Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, a tiny physics primer from Carlos Rovelli, is a treasure. Not only does it make mind-bending science accessible to the novice, but it does so with precise and lovely language that invites contemplation.
Throughout the book, the author conveys a particular appreciation for Albert Einstein. Certainly, Rovelli is not the first to extol the virtues of Einstein's brilliance in his field. However, his attention to Einstein's (and other scientists’) process also unearths lessons about adversity, creative genius, and the long reach of legacy.
For example, Rovelli's explanation of relativity considers this excerpt from Einstein:
It seems to me that the observations associated with blackbody radiation, fluorescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light, and other related phenomena connected with the emission or transformation of light are more readily understood if one assumes that the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space. In accordance with the assumption to be considered here, the energy of a light ray spreading out from a point source is not continuously distributed over an increasing space but consists of a finite number of "energy quanta" which are localized at points in space, which move without dividing, and which can only be produced and absorbed as complete units. [-Albert Einstein]
Not only does this passage convey the scientific weight of Rovelli's project, but the analysis that follows is also a delight. Rovelli writes:
These simple and clear lines are the real birth certificate of quantum theory. Note the wonderful initial "It seems to me...," which recalls the "I think..." with which Darwin introduces in his notebooks the great idea that species evolve, or the "hesitation" spoken of by Faraday when introducing for the first time the revolutionary idea of magnetic fields. Genius hesitates.
Think for a moment about what this means for your own discipline.
If you are a leader, are you pushing the envelope far enough that it makes you hesitate? With what careful processes - akin to the scientific method - will you test your boldest ideas? Facing outward, who else do you see hesitating, and why? Is there genius in their pause? How can you support them in their own processes of creativity and validation?
There is a real tension here with the culture of modern work, where disruption, risk-taking, and a rapid rate of change rule the day. On the one hand, those fast-paced values deliver exciting opportunities and propel us towards the future. However, relentless speed can sacrifice nuance, lead to irresponsible decisions, and justify unethical means. Futher, it can obscure opportunities for the long-range, collaborative creativity needed to solve our most complex problems. It is imperative that each of us learn to navigate this tension in our professional lives.
Finally, lest you worry that an intentional pause will undermine your individual goals, consider this beautiful testimony from Rovelli on the lasting nature of Einstein's hesitating genius:
There are absolute masterpieces that move us intensely: Mozart's Requiem, Homer's Odyssey, the Sistine Chapel, King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty - and not only this, but the opening of our eyes to a new perspective upon the world. Einstein's jewel, the general theory of relativity, is a masterpiece of this order...As if by magic: as if a friend were whispering into my ear an extraordinary hidden truth, suddenly raising the veil of reality to disclose a simpler, deeper order. Ever since we discovered that Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top, we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us: every time we glimpse a new aspect of it, it is a deeply emotional experience. Another veil has fallen.
In fact, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this book is the fact that, in its very existence, Rovelli declares his love for his chosen field with a clarity that most of us only dream about.