The Sweat that Eureka Demands

Serious about doing something innovative?  Be prepared to spend many long, focused hours working on it (and working and working and reworking…)

“We want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance,” Janet Rae-Dupree writes in the New York Times. But, “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.” 

“‘The most useful way to think of epiphany is as an occasional bonus of working on tough problems,’ explains Scott Berkun in his 2007 book, The Myths of Innovation. ‘The goal isn’t the magic moment: it’s the end result of a useful innovation.'”

The article also quotes Jim Marggraff, creator of an interactive world globe called the Odyssey Atlasphere, and the LeapPad reading platform for children, among others.  “The ‘aha’ moments grow out of hours of thought and study,” he says. “If you look at my innovations, there’s a common theme. I take something familiar, intuitive and ubiquitous, and recast it in a manner that will redefine its use to drive profound change.”


Edison, with an early phonograph Of course, which famous inventor explained this to us early in the 20th century?  Who else but Thomas Edison.  A bit of quick research gives us his famous quotein an expanded context:

“None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

(From a 1929 press conference, quoted by James D. Newton in Uncommon Friends; Newton knew Edison personally.)


In an interview in Harpers magazine, February 1890 (stay tuned here at Heart Of Innovation as we present the latest, greatest breakthroughs! ; ), Edison explained his method:

“I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable. … I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory.”

==== “Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work” (NYT, 2/3/08)

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