You’ve likely met some people who are the epitome of the classic absent-minded professor. You know the ones…They can’t remember facts or formulas, much less people’s names, and they need to continually reference information that others believe should be second nature. However, once these so-called absent-minded people look up the information they need, they have the uncanny ability to encapsulate very complex concepts into simple-to-understand formulas or words. They’re conceptual thinkers—the people who create new knowledge, products, or innovations. They are the Einstein thinkers of the world.
When asked why he had trouble memorizing formulas and why he earned poor grades in school, Einstein replied, “I do not clutter my brain with facts I can look up in any standard reference within two minutes.” Instead of wasting energy on memorization, Einstein took those easily-accessed facts and created something new with them—he saw the connections among the facts and the patterns underneath the processes. As such, Einstein, who failed math, gave us the power to harness the atom and ultimately create nuclear power.
Today’s most innovative executives are a lot like Einstein. While they may have difficulty knowing precisely, step-by-step, what they do or replicating it on paper, when asked to just do it, they have tremendous success. They have the ability to find the patterns that underlie successful processes and can apply those patterns in new and different industries, thus achieving amazing results wherever they go.
5 Types of Leaders
Very few people are true Einstein thinkers. Rather, people tend to fall into one of four categories.
- The logical thinkers: These people learn from data. They must analyze data in order to move to the next decision. If they don’t have hard data, they can’t move forward. And without that data, they can’t communicate to others how to advance through the needed steps.
- The verbal thinkers: These people learn by hearing. They are more conceptual. They can process the information they learn and can write it out. But while they understand the processes that others do, replicating that process in a different location is difficult for them.
- The pictorial thinkers: These people learn by seeing. If you graphically show them how to do something, they can do it. But if they have to read instructions without pictures, even instructions that are very well written, they’re lost. They can build pretty molecule models, but they can’t do the calculations to tell you what the reaction will be.
- The kinesthetic thinkers: These people learn by doing. You can put them under the hood of a car, show them how to fix a car, and let them dig in and get greasy. Then you can line up a hundred cars and they can fix them all. But if you hand them a manual for fixing a car, and you never show them how to do it hands-on, you’d better find another mechanic to fix what they just broke. These people have to learn by doing, and they have trouble communicating what they learned.
Think of the previous four thinking styles as overlapping circles. In the center of the overlap point are the Einstein thinkers.
- The Einstein thinkers: These people have a little bit of all four thinking styles, yet not enough of one to make them extremely effective in any one realm. However, they have the ability to take a process, no matter how it’s presented—whether verbally, in writing, in pictures, or hands-on—and duplicate the process in different scenarios. Yes, they need to review the process or calculation or formula each time, but once they review the initial process, they move forward and create new things. They read the roadmap and follow it.
Most executives are in one of the first four areas of learning and thought. Those who truly excel no matter where they lead or work are the Einstein thinkers. They have figured out the process of being a CEO or any other c-suite position, and they can apply the process in any environment.
The Process of Einstein Thinking
While thinking like Einstein is not innate for most people, you can learn how to analyze the process underneath everything you do, thus enabling you to venture into the realm of Einstein thinking. Think of it as a process for creating a roadmap, so to speak, and once you own that roadmap, you can apply it to other industries and replicate success. The following guidelines will help.
- Ask “Why?”
Become fanatical about asking yourself “why” at every turn. This enables you to identify the main decision points in any process. Realize that there are actually very few things at a management level that are unique to an industry or company. Yes, there are facts and circumstances that are unique, but no matter what industry you’re in, you have to build relationships inside and outside; you have to comply with certain regulations; and you have to deal with a certain level of customer service. Therefore, identify how you function in each process and ask why you’re doing something, not what you’re doing.
- Know Your Decision Options
When you come to a decision point, ask yourself three key questions:
- Why do I make this decision at this point?
- What influences my decision?
- What are my choices?
Your choices are always the same at any decision point. You can either act or not act, or you can act in a series of choices. So it’s always a yes/no decision or a multiple choice decision. At this point, step away from the tendency to focus on what the question is, and instead focus on the reasoning behind the question.
Create a flow chart that details what you’re asking yourself at this point. Is it a yes/no question or is it a multiple choice question at this decision point? Then follow that up by asking, “Why do I make this decision?” If you know at a certain point that you are making a multiple choice decision, then you can reference what the choices are and what question led you to the choices. At another point in the business cycle you may be faced with a yes/no question. Follow up yes/no questions with, “What happens if I say yes? What happens if I say no? What are the questions I’m answering at this point?”
One of the basic concepts of physics is the unified field theory. The theory states that no matter what the special circumstances are, there are a set of equations or rules under which the entire universe functions. The same exists in business. There are certain things that are always absolutely true in business. When you know the truths and the processes that underlie the truths, then you are thinking like Einstein and can move from point to point in any circumstance.
- Get the Right People on Your Side
Whether or not Einstein thinking comes naturally to you, you need to surround yourself with people who don’t think along the same process that you do. Very few people are truly like Einstein where they can write down their process so others can follow in their footsteps. However, the executives who surround themselves with those who can do the communication for them will have the upper hand. Therefore, get people on your team to interview you and get you talking about your goals and how you got from point A to point B to point C. Your team can then capture your process, encapsulate it, and put it on paper so you can read it and validate it. Doing so enables you and your company to more rapidly achieve goals.
Think Like Einstein Today
Training yourself to think like Einstein—to see the patterns and processes behind everything you do—will enable you to reach your full potential and bring new and innovative ideas to market. Remember that those with the greatest potential are those who are the most adaptable to any circumstance. They innately understand the process that underlies any other person’s success and can replicate it with ease. So create your own roadmap of what you do and follow it in every situation. And if you can’t write your own roadmap, then at least learn how to read the map that others have already created. With some analysis and perseverance, you can be the next Einstein thinker.