Be Like Einstein—Innovate with Metaphors

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Albert Einstein was a person that few could hope to assimilate or emulate. His scientific principles were so advanced that few ever consider that their process of innovation could hold a candle to his scientific methods. Yet, Einstein used creative skills to advance the sciences far more often than people realized.

One of his favorite forms of exploration was the development of metaphorical scenarios. By creating an allegorical or symbolic construct, or imaginary world, he was able to test abstract ideas. Einstein actually created these imaginary worlds that were disassociated with facts, numbers, and natural rules to free himself from the objective and play with ideas from a subjective perspective.

This process helped him to solve many problems because “reality” never got in his way. One time he pictured himself as a two-dimensional being, which led to his experimentation and exploration of infinity. Another time he imagined finding his love with all its related experiences before ever meeting her, which drove his contemplation on causality. Another mental picture included him riding a light beam, at the speed of light, while holding a mirror in an attempt to see his reflection, which can’t be done because the reflection would have to travel faster than the speed of light to be seen.

Einstein’s theory on general relativity was birthed using this creative process. His theory basically stated that the nature of situations depends on the orientation of the observer. In other words, by changing our perspective, we can immediately open our possibilities to innovation.

The process of innovation using metaphorical scenarios includes five steps of play. Yes, play. That means what I’m sharing are guidelines that can be altered. The rules are not rigid to be strictly followed for success. Creativity is very personal, as it draws from everything we have to offer that resides deep within our heart and mind.


To construct the metaphor that will bring a solution to bear requires make-believe. We have to picture the problem in our mind. The idea is to see it from multiple perspectives. I like to pretend I’m an old woman exploring the problem followed by looking at things through the eyes of a preschool boy.

Let’s say I’m trying to figure out how to get my podcast out to more people. My first step is to picture that podcast from various angles. Maybe I contemplate what it looks like while I’m recording it, or after it is uploaded to its current site. Or maybe I picture the idea phase where I try to figure out what creative process I think the audience might need this week.


This next step is the hardest for most people because the idea is to define the heart of the problem, not the problem. I like to think and ponder over the essence or the perception of the problem, getting a feel for what needs to be addressed.

The problem of getting my podcast to more listeners might be a problem of public relations, advertising, or developing better content that causes people to talk about the show around the water cooler. In this case, I believe the essence of the issue is the number of steps required for entry. Audiences don’t like to pay for a show that they are unfamiliar with, especially when competitive podcasters give their show away for free to increase the sales of their courses, speaking engagements, and book sales.


At this point, I forget about the direct issue and consider an imaginary circumstance with the same essence as my problem. This takes the form of a made-up scenario or story—a fairy tale.

Let’s say there is a spy that has information during the cold war, or something similar in the country of Zorka, that could save lives. A dictator, who desires to control the minds of the people, publishes a renegade newspaper that appears to be opposed to him and distributes it for free as an underground paper.

When the people read the paper, they unknowingly read strawman articles and start to sympathize with the dictator who is “working hard on behalf of the people.” But the spy has proof to expose the truth and help the people join forces to take down the dictator.


When we work on the make-believe scenario and try to fix the problem, our mind goes off in many directions of exploration without any pressure. The lack of pressure increases our ability to brainstorm and come up with numerous possible solutions. Our unhampered mind is free to explore limitless ideas.

I might consider the spy finding a printing press and publishing a competitive paper that shows the other side of the issues. Or, maybe I find an open radio frequency to broadcast the information and start handing out receivers that only get that frequency. The spy could also find a financial angle to donate funds to advertise opposing views in the marketplace.

The ideas go on and on. At first, most of the ideas seem logical. However, the more you play and learn to let go, the more creative the ideas become. For instance, maybe the spy puts on a circus where each act presents a portion of a message that the audience can decode by the end of the show. The goal is to consider all kinds of fun possibilities.


Somewhere in the unencumbered playfulness, a real idea emerges. The essence of this real idea will translate to the real-life problem that must be solved. In this case, I’ll say that the decoded circus message is the one that will lead to my podcast solution. My goal is to translate the silly idea into my actual reality. So, here goes…

I will start salting into all of my content, coded messages that will increase employee’s ability to innovate, which will lead to business success. When the people find the secrets to success that I’ve layered into the content, they will be able to use the information at work, gain recognition for their ideas, and tell everyone they know about my podcast.

At this point, I have the start of a new imaginative idea that needs to be fleshed out in the real world. I’ve taken advantage of the metaphorical process to help me come up with the idea of salting in secrets to success in all my messages. My next steps will be to figure out how the specifics can be handled to make it a reality.

The key is recognizing that the salting in of secret success messages in each shared content would never have popped into my mind without first playing in the spy’s world. And, by exploring his scenario and trying to get the truth out about his circumstances, I now have a handle on what needs to be done. My new goal is to get the truth about creativity out to the business world so individuals can innovate.

© 2019 by CJ Powers


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