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“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” —Galileo Galilei
Creativity is easy to spot in artists: the cubes and African masks constituting Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avigon, Stravinsky composing the Rite of Spring in a trance, Joyce effectively ending the modernist period with the publication of Ulysses.
Scientists also occasionally make the list: Archimedes stepping out of his bath (Eureka!), Newton’s apple (yes, a myth), Einstein’s flurry of inspiration. Creativity can be even harder to recognize in day-to-day work activities.
Let’s single out Einstein. What did he do in his annus mirabilis? He had no doctorate, no academic position, no laboratory, no assistants, no ready access to a good library; yet, from March 17 to Sept. 27, 1905, he published five papers1 in which he provided conclusive proof for the existence of atoms using viscosity and diffusion calculations, explained Brownian movement, laid the foundation of quantum theory, presented the special theory of relativity, and tossed off a three-page paper that at the end gave the world its most remarkable and quotable equation: E = mc2.
Einstein did all this with what he described as gedanken, or thought experiments. He looked at the world in a different way—and trained his mind to focus ever forward. We can all follow suit; we can train ourselves to look at things differently. Creativity can be learned and practiced both on an individual level and in organizations as a whole.