The Manhattan Project, the top- secret U.S government e;ort that produced the ;rst atomic bomb and
hastened the end of World War II, started
with a letter from the most recognized
scientist in the world to the most powerful man in the world.
On Aug. 2, 1939, Albert Einstein wrote
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to
say that “the element uranium may be
turned into a new and important source
The letter also suggested that
through this new source of energy “it is
conceivable — though much less certain
— that extremely powerful bombs of a
new type may thus be constructed.”
Theoretical physics was beyond the
interest and aptitude of the 32nd presi-
dent of the United States.
But he knew enough to listen to
Einstein, who knew what he was talking
about. There was no reason to doubt
anything Einstein had written.
After a quick read, the president
turned to an assistant and said three
words, “This needs action.”
Einstein knew nothing about war.
He had no government role. He was
not infallible. Nevertheless, the physi-
cist’s opinion was worthy of Roosevelt’s
respect for three reasons:
1. Einstein had proven himself. By
1939, Einstein had published more
than 300 scienti;c papers, constructed innovative theories that explain
gravity, space and time and won the
Nobel Prize in physics. No physicist
had better credentials.
2. The advice he offered was within
his expertise. If Einstein had written
FDR about wartime price supports,
labor policy or battle;eld strategy, his
letter might have garnered no more
than a thank you. An opinion on the
potential application of a new energy
source was in his area of expertise.
3. He had a personal stake in the
matter. Einstein was a German Jew
who ;ed his homeland after Adolf
Hitler came to power in 1933. In writing the president, he o;ered an idea
that could bene;t and potentially
save the lives of those he loved.
FDR listened, and then he acted.
You are surrounded by experts
whose opinions deserve a hearing: the
purchasing manager who has been
pushing for new order minimums; the
service technician who thinks a new
scheduling arrangement would increase
e;ciencies and lower costs; the human
resources director who insists you need
a new approach to sta; training; an
outside consultant who recommends
abandoning several product lines in favor
of new, higher-margin work.
When associates, advisers and
employees have proven themselves, are
speaking within their areas of expertise
and have personal stakes in the out-
comes, you ought to pay attention.
Listen to your Einsteins. They are all
It Started With a Letter
Thoughts and Observations
From the Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
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