Go fishing with Einstein to improve your entrepreneurial thinking

I remember it well. Sitting still, staring practically hypnotised by the little red stick – the float – in the water, willing it to twitch. I was with my granddad and dad, on the canal bank. And then, when it did, that magical moment, not quite believing it. Did it really happen, or did I imagine it? It twitches again, bobs down and goes under. You pick up the rod and strike. Yes! A connection via a thin nylon thread to a fish. We’re on!

I haven’t been fishing for years, but all of this came back to me watching Gone Fishing recently, with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer, two of my comedy icons from the 1990s. They made me laugh out loud then – and again on the new programme.

Paul Whitehouse was part of the team behind The Fast Show, inspired to have a go at comedy when working as a plasterer in the house where Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were living. Characters of Ron Manager, Ken, one of the ‘Suit You Sir’ tailors and Ted were his forte.

Bob Mortimer is best known for working with Vic Reeves as Vic and Bob, developing a nightclub variety show format in Vic Reeves Big Night Out, and Shooting Stars, a comedy panel quiz show which ran from 1993 to 2011. Both were truly trailblazing – and utterly chaotic.

Whitehouse and Mortimer have more in common than just their love of laughter. They have both suffered complex heart diseases – Paul had three stents, Bob a triple bypass – and that was the back story of the series, a poignant reminder of the passage of time and how priorities change from a pair who in their prime, were responsible for the transformation of the British comedy landscape.

The pair’s friendship stretches back decades. Whitehouse reached out after learning Mortimer was in the doldrums following heart surgery, thinking a tour of the country’s finest fishing spots might help Bob’s recovery, relax them both and along the way maybe they would learn something new about each other.

In this funny and poignant six-part series, we eavesdrop as they reconnect and share their personal experiences. They also fish, and talk nonsense. A lot. On soggy riverbanks, they candidly discuss everything you can imagine, while trying to catch some fish with the excitement of a bobbing float.

Of course, it’s not really about fishing, but about friendship and getting older and reminiscing, joking about mortality and life. There are even impressions: Bob does his De Niro. It’s fine until he starts talking. Stick to silent De Niro, Bob (although, actually, a bad impression is funnier than a good one).

It was lovely television, warm, funny, and human. They shared nostalgia for their youth and revealed how they recently came face to face with their own mortality – passing a graveyard, they muse about the future and chat to a local vicar about death, and their own funerals.

Whilst modern friendships revolve around text messages and social media, it was a joy to witness friendship taken back to basics, banter without much actually happening, ambling around sharing experiences. There was something soothing and reaffirming in the embrace of the moment, the vocal joshing and the comfortable company of an old friend.

Gone Fishing was a breath of fresh air, escapist bliss. There’s a simple, endearing pleasure in watching excitable men fly-fishing in a gently bubbling river, while a group of meandering cows trudge past to the opposite bank.

Bob maintained the upbeat whimsy and sense of irreverence, Paul channels real pathos and is quietly contemplative at times. This is a wry, funny look at the reality of life on the wrong side of 50 of two men lamenting the passage of time.

In the final episode, they decide to try and catch a pike, which is perhaps not the best idea for two men of a certain age with heart problems. To close, facing the future, they write a eulogy for each other as the sun sets on their final fishing expedition. Hopefully a second series beckons, if you missed it, go back on catch-up TV, it’s well worth it.

Everyone experiences fatigue, anxiety and poor health at some point in his or her daily life, and you need coping mechanisms to help you deal with the issues and feel better mentally and emotionally. Fishing might be just what you need!

There are undeniable psychological benefits of fishing that can help you feel better on an emotional and mental level. Looking at Paul and Bob, you don’t typically catch a fish every five minutes, but the calming water helps you relax as you unplug and connect with nature, enjoying a peaceful and quiet environment.

No one is around, there’s nothing to bother you, it’s just you, open water, the fish and fresh air. Above all, the openness gives you some perspective on what is really important, and on what makes you happy.

Notwithstanding this wistful vestige of an existential neverland of fishing lodged in my psyche, as entrepreneurs we need time and space to think and get stuff out of our heads, a place to look at the horizon and keep us fresh. As Hemingway said, it is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Fishing strikes me as the perfect place to think and reflect about your business challenges, the stuff you’ve got going on, and trying to make sense of it in order to learn something from it.

