How to think like Einstein – (17 different ways)


This is a living and breathing blog post. Check back from time to time to see new additions. Also, if you like this blog post, visit the related blog posts suggested at the bottom.

This post started as quoted material of eight bullet points, but over time, as I learn more about this subject, I have added supporting comments.

If you would like to see the original list, visit The Ghetty.

1. Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspectives

  • Leonardo da Vinci believed that, to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. He felt that the first way he looked at a problem was too biased. Often, the problem itself is reconstructed and becomes a new one.
  • This blog’s original name is Multispective. It means, thinking about something from multiple perspectives. Having a word to describe this thought process is important if we want this habit to become part of our cultures.

2. Visualize!

  • When Einstein thought through a problem, he always found it necessary to formulate his subject in as many different ways as possible, including using diagrams. He visualized solutions, and believed that words and numbers as such did not play a significant role in his thinking process.
  • Einstein struggled with dyslexia. Since words are a challenge, he used a non-verbal approach to thinking and learning .
  • Today, there’s at least one non-profit education organization teaching math in a non-verbal way (visually). The following video about The MIND Research Institute’s presentation at the TED conference shows a good example:

3. Produce! A distinguishing characteristic of genius is productivity.

  • Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents. He guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis found that the most respected scientists produced not only great works, but also many “bad” ones. They weren’t afraid to fail, or to produce mediocre in order to arrive at excellence.
  • Another examples of great productivity is Pablo Picasso
  • We think as we produce. Once we produce something we can evaluate it and use it as a springboard for additional ideas. Creating new things is like having an interactive, creative monologue that fuels productivity.
  • In art school artists learn to think this way. They learn to create work, put it up for group discussion and then elaborating on the new ideas that emerge. It’s a self-propelling creative cycle.

4. Make novel combinations. Combine, and recombine, ideas, images, and thoughts into different combinations no matter how unusual.

  • Combine ideas from one branch of knowledge with another. In this blog post we’re combining ideas from Cognitive Science, philosophy, creativity studies, art, physics, math, etc.
  • “The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based came from the Austrian monk Grego Mendel, who combined mathematics and biology to create a new science.”

5. Form relationships; make connections between dissimilar subjects.

  • “Da Vinci forced 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.”
  • This is closely related to metaphoric thinking (see #7 below).

6. Think in opposites.

  • Physicist Niels Bohr believed, that if you held opposites together, then you suspend your thought, and your mind moves to a new level. His ability to imagine light as both a particle and a wave led to his conception of the principle of complementarity. Suspending thought (logic) may allow your mind to create a new form.
  • Suspend the traditional lines of logic, ask “what if it was this other way?”

7. Think metaphorically.

  • Einstein used “thought experiments” as elaborate metaphors for the ideas he was trying to understand
  • Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, and believed that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts.
  • Physics lends itself well to metaphors. For example, the way liquids, sound and smoke behave.
  • Einstein may have used metaphoric thinking to theorize the way photons (light) moves across space.

8. Prepare yourself for chance.

  • Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. That is the first principle of creative accident. Failure can be productive only if we do not focus on it as an unproductive result. Instead: analyze the process, its components, and how you can change them, to arrive at other results. Do not ask the question “Why have I failed?”, but rather “What have I done?”
  • Productivity (#3 above) and chance go hand and hand. We all know these breakthroughs as “happy accidents”

9. Study philosophy.

  • Einstein studied philosophy and it influenced the way he thought. He read Kant when he was 13 years old. Kant was deeply aware of the relativity of clock time. He lived in an area where different time zones came together.

10. Remain skeptical of your professors and other experts

  • Einstein sometimes showed a high degree of skepticism towards processed knowledge. Always allow for the possibility that we may have missed something or at least allow flexibility for the effects that time and change have in everything.

11. Stay with the problem longer

  • Einstein said that he was not smarter but that he stayed with problems longer. I believe it took him over 10 years to get a breakthrough on some of his key ideas.

