Reinventing your work for the new year: a Scrabble player’s approach

The end the year is a natural time for introspection. What went well, and what do you want to change?

If you are working for a company, this is a time to consider what comes next in your job, or if the job isn’t working out for you, what to look for in your next position.

If you are freelance, now is a time to consider what sorts of clients and work you will pursue in 2022.

Consider the Scrabble player’s problem

If you play Scrabble, you may find yourself stuck. You stare at your hand and at the board and there’s no obvious play to make — everything playable would score a pathetically low number of points.

Here’s the strategy for such moments:

First, decide if the rack is the problem. If your rack looks like this, you probably need better letters before you can make a reasonable play:


But if your rack looks like this and you have no good plays available, the problem may be that board is clogged up:


In the first case, dumping the rack for new letters will help. In the second case, though, the board will still be clogged up and new letters probably won’t help. Make the best low-scoring play that you can, and know that the board is clogged for the other players as well — nobody’s likely to be making big scores in the next turn.

If you do decide that your rack is the problem, it’s often worth it to exchange letters in place of your turn. Even if you played a couple of your letters in a low-scoring play, your rack would still be too vowel-heavy to make good plays in future turns.

At this point, Scrabble players often turn in all seven letters and get a new rack. But that is a mistake.

If I had “A A A I P U U” as described above, I’d keep “A P I” and turn in the rest. Assuming you don’t get all vowels back, you’ll be in better shape. And A, P, and I are part of lots of good words. They’re worth keeping.

The same applies if you have a consonant heavy-rack like this:


If there are no unencumbered vowels on the board to connect to, that rack is trouble. The C and the V in particular are hard to use without vowels and having three R’s is not helpful. But I’d hold on to the B, the F, and one R and dump the rest. If you get back a good mix of vowels and consonants, you’ll be well positioned for the next turn.

What does this mean for reinventing yourself?

I think this is a great analogy for making changes in the new year.

First off, don’t just keep limping along with a bad situation. Just as in Scrabble, doing nothing with a bad rack rarely improves things.

Second, consider the “board.” If you are a karate instructor, this is a tough time to do your work, given the COVID situation. Improving your karate skills is unlikely to change things, and neither is improving your the way you market your karate studio. The environment does not favor your skills.

But just like the Scrabble player, you want to keep what’s working and change what’s not.

For example, suppose you are a technical writer working for a defense contractor. You look at your work and decide that the following things are things about your work that you like:

  • You like working in a collaborative environment.
  • You like writing.
  • You like acquiring and applying technical knowledge.

But perhaps you don’t like some other things:

  • You don’t like working on projects when the endpoint is years off.
  • You don’t like working inside a huge company.
  • You are concerned about the moral implications of the work you do.

Should you dump everything and try to become a product designer or a jazz singer? Seems like a stretch. Like the Scrabble player who dumps their whole rack, you’re throwing everything out because you’re feeling stuck.

Instead, you’re better off pivoting your work around the things you like and dumping what you don’t. Maybe you could do product management in a startup working in artificial intelligence. Your work will likely come to fruition quicker, you’ll be in a smaller company, and the work may be more rewarding. But you’ll still be applying technical knowledge, doing a lot of writing, and working collaboratively.

Unlike the Scrabble player, though, what you get back is a lot more under your control. So maybe now is the time to acquire knowledge about product management or artificial intelligence, by taking courses, reading books, or doing personal or pro-bono projects.

It’s easy to feel stuck. But like the Scrabble player with a bad rack, don’t just dump everything. First figure out what you want to keep first and what you’d rather be rid of. Then your next career pivot will be an actual improvement rather than a random crap-shoot.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Reply to commenter Paul Simon: You must check out Josh’s post from a year and a half ago about the horrible new Scrabble app – it was that posting that caused me to start following Josh’s blog. Anyway, try the Word Master Pro app by Jaguar Studios. Free app, or small one-time fee for no ads. The board layout and letter distribution are a bit different than Scrabble, but WM allows user to personalize, so you can make it the same as Scrabble.