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Finding Solutions in Uncommon Places

Startups in Des Moines, Iowa

March 18, 2022

A Rubik’s Cube has twelve edges that converge in eight corners. These edges, faces and corners can be arranged countless different ways, but there is generally one commonly accepted solution where the colors are matched on each face of the cube.

Beyond being a child of the 1980s, the cube is fascinating to me for several reasons. The design, simple, but able to be deconstructed into disorder and navigated back to the original form seems easy on its surface. You’re just turning and spinning bits of plastic, right? It’s simple mechanics.

Beyond the mechanics themselves, operation of the cube has been studied, and the solutions documented into the form of notations where solutions are set regardless of the starting side or position, and can be memorized and followed step by step.

In 1981, a 13-year-old named Patrick Bossert published a book called “You Can Do the Cube” where he outlined a simple solution that “anyone” could do. You might be wondering why you wouldn’t just follow this solution without regard to more complex notations or solutions. To reference another toy popular in the 1980s – “why would I build something with these Legos besides what is on the box? Isn’t that the right solution?”

Let’s go back to considerations of the mechanics and the notations. If I get a box of Legos, I do generally build the thing in the directions initially. It’s generally relatively simple, it’s well documented, and has a clear result – and likely why I purchased them to begin with. But it doesn’t really explore the potential of the permutations available based on the building materials present. For example, this is the number of possible permutations on a standard Rubik’s cube:

43,252,003,274,489,856,000

 

That’s 43 quintillion. So, if I pick up an “unsolved” cube, and I’m only trying for the most common solution, I’m going to miss what I could potentially learn from the remainder - subtracting only 1 solution from the above number. The accepted solution is statistically insignificant about the other possible solutions. If I pull apart the Lego blocks from the solution on the outside of the box, the same potential opens.

If you write a strategy that only contemplates a single solution, you are essentially doing the same thing. There are countless arrangements of capabilities, data, and insights that may not be the commonly accepted solution, but exist in the vibrancy of disruption, innovation, or just taking a different look at how to build something from the same variables in a different way.

“You Can Do the Cube”. Yes, you can. In much the same way you might be able to put a “plan on a page”. But you might miss the nuance, the structure, and unintended solutions that come from only considering a singular or potentially underdeveloped solution. The Legos can be configured millions of ways to make different types of things from a single set. The cube can have ever different color configurations in seemingly random patterns that can be just as difficult to generate as the intended uniform blocks of color.

Strategy has endless edges and corners that you can shape, and turn based on the mechanics of your process and the notations you create as you construct your plan. Breaking free of the idea that there is a single, all-conforming solution will make the way for true creativity, the space to think differently, and the ability to create something that, while unexpected and perhaps unintended, sets you apart.

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Joseph R. Benesh

Joe Benesh is the president and CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, organizational development and design thinking firm based in Des Moines. He can be reached at joe@ingenuitycompany.com and (305) 450-9120.