Where’s your favourite place to do your best thinking? Mine’s a deserted, windswept, isolated beach with just the dog to talk to. It’s hard for me to put into words why I like the beach so much, it’s just everything about it is renewing for me, almost like therapy. Beach Therapy. Perfect beaches, perfect water, perfect rock pools, your own space, all the seclusion you could want.

You cannot exist in isolation, but there’s nothing I like more than to take myself off for some thinking time on the beach. I do my best thinking in isolation. It isn’t as if you are alone, it’s that you find yourself thinking alone.  Part of the isolation comes from what you are experiencing. You are the one who sees the situations in your head most clearly, and it will often be difficult for others to see things the same way.

Yet today offers a strange paradox: our knowledge and understanding of complexities in the world expands dramatically, yet the time to think and analyse is getting smaller and smaller. How do you make time to think?

Good ideas rarely come in meetings, or even at your desk. They come to you in the bath, on a walk, on a train, doing the garden – or fishing. Albert Einstein put it this way: I take time to go for long walks so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualise what goes on in my imagination.

Besides modelling my own hairstyle on Einstein’s, I’ve always tried to adopt his maxim we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.  His thought processes were very much about coming up with questions and visually thinking through their answers. His ability to ask questions was just as revolutionary as his answers.

Just imagine you had the opportunity to share a conversation with Einstein to shape your entrepreneurial thinking. It struck me a great place to spend time doing this, just chatting, would be on a boat or a river, as Paul and Bob did. The moments to share, reflect, listen and learn would be the ultimate mentoring experience, so here’s my Fishing with Einstein, in his own words, about his thoughts on how to make a difference with your own thinking:

Imagination Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. The blokes over at Apple and Google had all the smart computing skills and knowledge they needed, but what made Jobs and Ives, Page and Brin be great innovators was they imagined – what if?...there was a better way to do things, and then they created it.

Look to the horizon and beyond the day-to-day I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. Einstein didn’t waste time detracted on mundane details, he wanted to wrestle with the big things that made a difference.

Never top questioning The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Einstein was relentlessly curious, he was fixated on following through until he was satisfied with the outcome. He was restless to a point of perfection.

Willingness to try new things – and fail Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The continued evolution of Amazon’s Kindle – which has the reading capacity of 16 tonnes of paper – from its introduction in 2007, to the DX in 2009, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and now Kindle Paperwhite reflects this focus of continued reinvention. Einstein kept pushing the boundaries in a similar manner.

Maintaining balance If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut. Einstein didn’t put absolute amounts on each of his variables – he lived his life by constructing ‘what if’?’ formulas to look at relationships. He knew getting the ingredients and then working out their relationship would lead to success.

Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Einstein believed that to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways.

Prepare yourself for chance I never think of the future, it comes soon enough Einstein had particular strengths that guided him to the fertile ideas and revealing experiments to undertake, he had a characteristic tolerance and even delight in contradiction.

Einstein tells us to reflect that the most consequential ideas are often right under our noses. How many times have you metaphorically banged your head against a wall for a long time with a particular problem? He said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, perhaps it’s good to reflect upon that.

So, Einstein as your fishing companion, taking the time to reflect, thinking differently and not just sitting there and daydreaming. It’s about picturing the alternatives and working out possibilities of new realities where what you are doing today is completely different tomorrow, in order to go and find the entrepreneurial revolution before it finds you.

We are all confined by the mental walls we build around ourselves, so get yourself fishing, and see where it takes you and your thinking. As Paul Whitehouse said, last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.

A startup is like riding a bike, to keep your balance you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein died in his sleep at Princeton Hospital sixty-one years ago today, on April 18 1955. His archetypal boffin persona and image of unkempt hair is firmly lodged in popular culture, and his stature as a pre-eminent thinker of C20th is well-earned, as his ideas and theories changed the way the universe was imagined.

Almost from birth, Einstein’s enquiring mind was developed by parents who encouraged his independence. Aged five, his father gave him a compass to play with, and he was captivated by the motion of the needle. This was the genesis of his interest in science, as later, his theories would be used to explain the motion of the needle.

