Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”
According to Albert Einstein’s thinking, solving a problem you’ve created, requires a different mind. Then, the obvious answer lies in getting help from somebody else – thus a different mind. This is nothing new. You learned this principal at an early age – if you got a problem ask someone else for help.
However, here we are going to focus on only you and your mind. First, there may not always be someone available to ask and it can be very time consuming finding the person who knows a solution. Second, and most importantly, thinking through your problem expands your thinking and your mind. You will find that the more you do this, the quicker solutions to your problems come from your very own mind!
But in accord with Albert Einstein’s thinking this may seem inconsistent. Well yes, if you do the same thing and expect different results you may have reached one level of insanity, but here you need to use your mind from a fresh or different perspective.
At first this may sound like another way of saying “thinking outside the box.” But there is a big difference in looking at a problem from a “fresh perspective” (i.e. a “different mind”) and “thinking outside the box”.
“Thinking outside the box” is viewing something from a non typical accepted manner. Some of the best “thinking outside the box” comes from someone not familiar with the subject matter or even a child. English business tycoon Richard Branson is a great example of “thinking outside the box” (or maybe he’s just crazy…). Beyond his life threatening adventures, just using the same name for all his companies (Virgin Records, Virgin Communication, Virgin Atlantic, etc.) was not a typical approach.
Conventional thinking tends to limit the solutions, while “thinking outside the box” broadens the pool of possible solutions. So why not just “think outside box” all the time? Because there is often an element of risk associated with it. And conventional, typically accepted, thinking got to be so because it works!
Here are several ways you can help your mind think differently (but not necessarily outside the box) so that you can still follow Albert Einstein’s advice of solving your problem with a “different mind” and nudge your genius into action: :
1. Break patterns. You probably have found yourself walking or driving home only to jolt alert and wonder how you got there? You have traveled this road so many times that it is very familiar to you and you are able navigate it on “autopilot”. The same thing happens in your mind.
Your mind’s neural pathways are like roads connecting bits of information. You learn something by connecting the bits. Then you do it over and over until following that pathway becomes automatic, which enables you to effectively give a speech or swing a golf club.
Patterns are rarely easy to break, yet breaking a pattern is a splendid way to give you a “different mind” that helps you find a new solution to a recurring problem. Grocers entice us to overspend by stocking their stores in a pattern designed by shrewd marketing executives. But smart shoppers impose their own buying patterns, purchasing nonperishables first so their frozen foods won’t melt on the way home.
Break old thought patterns by trying new ways of doing a familiar task. Go to an unfamiliar coffee shop to brainstorm ideas, and you will discover fresh ideas and often new solutions.
2. Seek new patterns. The concept for today’s computers originated with hole-punch patterns used to weave ornate jacquard fabrics. On the huge early looms, holes punched in a paper pattern allowed hooks to penetrate and grab the thread at assigned positions, creating the intricate weave. Early census takers tweaked this pattern to create hole-punched cards, which recorded details about immigrants entering the United States. Later, IBM expanded this pattern to extraordinary levels.
Likewise, I use my nurse’s diagnosing pattern (assessment-diagnosis-intervention-evaluation) to successfully tackle issues in my business. This process of incorporating techniques and patterns from one discipline to creatively solve problems in another can result in ingenious solutions that might otherwise never occur.
3. Change a small action or behavior. Instead of going immediately to your computer when you get to the office, if that’s your habit, stop instead to write out a short list of what you want to accomplish. Then power up. Changing an action, even a small one, will often change your thought process. Shake up your internal genius and discover sensational new possibilities.
4. Challenge your obstacles. Let go of the notion that you don’t have enough time, energy, money or discipline to do what it takes to succeed. Ask yourself frequently, “What beliefs, ideas and activities are obstructing my progress? What must I change to abolish these obstacles?” My biggest obstacle is believing I don’t have enough time. When I challenge that thought I magically make more things happen.
5. Become your own other voice. Law school taught me to think on both sides of a problem, like boxers who anticipate an opponent’s every punch. The more you anticipate opposing ideas and their impact, the better you can strategize for success and avoid tactical blows. Successful attorneys spend as much time in the mind of their opponent as they do in their own. Whether it’s a career issue or a personal problem you’re resolving, practice being your own other voice.
6. Question every assumption. Another Einstein quote I like is, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Being the most computer-illiterate person in my office, I have no preconceived notions about what software can and cannot do. I think with an entirely different mind than our techs. Many times I ask them to make the software perform a certain way. After they tell me all their preconceived assumptions for why it can’t, I shrug and tell them to do it anyway. Two days later the software is usually working exactly as I envisioned. A questioning mind is more likely to get answers.
Beginning today, think about which mind you have working before you tackle a challenge. Your problems won’t disappear, and you may not find a solution instantly, but by keeping the possibilities in play, you allow your brain to easily hit upon a solution later. I’ve had to slip out of my yoga class to jot down ideas because I’ve had “Eureka!” moments in the middle of a pose. You may never think like Albert Einstein, but new patterns, new thinking and new behaviors will nudge the genius within you.