It is widely agreed that the greatest physicist of all time was Albert Einstein. What is interesting is that, unlike many other physicists of his time, he was part of an extraordinary professional fellowship with three of his contemporaries.
Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli and Niels Bohr met up often and engaged in long, open and honest conversations about their work. In a large part, it was as a consequence of these dialogues that they each made the incredible scientific breakthroughs that marked their careers.
During their meetings they talked about ideas which later became the foundations of modern physics. They didn’t conduct these conversations in a conventional way, however. They met in what you could call a spirit of fellowship.
For example, they:
- treated each other as equals
- exchanged ideas without trying to change each other’s attitude or opinion
- did not argue, or interrupt each other and they listened closely to what each other had to say
- were honest, and felt free to say whatever was on their mind
This freedom to discuss without risk led to the breakthroughs that physicists today take for granted.
In contrast, their contemporaries wasted their careers arguing over nuances of opinion and promoting their own ideas as being better than any others.
They mistrusted their colleagues, covered up weaknesses and were reluctant to openly share their work. Many refused to discuss their thoughts about the problems because of fear of being labeled controversial by their colleagues. Others were afraid of being called ignorant. The majority of scientists of the time lived in an atmosphere of fear and politics. They produced nothing of significance.
Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs were a similar group, who called themselves the Four Vagabonds.
Einstein and Edison’s groups demonstrate the astounding power of collaborative thinking. The fact of the matter is that an advanced form of thinking takes place when there is an atmosphere of honest and open collaboration. Thinking can grow in this kind of situation. This idea is not new however.
This approach can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece. Socrates and his friends invented an approach to group discussions that they called Koinionia. In their context, they took the word to mean ‘spirit of fellowship’.
The thinking skills and mindset required to generate and advance ideas in this kind of collaborative way are, in part, different to individual thinking skills and attitudes.