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Feb '10

The Rubik’s Cubes of Life

Last week when I was stuck in a Nanning hotel for a few days where it rained 24/7 and my top priority being finding a new job on the internet I had some free time on my hands.

So I solved a Rubik’s cube for the first time.

I bet your wondering how I did it. Anyone that’s tried to solve a Rubik’s cube before knows there really really hard. Am I really smart or something? To I have some sort of gift for solving puzzles?

The truth is, I didn’t use my intelligence at all to solve it, instead I just looked up how to do it on the internet. It turns out that there are really only 5-6 steps to solving a Rubik’s cube… 5-6 stages it can be in, and to move the cube from one stage to another towards completion you just need to memorize and apply a few algorithms to the cube. For example, after solving the first 2 layers, to swap 2 corners of the top layer without messing up the rest of the cube you simply turn it: Up – Right – Down – Clockwise Right – Left – Clockwise Left  – Up – Left – Down.

Does the fact that I looked it up on the internet and memorized which algorithms to apply in which situations, rather than figuring it out on my own make it any less special that I can now solve a Rubik’s cube?  Your initial reaction might be yes, but let’s look further.

The truth is I’m not a genius and I couldn’t solve a Rubik’s cube on my own, at least not without putting in ridiculous amount of time that would be a waste to spend. Believe me, when I was younger I tried to solve one for hours and hours but I never got close. After solving one side of the cube, I could never fathom how to solve the next without destroying the first. My brain is just not as geared towards this kind of spatial thinking, the algorithms definitely don’t come easy to me.

But does the fact that I wasn’t born with this kind of brainpower mean that I should give up on ever solving one if I really wanted to? Should I just accept my fate, put my Rubik’s cube at the back of my shelf and never touch it again? Of course not! If there are resources and willing people out there to teach me how to do something I can’t, why shouldn’t I take advantage of them?

Looking at me solve a cube today there would be no way to tell if I was solving it based on a strategy I figured out over slowly and tediously experimenting with different algorithms for countless hours, or if I simply memorized a few from the internet, the result is the same. In fact I’m quite convince many of the people you see in the youtube videos solving the cubes in under a minute merely memorized some algorithms someone before them had discovered and simply practiced putting them into effect as quickly as possible.

The only difference between my abilities and that of a very intelligent person who created the algorithms themselves is that they have a greater understanding of what they are doing to the cube. If results are what matter though, then my results are as good as anyone else’s, and I spent far less time struggling to learn how. I also accomplished something I wasn’t born with the natural ability to do which one could argue makes my accomplishment even more rewarding.

Now solving a Rubik’s cube isn’t the most valuable life skill, but the same lesson learned here can be applied to any area of life. Through our lives we often point to our own natural abilities as the reasons for our shortcomings. We make excuses such as not being smart enough to explain why we can’t accomplish certain things, and because of these excuses we give up early, and don’t preserve using every means at our disposal.

The truth is we don’t need natural talents and abilities to accomplish great things or succeed in our life, we just need to approach things the right way. We can save ourselves the time and struggle and pain of trying to solve life’s algorithms by ourselves and instead learn from others. The internet is full of enough free information that you can learn pretty much anything you want directly from people who have learned these lessons first hand. People love to share knowledge with each other, teaching is a rewarding experience. Struggling with or giving up on something you aren’t naturally skilled with is a waste of the generous knowledge people have shared with the world.

Without taking the time to research and learn about what it is you want to accomplish you’ll be limited by your own experience and intelligence rather than drawing from a vast resource already available to you. If you’re going to start a new business for example don’t just start it blindly, read up on other peoples advice for starting a business, then look into specifics for your unique business. Ask people questions, ask them what to expect. Learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to make the same ones yourself.

Often we see successful people and wonder what kind of natural ability or talents they must have to set them apart from us, but look at it this way; Just like when you look at someone successful in business, if I walked into your house and solved that Rubik’s cube which has been sitting on your shelf for the last 9 years you might assume I was really intelligent or that I had some natural ability that you don’t have, but the truth is I… like the successful business man, might be no different than you, we may have just learned from the people before us, and followed the path they guided us on. Now like with memorizing the algorithms for the Rubik’s cube it may still take a bit of practice and hard work to master whatever it is you want to do, but it will take nothing in terms of effort compared to trying to do it all from scratch.

I’ll admit there are some areas of your life where you may want to figure something out for yourself to have the deep understanding of it that you may need. And if you have the natural ability to do this, without spending more time on it than it’s worth, then it may be the more effective strategy for deep learning. But for most challenges, or any which you aren’t naturally skilled towards, which I’ll call the Rubik’s Cubes of Life, the understanding isn’t nearly as important as the knowhow and the result. It’s not important to understand how your TV projects images to the screen in order to enjoy watching it.

Be efficient with your life, there’s no reason to struggle and suffer trying to reinvent the wheel when someone else has already done it for you and can show you how. In life results tend to be what matter and if learning from others can get you better results in shorter time there’s no reason not to take advantage of it. Don’t give up on something that’s too difficult for you, there’s always a way to accomplish what you want, even if you have to ask someone who’s already gotten it how. Identify the difficult Rubik’s Cube areas of your life, and learn some algorithms to master them.

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