Make Your Mind Faster than a Speeding Bullet
June 2021 | William A. Cohen, Ph.D., Major General, USAF, Ret.
Jerry Siegel and his friend Joe Shuster created the comic book character Superman. They first created a villain called Superman but he didn’t last long. The pair almost immediately switched and created a hero, also named Superman, and dropped the villain. The new hero Superman quickly developed into the incredibly popular character in comic strips, then on TV and in the movies we know today. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” is how they described their new creation.
Most Good Management Decisions Come from the Gut
Peter Drucker told his amazed students, of which I was one, that most good management decisions were made in a similar way, much faster than most imagined and from the gut, not through complex analyses. The Superman creators had done nothing. Rapid decision making is not a bad thing. Through prior observation and unconscious reasoning, the human mind can work with lightning speed and usually based on thousands of facts, observations, and experiences stored in the brain be on target with the right decision, as the new hero Superman turned out.
Drucker noted that his own theories came not from laboratory calculations or complicated equations and computers but through his observations of the management operations of consultant clients at their place of work, their own observations, and the laboratory of the mind. And like Superman, the villain, if there was an error made, it was usually obvious and corrected at once. “These are my laboratories” he said, “and they are all that are necessary.”
Einstein Publishes 4 Major Scientific Papers in One Year
Albert Einstein was an unknown employee at the Swiss patent office in Bern, in 1905. Although he had obtained an impressive PhD from the University of Zurich, he was passed over for promotion and the promotion given to someone else. Yet in this one single year, he wrote and published four major scientific papers without computers, lab assistants, or financial backing on his own initiative. He accomplished this by using methods like those noted by Drucker many years later in his PhD classroom in Claremont, California. In twelve short months, beginning on June 9, 1905, Einstein explained the theory of the photoelectric effect which no one could understand previously. It was for this that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Then a month later, on July 9th, he wrote and published a paper which explained Brownian motion. The summer was barely over when on September 26th, he introduced the Theory of Relativity, and finally on November 21st, he demonstrated mass-energy equivalence while developing his famous equation for defining energy E=MC². He confirmed the speed of light for good measure, which was folded into the relativity paper.
The Theory of Relativity was accomplished by Einstein’s imagining himself being astride a moving beam of light and noting what he would experience in comparison with one remaining behind. It and his formula for defining energy, E=MC², were derived not from computer calculations or even mathematical analysis, but through visualization techniques and imagination.
Einstein’s breakthrough theories were accomplished “faster than a speeding bullet.” Einstein became world famous for his accomplishments and in this one miracle year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for just the first time. He gained an immediate reputation as the world’s greatest theoretical physicist. He still wasn’t promoted, but I assume that he quit the patent office to assume the duties of what Drucker called “being a famous man”.
Einstein Writes and Explains it all in an Article Written in English
Einstein’s explanation of his abilities was in an article he wrote which appeared in the London Times. Drucker was only ten years old at the time it appeared in 1919 and he did not then know English. However, Drucker did refer to Einstein and the article, and he read it some years later after attaining adulthood. The article motivated me to examine the difference between synthetic and analytical research. To simplify some rather complex definitions, synthetic research starts with the known and proceeds to the unknown. A researcher starts with a hypothesis or hypotheses, maybe a single sentence written in the positive. He or she then tests this positive hypothesis to prove or disprove it usually by examination of a sufficient number of examples and testing mathematically for significant difference.
In contrast, analytical research starts with the unknown and proceeds to the known. There is no hypothesis. One definition of analytical research is “a specific type of research that involves critical thinking skills and the evaluation of facts and information relative to the research being conducted.” The analytical process is how both Einstein and Drucker arrived at their theories. Note however that the theories developed by these two geniuses did not start with hypotheses and their resulting theories did not evolve from the scientific method as it is commonly understood in doctoral studies. In this process many subjects are surveyed and analyzed through mathematical techniques and equations. Rather, Einstein and Drucker followed an analytical approach and a relatively simplistic model:
- Observation, either real or in Einstein’s case, (imagined in the case of relativity) imagery
- Analysis of what was observed
- Construction of theory based on these conclusions
Drucker’s Resulting Methodology and Thinking
Drucker empirically observed general properties of phenomena or through asking questions and their answers, had his clients do so. He did not start with synthetic mathematical formulae into which data was inserted to determine what was to be done but used his powers of observation and reasoning in determining theory and then further testing this theory as he saw it applied.
This is perhaps why, although Drucker claimed that he always began with his ignorance about any problem, that though he insisted on measurements and numbers when seeking to measure performance and progress, he largely ignored quantitative methods for developing theory and their application to strategy. Less clear was what this process was, stating only when queried as to his methods, that he listened, and then added humorously, in further explanation, “to himself”. It is probable that Drucker was speaking 100% accurately in this assertion. He listened to his own logical reasoning in developing theory or in applying the resulting theory for action by his clients. That he followed an established process was clear, and like Einstein, he did not conceal his methodologies. Though he described his procedures differently it is likely that their methods were very similar, even if they were not identical.
This important tool and Drucker’s thinking processes were a part of Drucker’s vast mental arsenal. It is especially important since he did not use models of mathematical analysis to arrive at his conclusions and recommendations. I cannot state the mathematical equations or his favorite methods of determining significant differences because there were none. Still, if we understand that the processes of his thinking were like Einstein’s, we may do the same in our problem solving and management decision making at lightning speed. Here are some tips:
- Train yourself to think, analyze, and come to conclusions quickly. Do this by making unimportant decisions quickly such as what movie to see or which tv show to watch, or what restaurant to go to until they become habit.
- Train yourself to come to conclusions based on little data, but much intuition and if all else fails, guess.
If you can’t get complete data in a timely fashion because of cost, time, or the data just not being available, estimate the missing information or quickly examine the impact if any figure is over or under the one you are thinking about using.
On the Apollo 13 mission when an oxygen tank exploded, Mission Commander Jim Lovell and others including Lovell’s fellow astronauts and NASA scientists on the ground made numerous decisions based on hunches, sparse data and educated guesses which ultimately brought them back to earth safely.
- Analyze outcomes in past experience, what went right and what went wrong? What will you do differently in the future?
Drucker made an erroneous prediction about the stock market based simply on the trend in 1929, just two weeks before the crash, but he never made this same mistake again.
- Analyze events that have already happened and what they mean for the future.
Drucker said it was far better to create the future rather than to attempt to predict it, but he also found in many cases it was easy just to “look out through the window” and note what had already happened to understand the inevitable results of what would happen in the future.
- Develop a standard analysis procedure. It’s much easier to have a standard procedure for your analysis and to plug in the variables than to create a brand new procedure to follow every time you’re trying to solve a problem.
- Follow what Drucker called “the four essentials”. Drucker’s four essentials were 1. relevant knowledge, 2. self-knowledge, 3. wisdom, and 4. leadership which always includes integrity (doing the harder right rather than the easier wrong) and social responsibility.
I do not know whether you will win a Nobel Prize or not by following the methods of Drucker and Einstein, but you never know!
* Syndicated internationally
Peter Drucker on Consulting: How to Apply Drucker’s Principles for Business Success (LID, 2016)
Consulting Drucker: Principles and Lessons from the World’s Leading Management Consultant (LID, 2018)