In the 1980s, a numbers puzzle started in an American magazine.

But when it got to Japan it exploded.

The Japanese had long been fascinated by the western craze of crosswords.

How the puzzle made words reading upwards and across.

The Japanese were fascinated because they couldn’t have crosswords in their language.

Western language has 26 symbols for sounds.

Put together in a certain order they make a longer sound, which represents something.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary these 26 basic letters make up more than half a million words.

But Eastern language has an almost infinite number of symbols, each one represents a picture of something.

So they couldn’t have crosswords in their newspapers.

Until they discovered the number puzzle we now know as Sudoku.

A box divided into 9 smaller boxes (3 down, 3 across).

Each box divided into 9 smaller boxes (3 down, 3 across).

Each row, across and down, must have each of the numbers 1-9.

And each of the nine boxes must have each the numbers 1-9 in.

Because there are only 9 numbers the rules are easy to learn.

Because there are just nine symbols.

After Japan it came to London, then New York, then the world.

I like to do Sudoku because it forces my brain to work the opposite way to normal thinking.

Instead of adding things, it’s about taking them away.

It’s about working out what isn’t there.

Until there can only be one answer left.

That’s how great communication works.

Work out what we don’t need to do, what has been said or done elsewhere already.

Then what’s left, must be the single thing we have to do or say.

Let me give you an example.

Several years ago the government were expecting a worldwide outbreak of bird flu.

The COI asked us to do a campaign telling people what to do in the event of a pandemic.

Like Sudoku, we take away what is already there and what’s left must be the answer.

So we know, if there is a pandemic, it will be on every news programme and newspaper in the country.

So we don’t have to tell people it’s happening,

All anyone will want to know is what to do about it.

We needed a campaign based on a simple, memorable mnemonic.

1) The disease is passed on by sneezing, so make sure you sneeze into a tissue.

2) Don’t hang onto the tissue, get rid of it in a proper receptacle.

3) Wash your hands to kill the germs.

That is how to stop the disease spreading.

We needed a simple mnemonic to help people remember all that.

So we did the line:


In the event, the bird flu pandemic didn’t happen.

But the next year there was a swine flu outbreak.

The government gave that campaign to another agency, which didn’t use the Sudoku principle.

So they ran ads assuming no one had heard of swine flu.

They ran a picture of a man sneezing, followed by long copy.

But at the time of the swine flu outbreak of course, all news media, TV, radio, press, online, was full of it.

The advertising didn’t need to waste half the media restating the problem.

By Sudoku thinking, that job’s been done elsewhere.

So you take all that away and what remains is the answer.

And the answer is, everyone needs to know what to do to stop it spreading.

So the other agency’s swine flu advertising had to be rerun, with our bird flu mnemonic at the end of the ads.


The advice on how to stop the disease spreading was the same.

And, because people could remember it, it worked.

That’s the Sudoku method of creativity.

Just keep taking things away until you’re only left with one possibility.


Then that must be the answer.