What if our light bulb moments are more than standalone events?

When the big idea hits – your light bulb moment – it’s often described as being a bolt from the blue.

Something unexpected. Something brilliant.

So, it’s no wonder that you may feel pressure for a major fireworks display when it comes to finding your next business idea. Or deciding how to go about making a career change. Or searching for your true purpose in life.

It’s common to think, that in order to succeed, our idea / our purpose / our main reason for existing needs to be big and bright, and that it needs to come to us in a flash. Otherwise it might not be good enough. And the doubt creeps in.

But the reality is that our light bulb moments are more than just one big idea unexpectedly exploding into reality. They’re actually the culmination of many mini illuminations over time. Inferences and influences that build upon each other, until the time is optimal for them to be released in a coherent form.

In his Ted Talk about where good ideas come from, Steven Johnson refers to ideas as “things cobbled together from whatever parts happen to be around nearby”.

So, every passing thought, experience, conversation and interaction you have can add fuel to the fire of a big idea. They can feed your little flickering candle wick, helping it grow, so it can slowly shed more and more light in the darkness.

The concept of the big idea as a light bulb moment hails back to Thomas Edison’s invention. But the reality is that Edison failed copious amounts of times before he came up with the perfect formula. And all along the way, he made notes and talked to people, he tested and practised, he explored and he discovered. And not every experiment was an outright failure, but it took a while to get things ‘just’ right.

So, how do we get comfortable with this idea of growing our ideas over time?

Dieter Rams, iconic designer for both Braun and Vitsoe, suggested giving ideas room to percolate.

Visit them, then leave them be, then come back to them in time. By way of example, Dieter’s bright idea for an innovative shelving and storage system was first explored in a 1955 interiors sketch for Braun. That was 4 years before he started actually designing the units for Vitsoe.

During the 2016 Do Lectures in Wales, I heard Rhys Newman (co-founder and CEO of Omata) describe the design process for their analog GPS cycle speedometer.

The concept for this beautiful product first came together in bits and pieces as a side-project, whilst they were working on other things in their day jobs. It started way back in 2009, with a thought about the speed of human cognition and how it connects with optimum cycling speed.

Rhys’ advice is similar to Dieter’s – “create the right conditions to nurture creativity”. In other words, create an environment which turns up the dimmer switch for your ideas.

And what if that big idea of ours turns out to be a bad idea?

Nick Cave has some great advice about protecting tiny ideas while you determine their worth. It’s well worth considering:

“To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all, because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it.

Sometimes this idea can be the smallest thing in the world, a little flame that you hunch over and cup with your hand and pray will not be extinguished by all the storm that howls about it.

If you can hold on to that flame, great things can be constructed around it that are massive and powerful and world changing – all held up by the tiniest of ideas.”

Nick Cave

What if you accept that your eureka moment actually starts way before it happens? Would you be more open to the seeds of opportunity that each candle flame of connection offers? Would you put more effort into noticing, capturing and preserving the little moments of incandescence that light your way every day?

Those sparks may be in the form of something you’ve read, something you’ve seen or someone you’ve met. Gather them up for future use, and then give them the space they need to breathe and grow whilst you’re getting on with your other tasks at hand.

You don’t need to know the whole story to move forward, so start before you’re ready. Before you even know what you’re really doing. Practice being more cognisant of your surroundings. Because what you encounter in life can unexpectedly kindle inspiration or passion in you. And might result in a light bulb moment or two.

If you’re open to it. :)

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