You can think in the same imaginative, precedent-breaking way that Einstein thought. Rule breaking is our birthright. We are a race of innovators. Slow, soft humans are the last creatures one would expect to survive in this jungle of a world. We beat the sharper-clawed competition because we can break the rules, changing strategies in seconds, not generations.
Children start as superb innovators. They spin fanciful solu- tions undeterred by any obstacles. Even as we grow older, we admire bold thinking. Revolution is chic. Trendsetters are idol- ized. It is demeaning to be called unoriginal, staid, or conven- tional. We relish opportunities to break the rules.
But if change, innovation, and creation are such revered human traits, why do we still get stuck in rule ruts? What happens to our wonderful natural ability to break the rules?
EVERYONE CAN THINK LIKE EINSTEIN
“The whole of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
Thinking like Einstein is something that everyone can do, regardless of maturity, experience, or education. Those with less experience repeatedly succeed where their more enlightened contemporaries fail. They should, because they have a big advantage—their mental ruts are not as deep.
Even experts can be outstanding innovators. Alexander Graham Bell’s career as a teacher of the deaf gave him great insight into speech when he started work on the telephone. He had one other advantage—he knew little about electric devices. While everyone else focused on improving telegraphs, Bell mimicked vocal cords. After the telephone had made him rich, he moved into new fields where he broke the rules again. He constructed massive kites that could carry a man aloft, built hydrofoil boats, and improved the phonograph. He never let expertise or age stop him from innovating.
“I’m doing just fine, considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
Einstein Thinking is not a complex process. But it isn’t easy. It is like writing with the wrong hand. It feels strange to write your name using your left hand if you are right-handed and vice versa. You want to switch back to the usual way—the comfortable way— as soon as possible. Einstein Thinking feels the same way. You must consider ideas that common sense will scream are absurd. You will break cherished rules, violate sacred precedents, and think hereti- cal thoughts. Fortunately, if you are in the right mood, it can be lots of fun. Einstein’s “ambidextrous” thinking changed the world. Thinking more like Einstein can change your life.
Einstein Thinking is a collection of techniques that mimic Einstein’s approach to problem solving. It supports targeting real problems, breaking patterns, breaking rules, growing infant ideas, and other habits that were natural to Einstein.
From Einstein’s comments, we know the practices he relied on when solving problems. The rule-breaking techniques that he used instinctively are methods that anyone can mimic. By doing what he did, we can all think like Einstein. The process consists of four basic steps.
Selecting a Great Problem
Even Einstein couldn’t find a solution if he had the wrong prob- lem. You must have an enabling problem, one that allows imaginative solutions different from your original expectations. Disabling problems have so many restrictions that they only can be solved by impossible tasks. A disabling problem would be: “I want to fly by flapping my arms like wings.” An enabling problem would allow any solution that got your feet off the ground. A great problem expands options. Finding that great problem requires much thought, especially when the solution seems obvious.
Breaking the Pattern
Einstein was most successful when he was willing to consider any- thing, particularly ridiculous ideas. Breaking patterns tears you out of your rut by generating the novel ideas that you are usually too practical to consider.
Rule breaking is a focused, deliberate way of finding solutions. If you have been unable to find a solution among all the acceptable alternatives, then you must examine the impossible alternatives. You must break some rules.
Growing the Solution
It took Einstein years to develop relativity into a useful theory. Great solutions seldom seem great when conceived. Compared with existing ideas, even the best breakthroughs appear inferior. You must suspend judgment, get help, and make mistakes to grow an idea into a great solution.
Einstein naturally used these techniques to change our world. He started with a more enabling problem. He played with wild notions. He broke a specific rule. And then he developed the idea that came from breaking rules until it was a superior solution. You can tackle your problems the same way.
“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
The young Einstein didn’t need help to think like Einstein. It was natural. He just ignored the inviolable rules of physics. However, he could have used some help later. His mind was every bit as sharp, but it was also crowded with a host of new rules. He had good reason to believe these were good rules. After all, they had allowed him to find solutions that provided remarkable insights into how the universe worked. They were used to create his theory of gen- eral relativity. They brought him worldwide fame and recognition. Those are pretty useful rules.
Unfortunately, Einstein’s new rules also kept him from find- ing new solutions that mattered very much to him. He simply couldn’t accept the uncertainty inherent in quantum physics and spent years trying to eliminate this blemish on the laws of the uni- verse. Einstein’s rule that the universe should be deterministic hid the ideas and concepts he needed to move forward in his work. However, it was impossible for him to even consider breaking his new rules because they had become such a critical part of his think- ing. Einstein needed help thinking like Einstein.
We need help too. Breaking our own rules is not naturally easy. Without help we will run from dead end to dead end along our well-established rule ruts. So we will use hacks to mimic Einstein’s thinking.
Hacks redirect the flow of your thoughts. If you wanted to redi- rect the course of a river, you would not let nature take its course. Something would have to channel the flow of the river. Redirecting your thinking requires structure too. You must use the hacks until you have escaped your rule rut.
The first hack is to decide how often you are going to think like Einstein and then measure how often you do it.
“When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” LORD KELVIN
We do the things that we are held accountable for. You won’t break your own rules until you hold yourself accountable for doing it. Once a rule establishes itself in your brain, it is very difficult to spon- taneously ignore. Unless you are like the young Einstein with a mind unencumbered by numerous rules about how things should be done, you will need to force yourself to periodically break your own rules.
One way is to set aside a regular time to think differently. You will find that regular efforts over time will yield greater results than a single rule-breaking session. Consistency will also yield better results than spontaneous genius or inspiration. The longer you con- sistently look for solutions in new ways, the more likely you will be to find what you are looking for.
Calendar a weekly or monthly reminder to take time to think, and record its completion. I use a program that tracks my comple- tion of regular tasks and projects, and shares my failures with my family. I find the good-natured teasing of my children to be a very powerful motivator, in addition to the great pleasure I get when I check off a task.
Alternatively, you could simply post a calendar or tally in a prominent place and count how many times in a month you attempt to break out of your universe of truth. Either way will remind you, although not force you, to spend some time breaking your own rules and finding solutions outside of your universe of truth.
If you don’t measure how often you try breaking your rules, you won’t break them. Unless you hold yourself accountable for regu- larly breaking rules, you will continue to solve all of your problems and view all solutions within the set of your current rules.
Even breaking out of your old patterns of thinking once a month is very good. Once a week is fantastic. But you won’t even do that much unless you measure your activity.
“Analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.” ARISTOTLE
Even Einstein could have used a formula to force himself out of the “uncertainty” rut that shut down his creativity.
In this book, you’ll find some concepts for creative thinking to help you that have been modeled into a series of guides and remind- ers. Completing them will force you through exercises that will liberate your thinking from your rule ruts. Blank copies of the forms are available at howtothinklikeeinstein.com and in Appendix A.
Let’s start using the guides to solve tough problems. Einstein Thinking is most useful when the current solutions aren’t working. You must break the rules because there is no other solution. Such problems have the greatest motivation too—the rewards are greater and the consequences more dire. Einstein solved the two toughest problems in physics in one year by breaking the rules. See what rule breaking can do for your toughest problem.
There can be numerous variations on these techniques. Even Einstein can be improved upon. Create some variations for yourself. Get into the habit of looking for a better idea because the world needs more good solutions. In the next chapter, we’ll show you how to select a problem and get to work.