Myth of Eureka Moments (Continued)

The most emailed business article on the New York Times web site today is titled "Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work." It might sound eerily familiar to loyal readers of this blog.

Excerpt from the NYT article:

As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.

Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time.

Compare that to this excerpt from my blog post last March:

…The myth of creativity is that it all happens in one, giant "Eureka!" moment.

You know the image: The idea comes to mind and you freeze. Its brilliance strikes you. It’s going to change the world! Tears start streaming down your face….I’ve got it! you say to yourself.

Yeah, right.

This myth makes some people think they aren’t capable of creativity because they never have earth shattering bursts of inspiration.


In fact, I would argue most eureka moments happen iteratively; that is, one small creative burst leads to another which leads to another and slowly you start to piece together a meaningful idea. A complete idea is a mosaic of bits and pieces — it’s not a brilliant painting done in one hour.

I was actually quoted in the NYT in September on this topic in an article on the risk of long-term plans:

“Yes, the light bulb goes off,” Mr. Casnocha said. “But it goes off several times, and changes color each time.”

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