"You're no Einstein." How many times have you heard that in your life? When people have compared you to the great thinker, has it been in the spirit of sarcasm--Nice one, Einstein?
Albert Einstein has become the benchmark by which everyone measures intellect, though few understand what made the man tick. (For more on that see Unleash Your Inner Einstein.)
Throughout his long life, the creator of E=mc2 (and one of a handful of people to know what it really means) indicated what he saw as the path to success through his words and actions. Entrepreneurs have more in common with Einstein than they think. Many of the traits that led him to be named Time magazine's Person of the Century--kind of an elite club--drive people to create businesses. Do you see a little of Einstein in you?
- Imagination. Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." The fellas over at Google had all the computer skills and knowledge they needed to have successful careers in some firm's IT department--along with tens of thousands of other techies. What makes Larry Page and Sergey Brin household names is the fact they imagined there was a better way to search the web, and then they created it.
- Always questioning. "The important thing is not to stop questioning." One of the most important questions an entrepreneur can ask is How can I make it better? Whether you offer a product or a service, improving it is the only way to attract new clients and retain existing ones. While Phil Knight was marketing Nike to the top of the athletic-shoe sales heap, Bill Bowerman tinkered with the shoes' designs and made sure Nike footwear was on the cutting edge of innovation. How can the new model, Bowerman wondered, be better? If Einstein had stopped questioning, we would have been left with his thoughts on relativity instead of an entire theory.
- Old problems, new ways of thinking. "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." In the 1940s and '50s, book publishers printed paperback books based solely on hardback titles that had lost momentum; Ian Ballantine created Bantam Books Inc. to do just that. He soon realized he was limiting his profit potential by sticking to the old way of thinking. He decided--much to other publishers' and bookstores' chagrin--to produce original paperback titles for mass-market sales. Sixty years later, both models still exist. And Ballantine likely would have jumped at the chance to offer books electronically.
- Intuition. "The only real valuable thing is intuition." Einstein worked in theoretical physics; he had to trust his intuition to move forward on anything. Entrepreneurs do the same thing every day. Intuition told Richard Branson the Sex Pistols were worth signing to a fledgling Virgin Records. Intuition told Hugh Hefner men would pay for a magazine filled with high-quality articles and fiction writing that was interspersed with photos of nude women. (Or was it the other way around?) Trusting one's gut led to many of the 20th century's greatest advances.
- Strong positive attitude. "Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character." In the early 20th century, greeting cards were given for Christmas and Valentine's Day. In 1915, a few weeks before Cupid's favorite holiday, a warehouse fire destroyed J.C. and Rollie Hall's entire inventory of Valentine's Day cards and left them $17,000 in debt. They borrowed money, purchased an engraving firm, designed two new cards and printed them in time for Christmas. Nearly a century and countless new ideas later, Hallmark Cards sets the industry standard.
- Naps. Einstein was supposed to be a big believer in midday siestas to recharge the brain. Some companies--Google and Nike, to name two--have created nap-friendly guidelines for their employees. There may be a lesson there for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Other entrepreneurs have utilized naps in a different way: bringing napping equipment to the workplace. No lie. MetroNaps installs sleep pods in companies' buildings for employee use.
- Rise above the mundane details. The stories of Einstein having a closet full of the same suits are exaggerated, but the point of the story is made: He didn't want to spend intellectual and chronological capital wrestling with one of life's mundanities. The definition of mundane details will vary from person to person--you say spreadsheets, I say boring--but know what you consider mundane and hire someone to take care of those tasks before they get neglected and drag the company down. Howard Hughes--before he lost the keys to his sanity vault--didn't like the administrative day-to-day duties of the company he inherited from his father. He hired someone to handle it, and that person turned Hughes' $1 million company into a $75 million empire. The other lesson there is "hire well."
- Willingness to try new things--and fail. "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." Just ask the people at Coca-Cola circa 1985. The Coke folks realized the error of their ways and reinstated the traditional formula, but many of their other forays into new flavors--cherry and vanilla to name two--have proved to be huge successes.
- Maintaining balance. "If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut." Notice Einstein didn't put absolute amounts on each of his variables. I doubt that was accidental. He knew--and now so do you--the ingredients to success; he also knew the formula was going to change from day to day. Whatever the ratio of x to y to z, entrepreneurs cannot forget Y.
- Stay on top of tech. Early in his career at the Swiss Patent Office, Einstein was passed over for a promotion until he mastered the technology of his day: machines. The entrepreneurs who are remembered at the end of this century will be the people who maximize the use of technology. What is the next internet? Where will communications be in 25 years? How will information be delivered, and on what devices? The people who figure out the answers to those questions will be entrepreneurs at the forefront of their industries.
So you don't know relativity from a relative. That doesn't mean you don't have something in common with Albert Einstein. After reading this, you may have all kinds of retorts for the next person who tells you you're no Einstein.
Mike Werling, the managing editor of Sea Magazine, has written for Entrepreneur.com, Senior Market Advisor, Boomer Market Advisor and Broadmoor magazines.