In 1905, Einstein introduced the world to his groundbreaking theory of special relativity. It’s a very complex theory that I couldn’t possibly begin to explain here. But it spawned one of the world’s most well-known equations: E=MC2.
Einstein is arguably one of the world’s greatest creative thinkers. How his mind came up with idea after idea is astounding. By looking at some of his most famous quotes, we can get a valuable insight into his creative mind.
One of the reasons Einstein came up with such good ideas is that he started off with good problems. As he once said,
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Before you even begin thinking about anything, you have to first define it. If you don’t take that first step, you may have good ideas – but they will probably be bad solutions.
This applies to developing new products, processes, important life decisions or just about anything you want to do. Define the problem first.
If you want to define a problem:
- Clarify the problem
-What do you know about it?
-Have you gathered enough information yet?
- What is the nature of the problem?
-What are you actually trying to solve?
-What is the root of the situation?
Think in terms of needs. What are you ultimately trying to accomplish?
So once you’ve defined the problem, what do you do?
Einstein was very knowledgeable about his subject, so it’s easy to assume that he used that knowledge to fuel his creative mind. Yet Einstein would have been the first person to dismiss the role knowledge had in his process. As he once said:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
It’s interesting how we often approach tasks, problems and situations. All too often, we do it this way:
Use knowledge and concrete thinking –> come up with a creative solution for it.
But Einstein would actually have looked at it this way:
Use imagination and creative intuition –> come up with a logical solution later.
It was imagination that helped Einstein form his famous equation. When he was just 16 years old, he imagined chasing a beam of light. He imagined what it would look like to ride along beside it on a motorcycle and thought hard about what would happen.
The ideas he got out of this thought experiment helped him think creatively about how light worked. It helped him focus his thinking enough to come up with his revolutionary idea.
Knowledge is an extremely important and useful way to share and learn information. Einstein would eventually write down all his discoveries logically for the purpose of sharing knowledge. In fact, his knowledge is how we know so much about the universe.
But logic and knowledge can be too narrow and methodical when thinking creatively; it makes everything slower. Imagination lets your mind run without speed limits or barriers. The ability to go anywhere and do anything opens your mind to new possibilities and ways of seeing the world.
As Einstein once said, “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
For Einstein, creative insights don’t come from reason, they come from imagination and intuition. Amazingly, these are the same kind of qualities you’ll find with artists.
Maybe that’s why Einstein said,
“The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
Einstein was definitely someone who found a lot of value in art. He was highly talented in both the violin and piano and would play them whenever he became stuck on a big problem. Often after playing, he would come out with a novel new approach to try.
You can see this artistic approach in a lot of great scientists and thinkers. Many of them explored their artistic side one way or another. Even Sherlock Holmes would play the violin when he was stuck trying to solve a mystery.
So how powerful are the arts? Researchers at Michigan State University found a strong correlation between childhood engagement in the creative arts and success later in life.
According to one of the researchers, “arts and crafts training correlates significantly with success…measured in valuable products such as patentable inventions and founding new companies.”
The skills you learn in the arts are perfect for complex thinking and problem solving. Artistic skills such as playing, intuition and analogies all help you come up with a long list of new ideas and opportunities to explore.
It seems as if these skills are formed from almost any artistic expression such as writing, painting, playing music and metalwork.
What matters most is you’re actively artistic. It’s not enough to just listen to music or look at paintings, you have to play an instrument or pick up a paint brush.
Many artistic skills are about taking things apart and putting them back together in new, inventive ways. That explains why so many kids who engage in the arts create more patents and businesses. It also explains why Einstein valued music so much as a physicist when he was trying to generate new ideas.
So to recap, here’s what we’ve learned from Einstein about freeing your creative mind:
- Define what you’re thinking about.
- Use imagination and creative intuition to examine it.
- Explore your artistic side to facilitate breakthroughs.
There’s an old saying that goes “knowledge is power.” That’s true in the sense that it will help you learn what we already know – but imagination and artistic expression will help you open your mind to those things we don’t.