In terms of being an entrepreneurial thinker, he is without match, I mean, who else, picturing a man falling off a roof would realise he would not feel his own weight? He called this the happiest thought of my life because it lead him to the general theory of relativity, the culmination of an eight-year obsession with gravity.

If your review the many quotes and statements he made throughout his life, from a startup perspective he provides insightful guidance on thinking about problems, creativity and personal values, starting with his maxim we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

He always had a clear view of the problems he was trying to solve, and held the determination to solve them. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance. Whilst his principal tools were a notepad, a pen and pencil, his thought processes were very much about coming up with questions and visually thinking through their answers.

So how do we capture Einstein’s approach to crafting breakthrough ideas into our own everyday working lives in our startups, crafting new products and services to out-think our competition?

Follow Your Curiosity: The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.

Curiosity helps to fuel our imagination, to open new doors and form new connections.  When we ask questions of ourselves, we can shake up our beliefs.  What unanswered question is swimming around in your head about your startup?

What Einstein is trying to deliver with this message is that curiosity was the means through all the foundations during his life. The pursuit of curiosity is what drives a startup founder, that’s what divides us from being average. Keep digging your vision and answer all the questions. You will be amazed how startup life can be extraordinary with continuous curiosity.

Perseverance: It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Einstein was known for his persistence in focusing on problems until he found a solution. In the same way, startups need to develop a knack for perseverance, to keep nurturing and looking for new angles to approach prospects. Keep trying. Keep making the calls, even when (especially when) it’s hard, by staying with problems longer, as Einstein says, can mean the difference between failure and success.

We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when creating them – so perseverance requires you to pivot, modify you thinking, failure to do so will simply compound the problems – but keep going.

Make Mistakes: A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.

Mistakes are inevitable especially when pursuing a startup activity, they can be disappointing and tough on the confidence but often necessary to test the way forward to the end goal.  What great things are ever accomplished without failing in some way first?  The real failure is in the not starting or completing, it’s a first learning.

Remember, a startup is an experiment, it means that we should forcefully attack the unknowns and test them out. Dare to discover and dare to make mistakes. That’s what divides startups from successful and unsuccessful. Dare to try and be wrong.

Live in the Moment: I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.

As they say, the moment is all we really have, a tough concept to grasp. By becoming more aware of the moment, we can ground ourselves in what matters most and set our startup priorities.

Einstein also said, Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.

What a great example Einstein uses to illustrate the importance of focusing on the present!  We can miss the pleasures of the present by becoming too preoccupied with the past or the future.  Reminding ourselves daily to be present will provide us with a greater appreciation for what we’ve achieved to date, whilst also ensuring you give your all to whatever you’re currently doing. Multitasking is a killer to productivity and innovation in a startup, focused energy is the key.

If something isn’t working, change it: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Avoid the insanity of poor results. If something in your startup process isn’t working as well as it should, you need to make some changes. If you’re not filling your pipeline with new business prospects, not getting enough new features developed, or not attracting new talent, then why aren’t you changing your processes? Why keep doing the same things and expecting the results to change? If you are not boldly experimenting or innovating then you’re not taking enough chances.

If you have been unhappy in certain areas of your startup, opt to do one thing different tomorrow.  The idea is to shake up the routine, sometimes a new perspective on the same situation is all it takes to open one’s eyes to what’s possible.

Create Value Strive not to be a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.

How would you define success?  What will make your startup a success? These questions can be great ones to ask yourself, because whatever it is for you, that’s where to place or continue to place your focus.

Some startups approach the word ‘success’ wrongly. It’s not just being profitable, success is about getting there, step by step, so we will be able to appreciate the business we have created.

Einstein wasn’t motivated by conventional definitions of success, he lived modestly and spoke humbly. He seemed genuinely interested in larger questions affecting humankind. As a startup, of course need to make sales and negotiate deals and generate profit, but the best way to do this is to forget about making your numbers for a moment and instead zero in on the real value that your product or service offers to potential clients.

Drill down to below your basic pitch to better understand what your real added value is. Make sure you can convey this sense of value to your prospects, and make sure you believe in it yourself.

