Thinking inside the cube

rachel audige
4 min readMay 19, 2024


© rachel audige

The colourful 3D puzzle that was created by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernő Rubik, on May 19, 1974, and that has adorned most desks or bedside tables (and frustrated most of us in our past lives!) turns 50 today. #rubikscubeturns50 #happy50thbirthdayrubikscube

As the catch cry of the creative method I use is ‘think inside the box’ I found myself musing on the parallels between this captivating little cube and the creative method I have learnt and applied for nearly 20 years.

I see three:


The first is in the catch cry itself: Unsurprisingly, with the Rubik’s cube, the solution lies inside the cube; you don’t need anything but the cube to solve the problem.

Likewise, I passionately believe that creativity loves constraints and, from my experience, a valuable and counter-intuitive solution is often hiding in plain sight. Being told to “think outside the box” (especially when it gives you no limits) doesn’t help you solve the problem any more than it helps you to be efficient at coming up with good ideas. Indeed, it seems that when people are told to think outside the box they are actually being hindered in their creative efforts; it relies too much on our imagination. A blank piece of paper is confronting. If, however, we impose an artificial constraint on our thinking and think not outside but inside the box, we are more likely to come up with feasible and resourceful solutions.


Secondly, ask most speed-cubers how they solve the puzzle and they will tell you that they have learnt a pattern; there are “tricks” or templates to it.

Similarly, once you are focused on what’s inside the box and are looking at how you can see it differently, I have learnt that there are patterns to the most creative ideas that can be copied (ask any musician, or biomimicrist — who harnesses the best patterns in human nature- and they will say as much!).

The method TRIZ (the Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) created by a Soviet engineer, inventor and writer, Genrich Altshuller, back in the 1940s, is a neat example. Altshuller is said to have screened over 200,000 patents searching for general rules that might lead to new, inventive patentable ideas. What he realised was that the same sets of rules have been applied over and over to solve all kinds of inventive problems. He listed 40 templates, called ‘Inventive Principles’, considered as the foundation of TRIZ.

During the 1970s, one of Altshuller’s students, Ginadi Filkovsky, immigrated to Israel and joined the Open University in Tel Aviv. Two Ph.D. students, Jacob Goldenberg and Roni Horowitz, joined Filkovsky and worked to develop and simplify the TRIZ methodology. Their work formed the basis of a method and a company formed in the 1990s called Systematic Inventive Thinking (AKA SIT). For SIT, just 5 patterns cover over 75% of the most creative ideas and these can be reverse engineered into thinking tools that increase your creative output.


The third parallel builds nicely on this. Ernő Rubik said:

“Problem solving is a very basic activity of the human mind and if a problem is complex you need to divide the problem into smaller elements.”

Breaking things down into smaller parts is key to solving the cube (see the example pictured below). In my experience, it also helps us to be more effective innovators.


In SIT, we have observed that one of the major obstacles to innovation is our cognitive bias and specifically our cognitive fixedness. We have a tendency to lock things into structures, functions and relationships. To overcome this, the creative process begins by defining the ‘box’ we will focus on and detailing the resources we have at our disposal within it. We don’t think ‘what if?’ but rather ‘what have I got?”. We can then apply one of the pattern-based tools of SIT work by taking a product, concept, situation, service or process and breaking it into components, steps or attributes.

I’m passionate about methods and where they are blunt or sharp. Get in touch if you’d like to explore more or share your experience.

In the meantime: HAPPY BIRTHDAY To RUBIK’s CUBE! (and be sure to think inside the cube!).

Rachel is a facilitator, trainer and advisor in innovation and strategy. She is passionate about what gets in the way of more creative thinking and published ‘UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking…and how to bust them’.



rachel audige

Unearthing resourceful ideas hiding in plain sight. I am a Franco-Australian facilitator, trainer and writer on innovation and creative marketing & strategy.