Albert Einstein famously used thought experiments to consider abstract ideas. These were hypothetical situations that helped him to develop simple theories to explain the complex forces in our universe. His theory of special relativity came from considering what would happen if he were to chase a light beam. His understanding of gravity as a form of acceleration came from thinking about an elevator in freefall. Einstein used carefully constructed imaginary scenarios to test the boundaries of the latest thinking in his field. We can do the same for our organizations.
Thought experiments can be a great way to get unstuck, challenge assumptions, and consider the problem from another angle. The key is to fully immerse yourself in the scenario to fully adopt its unique opportunities and constraints. Once you’re immersed in that world, capture your new thoughts and ideas in a notepad or on a whiteboard as they come to you. Below are a few questions to help you begin to construct your own thought experiments.
Questions to create your own thought experiments
- We had all the time we need?
- We had unlimited resources?
- We had an unlimited budget? Or a budget of zero?
- We already knew how to solve this technical problem?
- Our competitor launched this product tomorrow?
- We lost every patent we have?
- We launch this product in India? Brazil? Tanzania?
Solving your current problem in these hypothetical environments exposes self-imposed constraints and trade-offs that would otherwise go unnoticed. It expands the field of view for resources, routes to market, and technical solutions. Most importantly, it gives you a fresh perspective on your best-in-class solutions. For knowledge workers there is nothing more valuable than new perspective on an old problem.
So give it a try today. Find a quiet place, take your biggest challenge and transport it into an imaginary world governed by different rules. This approach brought Einstein a Nobel Prize—just imagine what it could do for you!