Don’t waste your time trying to be successful, spend your time creating value: value for your customers, value for people and value for society. If you’re valuable, then you will attract more business and therefore more success. It’s not what you do, or how well you do it that’s important, it’s who you are that counts. At all times, strive to do something that matters.

Learn the rules and then play better You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

It doesn’t mean that you have to behave like everyone else or do the same things other startups do, once you have a full understanding of the rules of the market you’re in, you can have the power to play better, challenge the rules of the game, or to change them.

To become an expert at something, learn all you can about that subject, study other’s successes and then aim to do it better than them.  The stronger your commitment and passion is to your endeavour, the greater your resolve will be to succeed.

A startup is more of an art than a science, but we can still take heart in these lessons from one of history’s greatest scientific minds. If we can all approach each day with a spirit of curiosity, perseverance and creativity, we’ll be able to carve out our own definition of startup success – and generate more lasting value for our customers, our people and consequently, ourselves. A startup is like riding a bike, to keep your balance you must keep moving.

Finally, as we remember Einstein on this poignant day, his final words sum up the man. Hours before his death, Einstein’s doctors proposed trying a new and unproven surgery as a final option for extending his life. Einstein simply replied, I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.

A train journey with Einstein: quiet carriage, window seat, facing forward.

It’s not the best way to see the land, travelling at speed on a train, walking has always been the appropriate pace for contemplation, but it can still be a pleasure. I would love to go to the Himalayas and cross over into Nepal to do the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

I like train journeys. I like their rhythm of the rail and the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of – for the moment, I know where I am going. I always travel in the quiet carriage, window seat, facing forward. There’s something special about the cadence of the movement, and keeping your eye on the horizon.

When I was a child, every train ride was an adventure, especially the trip to Scarborough. Not so much for where I was going, as for what I saw along the way. As the journey progressed, the scenery shifted from the hills grazed by sheep, to the patterns of man-made dry stone walls, then passing through through damp fields of dreamy cattle, over the hill and there was the sea.

I was fascinated with everything on the journey – the geology and landscape, people standing on platforms and people running for their trains, the ticket inspector and his stern demeanour, the throng urgently pushing to get on the train before the folks alighting could step onto the platform. I just soaked it in and the journey dovetailed with the rugged terrain, the wind and the water table – it’s a Northern thing. Who doesn’t feel a frisson at the thought of what you see out of a train window?

Today, trains are much faster than they were in my childhood, and the North Wales, North Yorkshire or Northumbrian landscapes I traverse on have lost much of their diversity. You can see too many business and retail parks from trains these days.

Yet, I am always surprised when a fellow passenger slumps into the seat next to me, plugs herself into a headset and starts rambling on about her day, presumably to some selfless good listener who likes the sound of her voice as much as she does herself. Look up, I want to say. Turn that thing off. There’s a world passing outside.

From planes you see clouds, from boats you see seabirds, from cars everything streaks past too fast to notice. But several authors have used the transitory moment of reflection on a train, when time seems to freeze as the landscape rushes by.

The most famous example is perhaps Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington Two trains moving in the same direction briefly overlap – and Mrs McGillicuddy witnesses a murder on the parallel train. No one believes her, no body turns up, so her friend Miss Marple has to investigate for her. Having read the book, to this day I’m always a bit nervous looking across in those seconds when two trains move together.

A while back, I read an interesting book that compared business life to a train ride or a series of train rides. Business life is like a train ride, it read. We get on. We ride. We get off. We get back on and ride some more. There are delays, some good journeys, some bad. At certain stops there are surprises. Some of these will translate into moments of joy, some will result in bad news. The direction of travel. Eventually we get to our destination.

However, many of my trains seem to get delayed and arrive late, perhaps reflecting the gap between what we want and what we can have in business. The paradox – and the most important point – is that it is through the privation of not getting what we want when we arrive at the next station, that we learn about our business.

I suppose in our unlived lives we are always more satisfied, less frustrated versions of ourselves. Our possibilities for satisfaction depend upon our capacity for frustration. If we can’t let ourselves get frustrated then we can’t get a sense of what it is we might be wanting, and missing, of what might really give us a definition of success.

