Monday, February 22, 2010

(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of mindset is what happened before Einstein came up with his theory of relativity. Newtonian physics says that if you are standing still and throw a ball with a certain force X, it will leave your hand at fifty kilometers per hour. Likewise, if you are standing on a train going sixty kilometers per hour, and you throw the ball with the same force X, it will leave your hand at one hundred ten kilometers per hour (fifty + sixty). In 1887, E.W. Morley and A.A. Michelson decided to measure the difference between the velocity of light as it is beamed with the speed of the rotation of the earth pushing it and as it is beamed perpendicular to the rotation of the earth. The idea was that the light beam that has the speed of the earth’s rotation behind it must be going faster than the light beam that does not have that incremental speed behind it. To their surprise, no difference was detected. The scientific community knew there was something was wrong with the way they did their experiment because you cannot violate the laws of physics. It perplexed scientists for years because they couldn’t find the error.

Is this so surprising? One possible explanation is that the earth is not rotating. “WHAT?” just went through your brain didn’t it? The certainty we have about the earth rotating is the same certainty those scientists had about Newtonian physics. They could not have contemplated the alternative.

Recognizing facts is essential to getting the problem right, but point of view can color the evidence and cause us to interpret the evidence in a way that’s consistent with our worldview. It is a phenomenon that has been noticed and written about repeatedly in business and psychology texts. It is often expressed as being too close to the problem and, thus, not able to see it clearly. Einstein said, “What does a fish know about the water it swims in?”

When Albert Einstein looked at the Michelson-Morely velocity of light results, he thought to himself, ’What if the results of the experiment are correct?’ What Einstein did was step back from the problem. If the evidence proved correct, that would mean Newtonian physics was wrong. This heresy opened the universe to a new point of view and changed physics forever.

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