Einstein and Picasso in R&D

By Smith, Roger | Research-Technology Management, September-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Einstein and Picasso in R&D


Smith, Roger, Research-Technology Management


On April 18, 1955, Albert Einstein, the world's most famous scientist, passed away. The mystique around his intelligence was so great that the doctor performing the autopsy gave special attention to the brain. In fact, Dr. Thomas Harvey removed Einstein's brain, weighed it, photographed it, dissected it, and preserved the pieces. These pieces have traveled the world to be studied by numerous scientists who are eager to find a connection between Einstein's unique intelligence and the physical structure of his brain.

But there was another genius contemporary to Einstein who received very little scientific scrutiny after his death. Pablo Picasso, born just two years after Einstein, changed the art world with Cubism and its influence on modern art. But when Picasso died, no one performed an autopsy on his brain. It was not dissected or studied to determine

what made him such an artistic genius. Why not? He was equally influential and brilliant in his own field.

Picasso's genius wasn't scientific, so he didn't capture the attention of the scientific world in the same way that Einstein did. But Picasso's artistic genius may be just as important to the effective operation of an R&D department as Einstein's scientific genius.

Multiple Intelligences

Genius comes in many forms. Howard Gardner (1983) suggests that there are multiple, unique forms of intelligence; he identified a total of eight "intelligences":

* Logical-Mathematical--scientific and technical talent;

* Verbal-Linguistic--the ability to use words and language effectively;

* Interpersonal--the ability to interact effectively with people and teams;

* Intrapersonal--self-reflective and self-understanding tendencies and talents;

* Visual-Spatial--imaginative and artistic talent;

* Bodily-Kinesthetic--physical talent and dexterity;

* Musical--the ability to create music; and

* Naturalistic--an ability to manage and relate to the natural world.

We all have some mix of these intelligences, while most of us balance several. The exceptional brain may express itself through math and science--as Einstein's did--but it may also excel in language, relationships, spiritual understanding, art, even physical abilities.

We tend to recognize most readily those geniuses who share our own intelligences. In the R&D department, we respect the logical-mathematical intelligence--and we may miss the value of other forms of intelligence. Is there a place for other forms of intelligence as well in the R&D lab? How would an R&D department built by Picasso differ from one built by Einstein?

Einstein's R&D Department

Einstein would almost certainly staff his R&D department with the smartest scientists and mathematicians. Colleagues like John von Neumann, Stanislaw Ulam, and Werner von Braun, all of whom showed their expertise in creating the atomic bomb and exploring new theories of physics, would be at the top of his recruitment list. Such a brilliant group would be the natural choices for an R&D department; surely, there would be no theoretical or technical problem they could not solve.

Einstein might also recognize the need for interpersonal skills in the managers who would oversee and organize the scientists. His experience at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies showed him that scientists could be very contentious, unwilling or unable to compromise without effective intermediation. With this in mind, Einstein the R&D architect might turn to someone like Robert Oppenheimer, who was a master at dealing with these kinds of personnel problems on the Manhattan Project.

With these two categories of skills accounted for, Einstein may well close the door to his department and set off to create new products for the likes of General Electric, General Motors, ALCOA, IBM, or AT&T. …

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