I grew up thinking Eureka moments were, as if by divine intervention, supposed to simply appear.
I learned however that nothing could be farther from the truth, at least in my case. What some call "vision" is actually nothing more than taking the time to connect the dots. In fact, it’s entirely possible to manufacture eureka moments by creating the right circumstances, and by simply being open and thoughtful about what I was already observing every day.
It’s ironic really, to think that creativity and inspiration could be explained as logical, or even worse, manipulated. But that’s my experience.
After 10 years of entrepreneurial work, I took a three month sabbatical and visited my best friend who was living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I sat on my friend’s sailboat with my laptop in hand, I was actually creating the conditions for a eureka moment.
Sailing the open ocean can quickly transform from relaxing to terrifying, and every new destination from an exploration into weeks of mind-numbing boredom—as it turns out, these were the perfect ingredients to manifest the "aha," or Eureka, moment! I just didn’t know it yet.
It was 2001, and blogging was just taking off, so I decided to give it a try. Little did I know that within days, I was going to literally write my future.
Given a blank sheet a paper, no deadline, and nothing in particular to write about, I found my keystrokes describing how devices lost their independent utility once networked and how a global lost and found (e.g. Find My iPhone) was actually an inevitability in a world where the un-networked device had no utility.
And that’s when it hit me, all of my ideas, many of which were seemingly disconnected thoughts, had one thing in common: they all lacked a universal notion of who I was on the Internet. The Internet lacked "identity."
And that’s how it happened, the birthing of Ping Identity, and the beginning of what could easily become a life-long journey to retrofit this thing we call the Internet with the notion of identity for billions of people, devices and connected devices.
When I tell the above story as I do, it’s not immediately obvious that there are some lessons or even a pragmatic way to think about manifesting the aha moment, but there are, and I’ve thought about them plenty throughout the years.
Here are a few tips to get inspired to strike and find your Eureka moment.
Slowing down to find whitespace in today’s fast paced, non-stop, all consuming world is easier said than done. That’s especially true now that mobile phones have found their way into every corner of the globe. Getting away, out of your normal routine and disconnected from the daily grind doesn’t just happen anymore; you’ve got to be purposeful about it. You've got to seek out quiet spaces.
Get outside the bubble
If you think about it, we live the bulk of our lives in a bubble, moving temporarily from one to the next. Each bubble personalized for our comfort and familiarity, by design. Home, car, office, car, home, repeat. By design, there’s nothing particularly stimulating about them, even if we build them to foster "creativity," they’re still stagnant, and as such, will only temporarily stimulate a new perspective. As I like to tell my children, everything interesting in life happens when you get outside the bubbles.
Extend today’s observations into the future
This last step is perhaps where the magic happens, but note that the degree to which you succeed here is largely predicated upon your ability to 1. Slow down (create whitespace) and 2. View problems from a new perspective.
The trick is to take a simple observation or trend and mentally extend it out in some fashion into the future. My simple observation was that networking was a one-way street. Devices are driven to network to gain utility and efficiency, and once networked, never "un-network." Drawing from this observation and projecting it out into the future, it’s logical to surmise that if all devices are driven to network, and once networked, they lose all disconnected utility, that one could create a global lost and found on the Internet, capable of tracking everything connected. What good was a stolen phone if it couldn’t be used on the Internet without being tracked and recovered?
This idea in turn led me to think about how we would connect a device "owner" and their identity with the identity of a device. Which in turn led me to my Eureka moment regarding the centrality of identity to securing the Internet.
Of course, I can’t afford to take three month sabbaticals all the time in order to manifest these eureka moments, and that’s likely a good thing. Especially when the big eureka’s take two decades to then execute! But to varying degrees, creating some whitespace away from the day to day, taking yourself into unfamiliar territory to gain a new perspective and drawing out simple observations to their natural conclusion, I’ve found, is a tried and true way to stimulate the eureka moment.
[Image: Flickr user Henri Bergius]