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Great minds don’t think alike

Posted in the following categories: Creativity, Personal Development

There’s a story I love about Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.

The two men were intellectual rivals. They sharply disagreed about the uncertainty principle, which says that it’s impossible to determine both the exact position and the exact momentum of subatomic particles.

During the Solvay conferences on physics, which brought together the world’s most prominent physicists, Einstein would arrive at breakfast with a giant smile on his face. He would tell Bohr that he had come up with a thought experiment that showed why Bohr was wrong.

Bohr would consider Einstein’s challenge all day. By dinner, he would usually have an answer to put Einstein in his place. Einstein would then retreat to his hotel room and descend to breakfast the next day armed with a brand-new thought experiment.

This intellectual boxing was like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed sparring after hours at the gym—two giants, tuning the world out, testing their craft on each other, and growing stronger as a result.

Bohr and Einstein turned to each other to stress-test their opinions because they knew—despite the cliche—that great minds don’t think alike.

“The road to self-insight,” as psychologist David Dunning said, “runs through other people.” The one thing you can’t do, regardless of how brilliant you are, is to see what you can’t see—what lies in your blind spot. It often takes other people—with different life experiences and viewpoints—to see possibilities that you miss. From Renaissance Italy to Xerox PARC, diverse personalities and talents in one place create sparks that burn down obsolete ideas.

I have nothing to learn from someone who thinks exactly the way I do. Yet, we surround ourselves with our intellectual replicas. We befriend people who think like us. We follow media outlets that vibrate on our political frequency. We hire people who followed the same path that we did.

Opening your mind requires opening your door. If you’re Niels Bohr, who is your Albert Einstein lobbing thought experiments at you? If you’re Antonin Scalia, who’s your Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing a powerful dissent? If you’re Andre Agassi, who is your Pete Sampras to keep you on your toes with a powerful serve?

(Incidentally, this is why I created the Moonshot Mastermind—a small cohort of high-caliber leaders who don’t think alike, who come from different industries, and who can bring their wealth of experience to stress-test your ideas, challenge you, and help you see possibilities that you might miss. We’ll open enrollment for the next cohort of the Mastermind soon. If you’re interested, click here to submit an application and get on the waiting list).

The intellectual boxing between Einstein and Bohr continued until Einstein’s death. When Bohr himself died a few years later, he left behind a drawing on his blackboard. The drawing wasn’t a grand revelation or defense of his own ideas. Rather, it was a light-filled box—part of a thought experiment that Einstein had posed to challenge Bohr.

Until his final breath on earth, Bohr embraced Einstein’s challenges, believing them to make his ideas stronger, not weaker.

It’s only through a community of the unlike-minded that you’ll discover your own light-filled box—the guiding light that will illuminate what you can’t see on your own.

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