Rubik’s Cubes, Flow State, and Continuous Challenges

rubiks-cubeWhat is more frustrating than an unfinished Rubik’s Cube? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that plastic square isn’t judging you. It’s sitting there with those pretentious, mismatched colors just taunting your intellect, daring you to lose your cool. Yet, we pick it up again and again with another strategy that, inevitably, pairs a few more reds, but messes up the yellow side. Before you throw your Cube out a window, you may be interesting in knowing that there are advantages to undergoing this self-induced torture.

To benefit from a Rubik’s Cube, we must first understand the idea of flow. According to psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a “state of intense focus and crisp sense of clarity where you forget yourself, lose track of time, and feel like you’re part of something larger.” It is at these moments of flow state when we’re experiencing our greatest engagement, fulfillment, and creativity.

To attain our flow state, the book The Art of Game Design identifies the need for a continuous challenge. Creating a challenge may seem easy; making it continuous is more of a test.

If we start to think we can’t achieve [the goal], we feel frustrated, and our minds start seeking an activity more likely to be rewarding. On the other hand, if the challenge is too easy, we feel bored, and again, our minds start seeking more rewarding activities. – Jesse Schell, author of The Art of Game Design

The ideal flow state is maintained though new challenges and acquired skills. For instance, a Rubik’s Cube is challenging until you figure out how the squares move. It then runs the risk of becoming too simple. To hold your interest, the new challenge can be timing yourself to solve the Cube at faster speeds. If this gets dull, you can try to beat Kevin Hays’ record of solving the most Rubik’s Cubes underwater in one breath, Jakub Kipa’s record of completing it with his feet, or entering the Rubik’s Cube World Championship where last month the winner completed his Cube in 5.69 seconds.

A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you. – Erno Rubik, inventor of the Rubik’s Cube

rubiks-cube-haysIn the workplace, leaders are responsible for encouraging an optimal flow state environment. When inciting challenging in our team, we need to avoid stretch goals that are too difficult so people are not set up to fail, while minimizing the tasks that are too easy. Also, when a once challenging goal has become routine, we need to find ways to re-energize and re-invigorate it to re-engage the team. This can be accomplished with competitions to improve work speed, increased responsibility to make tasks more difficult, and games to keep it interesting. If this isn’t effective, suggest they do the work underwater… Kevin Hays’ record is up for grabs.