My life as a Rubik’s Cube

I came across a news story earlier this week about the 40th anniversary of Rubik’s Cube – the toy/puzzle that has dumbfounded most of us at one point or another through the years. I started to think about how my professional life is like trying to solve Rubik’s cube.

When I first picked up a Rubik’s Cube, I immediately started turning the sides of the cube to try and get the colors aligned on one or two sides. With a bit more experience, it became clear that a partial solution of getting one side all yellow and another side all green early in the process did not help me get any closer to a total solution to the puzzle. Additional turns would always mess up the sides I had just completed. Eventually, I learned to try to envision how the various alignments would lead, after additional turns, to the solved puzzle – a very challenging mental exercise that required me to try and think several steps ahead and in three dimensions.   On a few occasions, I was able to actually complete the puzzle, but it took me a long, long time, and much trial and error. I never came close to developing the skills of the whiz kids we see on You Tube who can finish the puzzle in just a few seconds.

Aspects of patient care, research and administration are like Rubik’s Cube.

When taking care of patients, it is important to remember that intervention in one dimension can have a major impact on another. A regimen that is known to be effective in treating a cancer might have intolerable side effects on a patient’s heart or nervous system.  It is the whole patient that counts, not just what we are able to achieve in one dimension such as whether a cancer has shrunk on an X-ray.

In the research lab, we include “controls” to be sure the technical aspects of an experiment went well.   On occasion, the results of an experiment appear to be fantastic at first look, but the controls did not work. What at first glance appears to give one answer leads to a very different interpretation when looked at from another angle.

Administratively, turning the cube and using resources to fix one problem can create a new problem elsewhere.

Even my job as a whole sometimes feels like trying to solve Rubik’s cube. When I increase my efforts in clinical care, research or administration, it can have a significant impact on my ability to give the needed attention to the other areas.

I like to think that, over time, I have become a bit better at thinking several turns ahead and in multiple dimensions, and how a change I make now will impact on the eventual outcome several turns down the road. However, I know I have a ways to go before I come close to being like this guy…