For over thirty years, Erno Rubik has hooked generations of kids and adults with his twist turning puzzle. Over 450 million cubes have been sold worldwide to date and the cube has become a global icon for logical thinking and problem solving.
But the cube can be more than just a puzzle. It can be a metaphor for approaching life’s problems.
Lesson 1: It is easier to create chaos than to create order.
Few people can solve a Rubik’s cube. Meanwhile, anyone can scramble a cube.
It takes no special skill or knowledge. And it can be done quickly: A dozen or so turns is sufficient to scramble a standard cube to the point that only the most skilled of solvers can reconstruct the moves.
But creating order comes from focused, deliberate and consistent effort.
Lesson 2: Approaching order sometimes involves creating more chaos.
The first phase of any algorithm for solving the Rubik’s cube involves picking one side or one layer and solving it. The next phase is to solve the middle layer. This is impossible to do without temporarily “scrambling” the top layer. There is an order in this disruption: it’s really a process of moving the finished work out of the way. But to observers, it looks like destruction of previous work.
When taking on large tasks, we can get frustrated if the work we’ve already done has to be temporarily dismantled, but steps backward are often necessarily to move forward successfully.
Lesson 3: You cannot resolve chaos all at once. Pick your battles.
Speed cubers who solve the cube in a matter of seconds may well see how to coalesce the entire chaos at once, but for most of us, slow and steady wins the race. The main strategy seen in guide after guide for solving the cube is: Solve one side. Then solve the middle. Then solve the corners, then the last four side pieces (or vice versa).
When new learners approach the cube, they most often want to solve everything at once which isn’t possible.
Likewise in life: Don’t try to solve everything all at once. If you’re tackling the issue of time management, don’t go after every act of time management all at once. Take one step at a time. Pick your battles, and focus.
Lesson 4: To the uninitiated, systematic applications of complex patterns look like magic.
We marvel at people who can solve the cube within a few minutes or even second.
It’s worthwhile to remember they are not doing anything magical. Any chaos can be brought to order with the right strategy. Some strategies are more complicated than others, and outside observers won’t necessarily see the strategies being used. The efficacy of a strategy is not in how it looks to outsiders, but in whether it works.
- Credit: Paul Hartzer for the goodmenproject.com