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.