Before Einstein became a world-renowned scientist, he held a job as a patent officer where he reviewed applications for new inventions all day. The patent office was located by a train station with a giant clock tower and the combination of his work and the surroundings synthesized to give him an environment from which to launch his famous “thought experiments” that formed the basis for his revolutionary work.

Instead of being immersed in beakers in a lab as we often think of when science comes to mind, Einstein produced most of his work through hypotheticals and mathematical calculations to prove his point. He would imagine: “Suppose lightning bolts strike the trains track’s embankment at two distant places, A and B. If we declare that they struck simultaneously, what does that mean?” From this curiosity, he arrived at the principle of relativity to say “there is no way to decree that the embankment is ‘at rest’ and the train is ‘in motion.’ We can only say that they are in motion relative to each other.”

There are many examples of how Einstein thought through his theories through synchronized clocks or trains, light or sound. He learned much from his time in the patent office about new ways to think of ideas and how theoretical concepts were being applied in real-life situations.

Julia Child did not begin serious cooking until she found herself in France immersed in the rich cuisine. From there, she started lessons and later became acquainted with a duo of Parisians who enlisted her help with a cookbook. Like with Einstein, her surroundings shaped her thinking and, ultimately, her career path and legacy.

Be thoughtful about the environment in which find yourself. Routine aspects can fade into the background and go unnoticed. But trains and clocks, or in Julia’s case, beef bourguignon and crepes, may allow you to revolutionize your thinking if you pay attention.

Source: Einstein by Walter Isaacson

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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