Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for imagination

Working Together: Great Potential Revealed

Spring and summer have been busy work-wise, and lazy otherwise. The combination of hard work and the opportunity, through abundance of summery weather and a relaxing time away with family, to do nothing much has also given me time to read some interesting books.

Recently I’ve gotten hooked on science and history – in particular the rise in the early 20th century of quantum mechanics in physics. I have been amazed at how individually brilliant these scientists were and how incredible their vision and discoveries were. Imagining and then doing the math and experiments to prove what they imagined, in a time with no computers, little funding, and few sophisticated laboratory tools is the epitome of the human spirit and thirst for knowledge and understanding.

What I’ve also learned that was true and critical to the discoveries made was the collaboration and sharing that occurred. There were plenty of rivalries and some conflicts but given the stakes – and the potential for fame – there was more openness than secrecy. These remarkable men and women – Einstein, Curie, Fermi, Szilard, Meitner, Oppenheimer, Dirac and many others – were of varying nationalities and located across Europe, plus America and Asia. Again in a time of no computers or internet, they made a conscious investment – which was non-trivial given the communication challenges of the age – in publishing their discoveries, writing to each other regularly, and attending formal and informal gatherings where theories, approaches and findings were presented and debated.

 
They seemed to know that their ideas were worth far less if they hid them. They knew they’d be more valuable if they invited others to learn about them, debate or challenge them and add to them. Or perhaps that their individual ideas and theories were just small parts of a huge body of unknowns that one of them could not possibly explain alone. If they wanted to be successful – be part of explaining the universe – they had to cooperate with others.

Together they were discovering more deeply how the universe works, at the atomic and then sub atomic levels. Imagining and then proving that atoms existed and contained electrons, protons and neutrons. Imagining and then proving that even smaller things existed such as quarks, gluons and other interestingly-named particles. Imagining and then proving that atoms could be split – and fused. Some, such as Einstein, at times wished they’d never had their great thoughts or published them — since it led in 1945 to the deaths of more than 100,000 Japanese citizens in a matter of seconds with dropping of bombs. Bombs with innocent sounding names like Fat Boy and Little Man.

Yet there is no denying that there have been many positive aspects to what these people discovered and helped the world to understand. It has and continues to change the world as we know it.

And their approach to innovation and knowledge sharing can teach us a great deal about what can happen when the potential of new ideas is fueled by a spirit of cooperation and sharing for the common good.

If you are interested at all in what I’ve been reading, here’s a few selected titles:

The Story of Science: Einstein Adds A New Dimension by Joy Hakim – actually a great middle school to early high school text book. If all children had books written by and teachers like Joy Hakim, we’d have more kids interested in science. Her writing is fun and informative.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson 

A Short History of Almost Everything by Bill Bryson

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Imagination

Albert Einstein once wrote that in science “imagination is more important than knowledge”. That’s a powerful thought. I suppose you might expect nothing less from an intellectual giant such as Einstein.

What resonated with me, as someone who often not only wants to understand but who finds fully understanding something (i.e., “knowledge”) to be particularly satisfying, is the caution it offered about seeing knowledge as the only worthy end (to some research you’ve conducted, a project you’ve managed, a business problem or opportunity you’ve worked hard on).

Further, in reading more about the context of Einstein’s writing this line, he is saying bluntly that science like many pursuits in life is really just a journey, full of unknowns and unfolding unendingly. At any given point in time there are many truths or facts that are well-accepted and proven but an infinite number more truths and facts that are quite unknown and sometimes seemingly unknowable. Particularly in science there are many areas of study that deal with phenomena that are not readily or directly observable.

Einstein,and other great scientists, made many of their most astounding breakthroughs using their imagination rather than getting stuck trying to understand the seemingly unknowable. They would imagine some alternative reality to what was known at the time, think through how this alternative world might look and how it might operate if it were discovered to be true, then go about experimenting, searching and testing as if the alternate view were indeed true. This gave them great freedom to work creatively rather than be confined by the “known”. As a non-scientist, for me at least, this was very revealing and refreshing – creativity and science go together! I think I thought before this that they were mutually exclusive.

I began to relate this to my work with business clients where we might be talking about a new product or concept, or a new approach to promotional marketing and other challenges where some facts are well known and many others are for practical purposes unknowable. In such a situation how do you proceed? Einstein would say, if I may be so bold as to speak for him, to first beware of investing all your time into trying to know everything. This is similar to the common advice to avoid “analysis paralysis”. He adds to this common wisdom a more unique point of advice: use your imagination and then be bold enough to just try it out! Experiment. Try. Fail. Try again with another approach.

This is of course no guarantee of success. Your imagination might fail you. But when faced with a big challenge, using your imagination can be a powerful tool to spur action and overcome inaction. At the very least, doing so will give you a taste of how Albert Einstein thought and that alone will be fun!