Relative Einstein theories

Dec. 21, 2004
They will make you a more creative chief executive.

Recently Ive been reading about Albert Einstein. Now let me admit upfront that I was not looking to understand his theory of relativity. Im not an E=mc2 kind of guy. But in Albert Einstein, Philosopher-Scientist (1970, Open Court) I found a treasure chest of ideas. Einstein talks about visual imagination and how it helped him understand complex problems and solve them in new ways. In Einstein in Context (1993, Cambridge University Press) I read about how he converted problems into metaphors to help him evaluate them differently. I also found a discussion of games used as metaphors in Einstein as Myth and Muse (1985, Cambridge University Press). For years I have used metaphorical imagination for solving creative problems, but I didnt realize Einstein was the author of the concept. Its derived from Einsteins belief that imagination is more important than knowledge. This, in turn, is influenced by another Einsteinism that says in effect that if your thinking created a problem, using the same kind of thinking will not help to solve the problem. Although Einstein saw language as an effective way to communicate abstract ideas, he also found it to be a dangerous source of error as well as a possible form of deception. He was concerned that complex ideas once encoded into words sometimes lost their true meaning and substance. So, instead of word pictures, he advocated the use of thought pictures. He constructed images in his mind as a way of questioning his assumptions about "relativity" and its place in the universe. He saw "imaginizing" as an effective way to solve all problems, whether in physics or in management. The importance of metaphorical imagery lies in:

  • Its visual versatility -- By employing visuals, you can make the familiar different. This forces you to approach the problem from a different direction and with thinking thats totally different from the thinking that created the problem. This, in turn, increases your options for solving the problem. It also allows you to employ visual solutions instead of verbal ones that are difficult to comprehend or translate.
  • Its easy identification -- Images are familiar and instantly recognized. They are made out of common elements Einstein called "memory pictures." They are created from personal experiences. We see what we know. What we know is more understandable than what we dont know. Symbols and objects are easier to understand than words. Words have confusing multiple meanings.
  • Its live-the-vision aspect -- You create your own metaphor and live within it. Its like placing yourself inside your imagination. You have created your own reality -- in your brain -- just like you would create virtual reality on your computer screen with CAD or CAM technology. Its simpler to visualize your problem by seeing it in three dimensions and in color than by interpreting a pencil-on-paper design.
If there were an Einstein School of Advanced Management, it would advise you to follow this path:
  • Form a project team.
  • Invite the team leader to describe the problem and the objectives.
  • Invite each member of the team to create a visual image that approximates his or her comprehension of the problem.
  • Invite all team members to explain their visual concepts to the entire team.
  • Invite all team members to participate in a no-holds-barred discussion of the assumptions expressed in their visualizations.
  • Invite all group members to redraw their metaphorical images using the input and insight each has gained from the group interaction.
  • Reassemble the group and attempt to reach a conclusion based on the new visualizations.
  • If the team cannot come to a conclusion, send them back to the drawing board to try it again.
And just to play it safe, be sure that an Einstein scholar is a member of the team. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Publishing Inc. and an IW contributing editor. Have a question for Sal? Marino will host an online discussion for IW March 2-13. Join in at

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