Notwithstanding this wistful vestige of an existential neverland of train travel lodged in my psyche, where I create and hold on to various possible versions of my business self and possible outcomes – pockets of possibility that exist no matter how remote the probability of realising them might be, I do enjoy the tranquillity and time spent alone on my train journeys.

So that’s how I came to get the train to Edinburgh the other morning from Manchester. I needed time and space to think and get stuff out of my head, yet a place to look at the horizon and keep me fresh. A day return with the train as my working space was just the job – sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. As Hemingway said, it is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Long, solo train journeys are the perfect place to think and reflect. This habit of personal, private reflection is something that I’ve developed in the past few years. It is a purposeful activity. It involves thinking about an experience and stuff you’ve got going on, and trying to make sense of it in order to learn something from it. I use this to develop new perspectives. This drives learning and change, it is a way of working through issues and thinking of solutions, a way of improving the way you work.

Besides modelling my own hairstyle on Einstein’s, as part of my approach to reflection, I’ve always tried to adopt his maxim we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Einstein had a thinking strategy of his own and was able to visualise the main stages on the way to solving a problem. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance.

What Einstein did, he did using tools available to all of us. He had no magic wand or secret subscription to Google. He used thinking tools and methods available to everyone, the same books and research journals available to all scientists of his day. His principal tools were a notepad, a pen and pencil. He thought and wrote and calculated, and out poured his extraordinary achievements.

What made Einstein tick? Intuition, unconventional thinking for sure, but one of the main things was Einstein’s imagination, and his ability to visualise the issues before him –  ‘thought problems,’ where he would paint a picture of the problem he was trying to sort out. His thought processes were very much about coming up with questions and visually thinking through their answers. His ability to ask questions was just as revolutionary as his answers.

And that’s what I do on my ‘thinking train journeys’, I say to myself, How would Einstein approach this situation? to breakdown and get to the root of an issue I’m stuck with. Here’s my Einstein disruptive thinking tool kit for train journeys, in his own words:

Imagination Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. The blokes over at Apple and Google had all the smart computing skills and knowledge they needed to have successful careers in IT. What makes Jobs and Ives, Page and Brin household names is the fact they imagined – what if?...there was a better way to do things, and then they created it.

Look to the horizon and beyond the day-to-day I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. Einstein didn’t waste time detracted on mundane details, he wanted to wrestle with the big things that made a difference.

Never top questioning The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Einstein was relentlessly curious, he was fixated on following through until he was satisfied with the outcome. He was restless to a point of perfection.

Same problems, new ways of thinking We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Einstein’s thinking here this resembles the Blue Ocean Strategy model, and Job’s Think Different motto.

Intuition The only real valuable thing is intuition Einstein had to trust his intuition to move forward on anything. Trusting one’s gut instinct, once you’ve tested the hypothesis, your gut instinct rarely lets you down.

Willingness to try new things – and fail Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The continued evolution of Amazon’s Kindle – which has the reading capacity of 16 tonnes of paper – from its introduction in 2007, to the DX in 2009, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and now Kindle Paperwhite reflects this focus of continued reinvention. Einstein kept pushing the boundaries in a similar manner.

Maintaining balance If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut. Notice Einstein didn’t put absolute amounts on each of his variables – he lived his life by constructing ‘what if’?’ formulas to look at relationships and variables. He knew getting the ingredients and then working out their relationship would lead to success.

Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Einstein believed that to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. He was in good company: Da Vinci formed a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water: this enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.

Prepare yourself for chance I never think of the future, it comes soon enough Einstein had particular strengths, an acute intuition that guided him to the fertile ideas and revealing experiments to undertake, he had a characteristic tolerance and even delight in contradiction.

Einstein tells me to think about what I’ve never thought about, but also to reflect that the most consequential ideas are often right under our noses. How many times have you metaphorically banged your head against a wall for a long time with a particular problem?

One of two things is true at this point, either we keep banging our head and the wall will crumble soon, or we should do something different and hope things get better. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, perhaps it’s good to reflect upon that.