12. Imagine yourself as being part the problem you want to solve.

  • Einstein came to some great insights about time by imagining that he was riding a beam of light through space.

13. Not all innovative ideas are necessarily 100% “good”. Any idea or innovation that can be used for the benefit of people may also be used against them.

  • Einstein’s breakthroughs in energy could be used to power cities and benefit society. But as we learned, the same ideas could also be used to kill thousands of people. It’s important to understand multiple possible applications of your ideas before you make them public. Einstein understood this. But it’s unclear to me if he understood this when he first proposed his theories.

14. Discuss ideas with other bright people to gain a more robust insight.

  • Einstein would discuss his ideas with colleagues and friends who were also experts in the subjects he cared about. His first wife studied along with Einstein early on and she was well-versed in the same subjects. She is very likely to have contributed insights that moved his ideas forward.

15. Immerse yourself in the newest ideas from others.

  • Einstein worked as a patent clerk. He was one of the fist people to read many of the newest ideas submitted for patent protection by the brightest minds of his time.

16. Einstein believed in patterns (this needs to be verified)

  • Einstein believed in physical patterns of repetition. Even when he had no evidence to prove it, he theorized about patterns of repetition in the universe.

17. Feel the problem with your body

  • Einstein was able to link the concept of gravity with speed because of the way these two forces feel on the body

18. Think with your muscles

  • (This is probably the hardest thought process to understand.) Einstein is documented as saying that he flexed different muscles to code thoughts and ideas.
  • (If you have are familiar with this thought process, or have read about it somewhere, please add a comment or contact me. It’s hard to find data and research material about this).
  • This though process may be related to what cognitive psychologists calls “Emdobied Cognition” and this article may provide related insight.

Daniel Montano


Original Source

  1. The Getty >>

Related in this blog

  1. “How to think like Henri Poincare”>>
  2. “From embodied cognition to embodied metaphor?” >>

Related Elsewhere

  1. How to think like a computer scientist >>
  2. >>
  3. 7 Common Habits of Genius >>
  4. Types of Thinking >>
  5. Inc. Magazine online – “5 Things That Really Smart People Do”

Related books

  1. How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius
  2. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day
  3. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
  4. The Thought Processes, Habits and Philosophies of the Great Ones, 3rd Edition

How to Think Like Einstein

Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Mind

The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences [Paperback]
Brewster Ghiselin

“This unique anthology brings together material from 38 well-known writers, artists, and scientists who attempt to describe the process by which original ideas come to them. Contributors include Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amy Lowell, Rudyard Kipling, Max Ernst, Katherine Anne Porter, Henry Miller, Carl Gustav Jung, Mary Wigman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Henri Poincaré and many others.”

Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step

Six Thinking Hats

Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking Paperback

A Whole New Mind

The Art of Innovation: Success Through Innovation the IDEO Way Paperback

Are Your Lights On?


10 thoughts on “How to think like Einstein – (17 different ways)

  1. kaller

    You didn’t mention that you have to be exceptionally bright and gifted and very hard working in your area of expertise. He was a slow thinker, not a quick-smart type. Its like a river, slower but much deeper. Einstein was a blithering idiot outside of his specialty. He couldn’t figure out women and used completely the wrong thinking with them. He also advocated a single world government run by America, an idea of ridiculous naivety that even elementary logic should have exposed as deeply flawed. It is also well known that he poor understanding of mathematics held back his progress, but he had the good sense to hold discussions with good mathematicians and other bright people.

  2. Philip

    haha thats funny im a slow thinker too.i LOVE maths and physics and have been studying them since i can remember but at school i was never good at them (not even now).However all of my teachers tell me that im very good at talking about various serious subjects and have ggreat ideas….

  3. Daniel
    I have found both history/myth and philosophy useful in expanding/broadening my mind and then giving me a larger zone of freedom to view, interpret, think… The other aspects an avid interest in the phenomenon under investigation along with intimate feel through grappling with / experiencing the phenomenon. And then time/conversation/experimentation to allow the creative process to unfold and generate Aha’s.


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