Imagine you have got a game-changing idea. You prototype it in your spare time and the demo get appreciated by a few people including a VP and a product manager. Then comes your performance appraisal and your boss rates you “above average”. He tells you the reason for the “above” part of the rating – it is because you got the Six Sigma certificate during the appraisal period. He doesn’t mention anything about your idea. Sounds surprising? Well, what happened here is similar to what happened to Einstein at Swiss Patent Office. The game-changing idea was that of “Special theory of relativity” and the certificate was the PhD degree from University of
In August 1900 Einstein was the only student among his friends to graduate and not get a job in spite of a respectable 4.91/6.00 average. He felt “I was suddenly abandoned by everyone standing at a loss on the threshold of life”. He had yet to publish any paper and had no credibility. After two short teaching stints in schools lasting a few months each, Einstein got called for an interview from Swiss Patent Office at
After two years, in September 1904, Einstein’s salary was revised from 3500 to 3900 francs when Haller wrote to Federal Council, Einstein had “proved himself very useful.” He should, however, remain class III rather than promoted to class II since, “he is not yet fully accustomed to matters of mechanical engineering”. The next revision happened in 1906 when his salary was increased by another 600 francs. Haller then wrote, “Einstein had continued to familiarize himself with the work, so that he handles very difficult patent applications with the greatest success and is one of the most valued experts in the office. He has acquired the title of Dr. Phil. from the
It is interesting to note that in the 1906 appraisal, the director did not even mention the three papers the young employee had published in the single issue of Annalen der Physik in 1905, his annus mirabilis – one important enough to take him to the history books (on Brownian motion), one which brought him the Noble prize sixteen years later (on photoelectric effect) and the third containing the outline of Special Theory of Relativity.
Moral of the story? If you have a game-changing idea, don’t expect to get “excellent” rating from your boss, at least not in the next appraisal cycle. Even by the turn of the decade (1910) there were only a handful of people in the world who had understood the impact of relativity. Einstein had to be extremely lucky to have a boss to be one of them.
What did the patent office job mean to Einstein? Three things: One – “Besides eight hours of work … eight hours of idleness plus a whole Sunday”, second, "He (Haller) taught me to express myself correctly", and third, what Einstein mentioned on his seventieth birthday, “It gave me the opportunity to think abut Physics. Moreover, a practical profession is a salvation for a man of my type; an academic career compels a young man to scientific production, and only strong characters can resist the temptation of superficial analysis”.
Source: Einstein: The life and times by Ronald Clark