So on my ‘thinking train journeys’, which I do about once a month, Einstein is my travelling companion. By the way, he’s a massive tea drinker. When we talk about taking the time to reflect, it’s about thinking differently, and not just sitting there and daydreaming, it’s about picturing the alternate realities – working out possibilities of new realities where what you are doing today is completely different tomorrow, in order to go and find the revolution before it finds you.

The world isn’t waiting for you to get inspired, you have to inspire it, and at the same time don’t let your doubts sabotage your thinking – there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind, we just have to find them. We are all confined by the mental walls we build around ourselves. So get yourself on a train, in the quiet carriage, window seat, facing forward, and see where it takes you and your thinking.

Einstein’s festival of ideas

Besides modelling my own hairstyle on Einstein’s, I’ve always tried to adopt his maxim we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. He always had a clear view of the problems he was trying to solve, and held the determination to solve them. He had a thinking strategy of his own and was able to visualise the main stages on the way to his goals. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance.

He also had an amazing sense of humour and humility, many of his quotes sum this up, for example: I have no particular talent, I am merely inquisitive and When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of the globe, he doesn’t realise that the track he has covered is curved. I was lucky enough to have spotted it. How could Einstein think so lucidly and produce such insights, when everyone else couldn’t see what he could?

Einstein’s research and theories are well chronicled. His more important works include Special Theory of Relativity (1905), General Theory of Relativity (1916), Investigations on Theory of Brownian Movement (1926) and The Evolution of Physics (1938). Among his non-scientific works Why War? (1933), My Philosophy (1934) and Out of My Later Years (1950) are perhaps the most important.

For perhaps the hundredth time, I’ve tried to think like Einstein and see what he saw: A burst of light is seen by two people, one stationary on a platform, the other moving in a train. Assume the speed of light is the same for both. That’s it, that’s all you need to change forever our understanding of space, time, matter, and the universe. No large Hadron Collider, no CERN, no Hubble telescope, just the clear, sharp incisiveness of one mind.

Einstein learned how to see the burst of light expanding, traveling at the same speed for the two observers. To the moving observer on the train, the circle of light expanded equally on all sides. To the stationary one on the platform, the light expanded also, but in addition Einstein saw the movement of the train caused one side to meet the wave earlier than the other side.

The problem Einstein solved, giving us E=mc2 was an old one. A generation of scientists had been trying to understand why light always seems to be going at the same speed relative to the observer. It was one of sciences’ most important and baffling problems. No laboratory is needed, only the mind and the amazing power of pure thought.

What Einstein did, he did using tools available to all of us. He had no magic wand or secret subscription to Google. He used tools and methods available to everyone, the same books and research journals available to all scientists of his day. His principal tools were a notepad, a pen and pencil. He thought and wrote and calculated, and out poured his extraordinary achievements.

What made Einstein tick? Intuition, unconventional thinking, love of the mysterious for sure, but one of the main things was Einstein’s imagination, and his approach to visualise the issues before him –  ‘thought problems,’ where he would paint a picture of the problem he was trying to sort out. His thought processes were very much about coming up with odd questions and visually thinking through their answers. His ability and courage to ask questions were just as revolutionary as his answers.

So how do we capture Einstein’s approach to seeing things others don’t, and crafting breakthrough ideas into our own everyday working lives, crafting new products and services to out think our competition? Here’s my Einstein disruptive thinking tool kit for entrepreneurs in his own words:

Imagination Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. The blokes over at Facebook, Apple and Google had all the smart computing skills and knowledge they needed to have successful careers in IT – along with tens of thousands of other techies. What makes Zuckerberg, Ives, Page and Brin household names is the fact they imagined – what if?…there was a better way to do things, and then they created it.

Look to the horizon and beyond the day-to-day I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. Einstein didn’t waste time detracted on mundane details, he wanted to wrestle with the big things that made a difference. Einstein struggled with dyslexia, and since words are a challenge, he used a non-verbal approach to thinking and learning – thought experiments, pictorial metaphors for the ideas he was trying to understand, the best example being Schrodinger’s cat. He created the first mind-map, and painted the big picture.

Never top questioning The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One of the most important questions an entrepreneur can ask is How can I make it better? Whether you offer a product or a service, improving it is the only way to attract new clients and retain existing ones. A good example of this are windshield wipers that speed up as it rains harder.

