My thoughts and ideas last week were mainly centered around how beneficial exercise is to brain function and how that brain function can help you be successful in your career. However, running in the undercurrent of that post was the beginnings of a deeper discussion. A discussion about how we connect ideas to arrive at our lightbulb moment.
The Ah Ha!
It’s an awesome feeling. It rushes over us like a wave of positivity. We have discovered something that we were blind to before. I think it is something that we should all strive for, having as many of these moments as possible.
The issue is, it seems to me, that there is a cultural and normative mindset about these moments. They are shown in movies as these critical points that happen in a moment of great wisdom or insight. While I do agree that it does feel like that. The lightbulb goes off and we internalize some new idea in an instant. What gets left behind is all of the work that happens before and up to that point.
While it may not seem like work, (I mean it just popped into our brain right?) it certainly is.
Every day we are learning, communicating, becoming better. This build-up of experience and knowledge is compounded over our lives. It takes a lot of work to internalize a body of knowledge throughout a lifetime. That work is where the Ah Ha moments begin to materialize. They sit in our mind, not ready to reveal themselves until that special point in the future when they break through.
This is all going on in the background, underneath our regular thoughts, these connections are being made. When enough of the connections connect with each other and the topic is something we are interested in, our eyes are open and boom, the moment happens.
I once heard a story about Pablo Piccaso, I can’t remember the source of this story or vouch for the accuracy, but it illustrates the point about how this knowledge builds up.
So, as Mr. Piccaso was advancing in his life into his later years he was sitting one day at a coffee shop. He was enjoying himself doodling on a napkin. He finished his coffee and cleaned up his table, napkin included. When he went to throw it all away a woman approached him. She was watching him across the cafe and asked him if she could have the napkin he was about to throw away. She even offered to pay him for it. Piccaso said sure, $20,000. The woman couldn’t believe it. She said, but it only took you 2 minutes to draw it. That’s when Piccaso said, No ma’am this took me 60 years to draw. He then put the napkin in his pocket and left.
While there is no Ah Ha moment in this story, (well maybe there is for the woman there is) it illustrates how powerful the compounding effect of work is.
So, what is the connection? How does a lifetime of learning connect to these one-off moments of epiphany?
Well, the knowledge we accumulate day after day becomes the pool of information that we subconsciously draw upon all the time. We may not be aware of it happening but it is there, working away for us under the surface. As the pool gets wider, then deeper, our brain is figuring out a way to connect it all together. When these ideas fully connect we have the lightbulb moment. These moments of connecting ideas are valuable to us in many ways. They could be a business idea. They could be an understanding of a homework assignment that we were not getting before. They could be a new way of thinking that makes us a generally happier person.
Epiphanies are good. They improve our lives. They are fun. However, they take work, we need to fill the pool to give ourselves the best chance possible to grow these moments.
My outlook is simple, I believe that most people don’t fill their pool intentionally. Their experiences come to them because they are a passenger on the train of life. Therefore their Ah-Ha moments are not that profound or interesting to them.
I am not going to leave these moments up to chance, I am going to be driving the train. I want to increase the frequency (because you never know when one might be a million or billion dollar idea) as much as possible. Therefore, I must fill my pool of knowledge with the information I choose. I also must widen the edges AND dig out the deep end to make it the biggest pool I can.
So, again, I am going to proclaim to you my goal of reading. 2500 books in my lifetime, on topics I want to excel at. That way I will be steering my light bulb moments. I may not know when they are coming but I know they will.