December 27, 2017

4 Ethical Principles a Rubik’s Cube Can Teach Us


About a month ago, my thirteen-year old son asked me for a Rubik’s cube.  Within a few days, he taught himself how to master the 3 x 3 standard size Cube of Rubik.  Since then, he has become skilled at the 2 x 2 cube, the 4 x 4 cube, the triangle prism cube, and the 5 x 5 cube, which he wanted as a holiday gift.  As a mother, it has been amazing to watch him figure out the turns for each algorithm in order to solve the cube.  He is committed and dedicated to learning and mastering the specific right moves that will take the least amount of time to achieve his goal. One wrong turn and the cube takes longer to solve. The timeless, colorful, complex, and trendy Rubik’s Cube was invented by the Hungarian architecture teacher, Erno Rubik. Originally trapped within the Soviet Union, it took six years for Rubik’s marketing efforts to extend to the rest of the world.  Over the past twenty-five years, more than a quarter of a billion people have challenged themselves to solve the Rubik’s Cube.  Around the world, individuals enter competitions on how fast they can solve the cube!  Some even try it with their feet or blindfolded!  Last night, my mother asked my son a simple question.  “Why do you make each turn in the sequential order and follow an algorithm.  Why is it necessary to make each of the turns to solve the cube?”  As I listened to the conversation, I realized that the Rubik’s Cube emanates the need for ethical decision-making.  Upon researching the idea, I discovered that, in fact, a book was written about the notion that several of our childhood toys actually serve as leadership lessons.  Toy Box Leadership, Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell, 2008.  And, yes, the Rubik’s Cube stands for Ethics. Within a few short weeks, four ethical principles were highlighted in my mind from my son’s innocent desire for a complex mind-challenging toy. The universe sent me a tool to learn more ethical principles for my own growth and understanding in the field of ethics.

4 Ethical Principles a Rubik’s Cube Can Teach Us:

1. Doing the Right Thing Often Requires A Lot of Hard Work

Do you remember playing with a Rubik’s cube when you were a kid?  Did you pull apart the pieces and insert the pieces methodically to solve the cube in the end with the six sides having all nine pieces with the same color?  Or did you peel off the stickers and attach them back to have a solved cube?  I remember pulling apart a little key chain version of the Rubik’s cube in order to solve it.  At the time, it certainly didn’t seem like a major ethical decision.  As I have witnessed first hand over the past few weeks, solving a Rubik’s cube demonstrates the ethical principle that it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, focus, and commitment to accomplish a task correctly.  My son has studied the algorithms required to solve the cube, for each of the sizes that he now owns.  And, I now can see that the Rubik’s cube offers us ethical principles to live our lives ethically.

2. We Cannot (And Should Not!) Hide From Our Bad Decisions

In life, we cannot hide from our bad decisions. There are more than 43 quintillion possible permutations for the Rubik’s cube, but only one solution.   I continue to share my mission of ethical vigilance and making the right decision in every moment of every day no matter the consequences because I cannot hide from my past wrong decisions. One of the ethical principles I learned is that there is a right and wrong decision in each situation or decision we make. As it turns out, a Rubik’s cube can be solved in 20 moves, at the maximum – if and only if you understand the algorithms and follow them to make the right moves.  Along the way, if you turn the face in the wrong direction, or go left instead of right, you have made the wrong move.  This one wrong decision cannot be hidden, because ultimately that wrong move will delay you from accomplishing your result or hinder you altogether.

3. Shortcuts Often Lead to Poor Choices with Consequences

The Rubik’s cube also guides us to understand that we cannot cut corners.  Life takes hard work, perseverance, and committed efforts.  Likewise to solving the cube, we cannot take a short cut in life and avoid making the necessary algorithm moves.  In recent times, the news is wrought with stories of companies who tried to take shortcuts to achieve financial gains, only to be stopped in their tracks. MCI WorldCom, Enron, and Wells Fargo are glaring reminders that corporations must abide by the rules and cannot take shortcuts.  True financial prosperity for its board members is achieved by hard work and a commitment to ethical decision-making.

4. Every Turn Affects All Sides of Our Life

Ultimately, it is clear that each turn my son makes as he is solving his Rubik’s cube will affect the outcome of success.  Every turn affects not just that side facing up, but other sides as well.  In our lives, every decision will ultimately affect our life’s journey in some way.  In my own experience, I made some bad decisions, and those choices profoundly affected my family and I.  I spent almost six months away from my children and learned some hard lessons.  As I speak around the nation, I hope to inspire others to understand the ramifications of ethical decision-making.   The reality is that most of us will not face legal consequences and loss of freedom as I did.  But, every one of us knows what is right and wrong.  Our own internal moral compass screams at us in the form of our inner voice.   Just as solving the Rubik’s cube requires us to make all the right turns to find the right solution of matching colors on each of the six sides, life throws us many curve balls … but we must commit to making the best decision that we sense is right no matter the consequence so that we maintain our own path to living a life ethically.  Decisions that we make and actions that we take can take us down a slippery slope.  Each mounts upon another and, if we aren’t careful, we end up down a very slippery and dangerous slope.  So, if we can focus on making the right decision in each moment, we are able to keep ourselves away from any slippery slopes leading to dangerous valleys of unethical decision-making. In conclusion, A Rubik’s cube can teach us many critically important ethical principles that can be applied to many areas of our lives.


Rashmi Airan‘s mission is to share the need for ethical vigilance and to inspire you to make good ethical choices in all areas of your life. Rashmi is an ethics speaker and consultant fighting to create a culture of conversation and bring ethical issues in business to light, to promote integrity, to enhance commitment to fiduciary duty, to build ethical leadership, and to shift the paradigm of ethics standards through ethics training.

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