Same problems, new ways of thinking We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Traditional book publishers printed paperback books based solely on hardback titles that had lost momentum. Ian Ballantine created Bantam Books when he realised he was limiting his profit potential by sticking to the old way of thinking. He decided to produce original paperback titles for mass-market sales. Einstein’s thinking like this resembles the Blue Ocean Strategy model.

Intuition The only real valuable thing is intuition Einstein had to trust his intuition to move forward on anything. Trusting one’s gut has led to many of the C20th greatest advances. For example, in 1971, Gillette introduced the twin blade shaving system, with two blades instead of one. Twin blades give a closer shave because each blade performs a different function. The first blade pulls up the hair so that it is unable to retract into the skin before the second blade, set at a slightly different angle, cuts it off. The twin blades set off a still-ongoing competitive frenzy of multiplication in the shaving industry, and came from an instinct on how to improve the shave.

Strong, positive attitude Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. Einstein believed it took him ten years of thinking and effort to get to a point where he was satisfied with his final theory. He was restless to a point of perfection.

Willingness to try new things – and fail Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The continued evolution of Amazon’s Kindle – which has the reading capacity of 16 tonnes of paper – from its introduction in 2007, to the DX in 2009, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and now Kindle Paperwhite reflects this focus of continued reinvention, keep pushing the boundaries to keep ahead of the game.

Maintaining balance If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut. Notice Einstein didn’t put absolute amounts on each of his variables – he lived his life by constructing ‘what if’?’ formulas to look at relationships and variables. He knew getting the ingredients and then working out their relationship would lead to success. He also knew the formula was going to change. Whatever the ratio of x to y to z, entrepreneurs cannot forget y. And maybe z.

Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Einstein believed that to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. He was in good company: Da Vinci formed a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water: this enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves. Samuel Morse invented relay stations for telegraphic signals when observing relay stations for horses.

Prepare yourself for chance I never think of the future, it comes soon enough Einstein had particular strengths, an acute intuition that guided him to the fertile ideas and revealing experimental results he achieved. He had a characteristic tolerance and even delight in contradiction. He didn’t question willy-nilly, he simply refused to accept theories that weren’t borne out by work he had done himself.

Einstein tells me to think about what you’ve never thought about, but also to reflect that the most consequential ideas are often right under our noses, connected in some way to our current reality or view of the world.

For example, imagine a baby bottle and being told that it changes colour as the temperature of the milk changes. Why would that be useful? Because it would help to make sure that you don’t burn the baby with milk that is too hot. Now imagine you were asked the opposite question: How can we make sure not to burn a baby’s mouth with milk that is too hot? How long would it take you to come up with a colour-changing milk bottle? You might never arrive at the idea.

We all need to have new ideas, different ones, about what’s changing in our market, and how those changes could disrupt our business model. You also have to look at how your customers tastes and needs have and may change. Another of Einstein’s quotes provides great value to business: If you can’t explain an idea simply, you don’t understand it. Failure to concisely convey a business proposition is one of the main reasons why new products – seemingly a good idea to the inventor – don’t get the attention of customers as anticipated.

You also need to think about how you can disrupt yourself. For example, how many times have we been banging our heads against a wall for a long time with a particular problem? One of two things is true at this point, either we should keep banging our head and the wall will crumble soon, or we should do something different and hope things get better. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, perhaps it’s time to reflect upon that.

Einstein constantly lived in the future. When we talk about taking the time to reflect and ponder about the future and new ideas for our business, this is exactly what we have to do. In Einstein terms, we need to work on the business, not in the business.  But don’t just sit there and daydream, think and picture the alternate realities – realities where what you are doing today is completely different tomorrow, in order to go and find the revolution before it finds you.

The world isn’t waiting for you to get inspired, you have to inspire it, and at the same time don’t let your doubts sabotage your thinking – there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. We are all confined by the mental walls we build around ourselves, sometimes innovation starts with a critical decision to reinvent yourself and kick-start your business 2.0 – a moment of truth, flash of brilliance or the end result of a bout of determined reflection to make a difference. But whatever the trigger, take a leaf from Einstein’s play book: logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you everywhere.