The parallels between Albert Einstein and modern entrepreneurs are almost as countless as the comparisons made about them: Imagination. Unconventional thinking. Love of the mysterious. But what really made Einstein tick? It's one thing to understand what Einstein did. It's entirely another to understand how he did it.
"One of the main things that was unique and particularly related to Einstein's imagination is that he was the king of 'thought problems,' where he would devise very visual problems that he would try to think out," says Karen Fox, veteran science journalist and co-author of the book "Einstein A to Z." "For example, early on he wondered what life would look like if you were riding on a light beam--since nothing else could reach you faster than the speed of light (including light that needs to hit your eyes to show you what the world looks like), would everything appear to have stopped still? The answer is yes. So his thought processes were very much about coming up with odd questions and visually thinking through their answers."
Einstein is widely credited with solving many of the universe's greatest mysteries, a quality any entrepreneur should admire. But Fox insists that Einstein's ability and courage to ask the questions were just as revolutionary as their answers.
"At a time when all scientists agreed that light was an electromagnetic wave, he just dismissed that in the face of the conviction of [his own] theories," she says. "He was up against a pretty serious cabal of scientists who believed that they had pretty much figured everything out, and Einstein's convictions that he knew better were part of the reason he couldn't get a science job post-university and instead went into the patent clerk's office. Now, there were a few other people who were investigating quantum mechanics fairly soon thereafter, too, so science was ripe for a revolution, but the idea that young upstarts could question the old guard was not really a conventional one."
But for Einstein, Fox says, it wasn't enough simply to question the establishment--it was the way he questioned it that allowed him to change the world.
"I am reminded of the Sherlock Holmes quote: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," she says. "Einstein would start with simply the barest of axioms--the things he absolutely was sure were true--and didn't accept anything else. When he followed these axioms to their natural conclusions, he knew that they were right--no matter how improbable, or even if they contradicted standard dogma. So he questioned standard beliefs because they contradicted theories he had carefully worked out based on a few truths he had full faith in. He didn't question willy-nilly--he simply refused to accept theories that weren't borne out by work he had done himself."
When it comes to drawing inspiration from Albert Einstein, it doesn't take, well, an Einstein, to figure out that his habits are worth emulating. But it's the processes behind those habits that can truly propel an entrepreneur to new heights. He went beyond just questioning the establishment, creating entirely new ways to do so. He relished in the chance to swim upstream because he knew he was right, not out of arrogance or overconfidence, but because he had done the work. In the end, he didn't just resist the consensus--he created a whole new one.