In January of 2005, I was in my second semester of the pre-med program at Columbia University. Pre-med means you must cover your basic sciences—chemistry, physics, biology, organic chemistry, etc. But 2005 was a special time to be studying science because it marked the 100th anniversary of what was known as Albert Einstein's "miracle year." The miracle year, or annus mirabilis as it was known then, was the year that Einstein published four landmark papers that would shape physics. From wiki

  1. The first paper explained the photoelectric effect, which established the energy of the light quanta and was the only specific discovery mentioned in the citation awarding Einstein the Nobel Prize in Physics.
  2. The second paper explained Brownian motion, which established the Einstein relation and led reluctant physicists to accept the existence of atoms.
  3. The third paper introduced Einstein's theory of special relativity, which established the universal constant speed of light for all reference frames and a theory of spacetime.
  4. The fourth, a consequence of the theory of special relativity, developed the principle of mass-energy equivalence, expressed in the famous equation and which led to the discovery and use of atomic energy.
Pre-med was a leap for me. After I got caught cheating in freshman science in high school (and had Saturday school to boot), I decided science wasn't for me. I'm not sure what flash of momentary insanity led me to throw myself into science at an ivy league institution surrounded by students who likely all thrived in AP science courses in high school. Maybe I romanticized sitting in the historic classroom used in the film Mona Lisa Smile (#lovedit), where Julia Roberts taught art, but in reality, it is the main chemistry hall at Columbia. Whatever it was, I found myself deep in it by 2005 and was forced to understand what Einstein was thinking in his annus mirabilis


The photoelectric effect is one of the earliest concepts you learn in studying both chemistry and physics. Within it is the idea of the wave-particle dualityWave-particle duality, possession by physical entities (such as light and electrons) of both wavelike and particle-like characteristics. On the basis of experimental evidence, German physicist Albert Einstein first showed (1905) that light, which had been considered a form of electromagnetic waves, must also be thought of as particle-like, localized in packets of discrete energy. 

Building off of his colleague's work, Einstein completely transformed the way we think of light. At first, thought to be a continuous wave of energy, it now had to be thought of not as just packets of discrete energy but as both a continuous wave and a discreet particle. It was this work that actually won Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921


A few years ago, I wrote about why I didn't believe the future is female. In that writing, I explored the concept of moving away from binary thinking in entrepreneurship and the economy in general. But there is one specific concept within the field of entrepreneurship that depends on us being able to transcend binary thinking, and that concept is visioning. Visioning is the act of identifying where we are going and what our company will become in the world. If you missed this lesson in the miniMBA, you can catch up here

Visioning, like light, contains dualities. A vision must be both static—painting a clear picture at a definitive point in the future—and dynamic—able to constantly change and regenerate. Most entrepreneurs get tripped up because they cannot accept this duality, so they forgo the static for the dynamic. There is an intoxication inherent in staying in the dynamic phase and never grounding yourself in the static practice.

There's also a fear. If we root ourselves in the dynamic phase, we're avoiding the confrontation of reality that comes with having actually to declare a vision. We can fool ourselves and avoid becoming vulnerable. But there's no growth without vulnerability. As the Indigo Girls said: 


Well, darkness has a hunger that's insatiable

And lightness has a call that's hard to hear

And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it

I'm crawling on your shores


On the other hand, the static practice pulls us out of the day-to-day and takes us from being reactive to a turbulent economy to being proactive about our impact on the world. It gives us space for exploration and ensures we're building a business that supports our life and that we're not building our life to support our business. It forces us to sink our ship of safety and to figure out if our reality is aligned with the reality of our culture, our leadership, and our operations. It is not just a wishful manifestation but a disciplined practice of confronting our own capabilities.  


And then, once that static moment is defined, you have to be open to change. You must take in the economy around you and, most importantly, the personal changes in your life. Your vision suddenly becomes dynamic. It is alive, ever adapting and regenerating. But you're no longer reactive. You have heard the call of lightness and embraced it—literally—holding the dualities. And this, too, can become your miracle year. 


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