got my love of travel from puzzles, so many years later.

I visited many cities in Switzerland on business. It wasn’t far from London, where I worked as an investment banker in the ’90s.

But the Alps and their dot of towns will always hold a special place in my imagination because they remind me of our old family tradition.

That’s why I think it’s so important to bring these traditions to the next generation of family or friends.

I used to buy puzzles for my niece and nephew when they were younger. Now they are older and prefer electronic games with more complexities!

But maybe there’s a journey to be gleaned from those as well that expands beyond an iPhone screen.

The world is complex, and the pieces don’t always fit together at first. But if you spend enough time, you can start to see the connections.

This is a motto I hold close. It helps me in my own geoeconomic research, in my travels, and in my analysis of our world today.

I hope it will help you in your own wealth-building journey.



Nomi Prins
Editor, Inside Wall Street with Nomi Prins