Einstein And Combinatorial Play

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• Einstein’s genius traits included curiosity, having broad areas of interest (i.e. being a polymath), and a refusal to bow to convention.

• Einstein is known today as one of the 20th century’s most influential scientific thinkers, and was considered by many to be a genius in both mathematics and physics. He won the Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect, but he is best known today for his groundbreaking theory on relativity and his famous E=mc2 equation.

• Einstein coined his own term for the kind of playful, freeform connections he’d make between different topics and ideas: combinatorial play. By putting two unrelated ideas together to create something new, Einstein often solved problems, came up with creative new ideas or opened new avenues of thoughts to pursue.

• The game of “what if?” is another way to flex the curiosity muscle and bring freshness and novelty to conventional thinking. By running hypothetical situations and thought experiments in his mind, Einstein satisfied his thirst for learning and understanding, and accessed new insights that were beyond conventions at the time.

• Einstein was a polymath and had a broad range of interests, rather than one narrow focus. He played violin and piano, and had some of his best new ideas during play. This kind of broadmindedness and diversity of interest promotes intellectual agility and wide-ranging, flexible perspectives.

• Einstein was also non-conventional and worked independently, regardless of the established rules that surrounded him in early life. This allowed him to engage in truly independent ideas and contribute something entirely different to the field.

• We can see in Einstein’s case that non-linearity of thought, insatiable curiosity and a wide range of interests were not just helpful to his success, but essential. We can follow suit by freely engaging in interdisciplinary play and “what if?” games in the areas that grab our intense interest.

• Though conventions may occasionally be useful, the best territory to explore is that which is uncharted!

• To be more like Einstein, we can think of ways to break down artificial limits and categories in our own thinking, and blend concepts and ideas together freely—can you think of a way to combine two of your interests to produce a third, completely new idea?

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