Einstein: Finding the Primitive

Einstein was a genius in many regards but much less math (and everything else for that matter) than most people know — his ability to identify the irreducible minimum, the true primitive, and to cut through the noise and find real, meaningful signal is why we have all of his discoveries today.

How did he acquire such a skill? Apparently it was his first job as a patent clerk, as told in John Wheeler’s short biography:

In the view of many, the position of clerk of the Swiss patent office was no proper job at all, but it was the best job available to anyone with (Einstein’s) unpromising university record. He served in the Bern office for seven years, from June 23, 1902 to July 6, 1909. Every morning he faced his quote of patent applications. Those were the days when a patent application had to be accompanied by a working model. Over and above the applications and the models was the boss, a kind man, a strict man, a wise man. He gave strict instructions: explain very briefly, if possible in a single sentence, why the device will work or why it won’t; why the application should be granted or why it should be denied.

Day after day Einstein had to distill the central lesson out of objects of the greatest variety that man has power to invent. Who knows a more marvelous way to acquire a sense of what physics is and how it works? It is no wonder that Einstein always delighted in the machinery of the physical world—from the action of a compass needle to the meandering of a river, and from the perversities of a gyroscope to the drive of Flettner’s rotor ship.

Makes complete sense.

Someone asked me earlier this past week (I had a lot of these convos!) what job(s) I’d recommend when it comes to “learning entrepreneurship” — I said that if one wants to learn more about it then one should just do it: Be an entrepreneur by doing, not thinking and talking about it!

Apparently, this wasn’t the answer he was looking for so he asked again, this time for specific behaviors or “things to practice” — I told him that I was out of ideas beyond just trying it for oneself.

You see, entrepreneurship is nothing more than a muscle that you either use a lot or don’t, that’s it:

Einstein took his experience, his time practicing the fine art of distillation at the Patent Office (for 7+ years!!) and built himself a career making complex things very simple to understand.

Perhaps our own careers aren’t that difficult to build either — showing up, doing good work, can oftentimes be all that is necessary and essential.

Want to learn something new? Want to build a new and different career? It’s not as hard as it sounds, right?

Imagine that.