In creative legend, the eureka moment comes like a lightning bolt out of nowhere. These lightning flashes of insight are a pseudo-mystical moment, available only to gods and geniuses. But eureka moments are not so simple, and not so rare. Everyone experiences moments of sudden insight and understanding. Simply understanding a joke's punch line after a moment of hesitation is a sort of eureka moment, as the mind reorganizes its connections to align with the surprising, unexpected change.
Now, this doesn't mean that everyone can go around suddenly changing and disrupting the course of technology and society without deep understanding first. The major eureka moments of history, such as Isaac Newton suddenly finding his theory of gravity while lying under an apple tree, always seem to happen to people who are already immensely skilled in their field, and that's no coincidence.
To create eureka moments of world-changing innovation and creativity, you must first understand the subject in depth. Then, once your mind is overflowing with information, take a break and let your mind subconsciously work through information and problems without you interfering with your overly-linear conscious thought. Cycle between knowledge gathering and knowledge processing and the eureka moment will come.
"Eureka stories are a compression of decades and decades of work into one inspirational moment."
- Anna Marie Roos, science historian.
Genius and talent are not born. Genius and talent are created through a lifetime of learning and practice. Einstein didn't come up with the theory of relativity out of nowhere, he spent years of his life deeply involved in math and physics, learning and understanding everything he could about the subject that was already known. He could not have done what he did without 3000 years of human knowledge behind him.
Every eureka moment, whether small or large, comes first from sufficient knowledge and understanding. The level of knowledge required varies greatly. Understanding a joke might take no more than the knowledge you already have. Solving a difficult math problem might take a few hours of study. And creating innovative technological change might take years of learning before the eureka moment finally comes.
The first step in creativity and innovation is the development of your skills. If you want to be the next Newton or Einstein, you better buckle down and learn about physics. If you want to be the next Bills Gates or Elon Musk, you better learn all you can about tech and business. Your appetite for knowledge should be insatiable. Creative innovation requires knowing enough to know where to go next.
"If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook."
- Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
Simply reading about your subject is not enough for a eureka moment, and getting too caught up in specialized knowledge can actually hurt your ability to create something new if you're not careful. To create eureka moments you must know your subject well without losing yourself too deeply in it, without trapping yourself in other people's ideas of what is and isn't possible. You must be open to a wide range of new ideas and subject matter, finding connections and patterns that will help spark your creativity.
Study the problem in depth but don't be afraid to simply start working on the problem as soon as you begin to understand. Not only will you learn more by working through the problem, you'll find creative, innovative connections that would never have surfaced with research alone.
Keep your mind open beyond your own field. Some of the smartest entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists ruin their ability to think creatively by over-specializing, by trapping themselves in such a narrow stream of knowledge that they can no longer see the big picture. Read widely and often. Pay attention to the world around you, and talk to other people about what you're doing, forcing yourself to put problems into layman's language, giving people with less knowledge an opportunity to point out issues you had long since forgotten to question.
"Without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things."
- Bertrand Russel, philosopher.
The power of idleness to create sudden insights has a long history. 2000 years before that legendary apple fell on Isaac Newton's head, leading him to his theory of gravity, the Greek mathematician Archimedes solved a difficult problem for his king while lounging in his bath. He already knew the fundamentals of the problem, but the switch of scenery gave him the sudden creative insight and connection he needed to finally break the analytical dam.
Once your mind is bursting with information, take a step back from your work. Distract your conscious mind with simple, uninhibited tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, and other busywork. Or take advantage of the proven power of nature (scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/) to keep the mind quietly occupied so that your subconscious can sort and organize the piles of information you've been consciously working so hard on.
"There is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don't use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return."
- Marcus Aurelius, 2nd century Roman emperor.
Whatever you do to get away from your overwhelming and overflowing work, don't just distract yourself with more information, especially on the mindless scrolls of social media and the internet. If you've done things right you shouldn't need any more information to break through the problem, just time to sort through that information properly. Inundation from the social media hive mind isn't going to help with that.
If you're lucky, after putting in the miles to get to your innovative insight, your eureka moment will finally come when you take that moment away from your work. But if it doesn't, return to work and fill your mind with even more information, and continue to cycle back and forth through mental exertion and idleness until the eureka finally comes. Each session of work will give you more information to add to the puzzle, and each break will give your mind the time it needs to process that information. Leave your mind open for new information and new connections and let it wander itself to that creative eureka moment.
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