Albert Einstein is one of the most intelligent minds the world has ever seen. His theories changed the way we view the universe, and his name is now synonymous with what it means to be a genius. He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921 and as an illustration of his importance, TIME magazine named him the person of the century in 1999.
But Einstein wasn’t always a genius. As a child, he was a late developer and only started speaking when three years old. After he graduated, he couldn’t find a job and almost gave up on his career in physics to become an insurance salesman. Imagine opening the door, and there is Albert Einstein selling you insurance. What a waste.
What did it take for Einstein to achieve genius status? How did he go from not even getting a job as a research assistant to become the world’s leading physicist in less than a decade? This piece will explore what it takes to become a genius through Einstein’s quotes and story.
Swiss patent office
‘If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking of solutions.’
After numerous rejections, Einstein eventually managed to secure a low-paying job as a patent cleric. The tasks he was set to do were very simple, which meant that he finished them easily and had plenty of time to think. It was during his time working at the patent office that he developed many of his groundbreaking theories.
1905 — Einstein’s miracle year
Einstein’s ideas profoundly changed the way we see the universe. In a single year, called his miracle year, he published four revolutionary articles.
The first article answered the question: ‘What is light?’. In the second, he described the existence of atoms and calculated their size. The third article brought his famous equation E=mc^2. It explains how energy can become matter and matter can become energy. His fourth article explained the theory of relativity.
Einstein was completely unknown, and for four months, he didn’t even get a reply. Then, Max Planck saw his work and immediately recognised its importance. Einstein, who couldn’t even get a job as an assistant teacher, had written four of the most important articles in the history of physics.
‘I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.’
Einstein’s breakthrough was sudden but was a result of his childlike sense of wonder and curiosity. He was always asking himself why things were as they were, much to the annoyance of his teachers. Einstein wanted to completely understand how things worked, down to their very atoms, which he later explained the existence of in one of his articles.
His ambition to understand everything was immense. His life’s goal was no less than to capture the beauty, the power and the majesty of the universe, into a single equation.
‘The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.’
Einstein overturned the ideas held of the universe for hundreds of years. Rather than just accepting things as they were, he questioned the current knowledge in his search to understand and possibly advance it.
If Einstein had accepted things as they were, he would probably have gotten better grades and attained a position as a teacher. Instead, he chose to question and challenge his teacher’s authority, rather than accept it for truth.
It was a recommendation letter from one of Einstein’s professors that prevented him from getting work as a teacher, rather than his inadequacy as a physicist. In the letter, Einstein was described as someone who lacked respect for authority and who was unwilling to accept current knowledge.
‘Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.’
Challenge current thinking
‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’
Isaac Newton was the founder of modern science, and his theories were followed religiously until Einstein came along. But as Einstein tried to understand Newton’s laws, he figured they couldn’t quite explain reality as he experienced it.
‘To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.’
Over a 15-year period, Einstein perfected his theory of relativity, which tried to explain how everything in the universe works. His new theory gave better predictions of planetary orbits around the sun and a more nuanced explanation of how gravitational forces work.
It is important to remember that our current best understanding of how things work does not equal the truth. At a later point, someone else may come up with an even more exact explanation than Einstein, and we will again advance our understanding of the universe.
‘How do we think well? It’s when we sit quietly, staring out the window and have blocks of time when nothing else is happening.’
Einstein’s superpower was his remarkable ability to sit still and just think about a problem. For hours, for days, even years. This monotony and solitude stimulate the creative mind, which will be much more focused on figuring out an answer, than if it has a thousand other things to worry about.
‘I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.’
This sort of deep thinking is becoming more and more rare. In a world full of input, our minds are constantly distracted, which means that we never have time to focus on deeper problems.
If you want to deeply develop your thinking on an issue, it is beneficial to seek a quiet place, where nothing can disturb you. Stimulating the mind by taking walks in nature is perfect when you take breaks.
‘Most teachers waste their time by asking questions that are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning is to discover what the pupil does know or is capable of knowing.’
Einstein was a pronounced critic of the current educational system and viewed it as poor at developing bright, critical minds. He felt that it rewarded those that could repeat what had already been said, rather than those who would think for themselves.
Einstein thought that imagination and creative thinking was much more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited and will change over time, whereas imagination has no limit.
‘Student: Dr Einstein, aren’t these the same questions as last year’s (physics) final exam? Dr Einstein: Yes, but this year the answers are different.’
‘The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.’
Einstein believed that everyone could become a genius if they put in the work. It’s mostly about putting in the required effort to understand something. Eventually, everyone can get there.
‘Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.’
It’s also a misconception that a genius has to be a mathematician or a physicist. Being a genius means that you have an extreme talent for something and can be achieved in any area of life. You can become a genius at anything, in chess, cooking, swimming or gardening.
‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.’
Take home message
- Einstein was always curious and tried to get to the bottom of how something worked.
- He questioned current knowledge and challenged it to get closer to the ‘truth’.
- A quiet setting is the best environment if you want to think deeply about a problem.
- Einstein was critical of the current education system and thought it produces students who can repeat answers rather than think independently.
- Anyone can become a genius. It’s all about putting in the necessary work and believing that it’s possible.
Thanks for reading, sharing and following! :)
If you liked this article, you may also enjoy:
Ultralearning — A Proven Method to Drastically Improve Your Skill Learning
A fast and intense way to develop any skill.
Pablo Picasso’s 5 Secrets to Become A Creative Genius
Skill development expert profile — Pablo Picasso