The Art of the “A-Ha!” Moment
By Jacob Haberman
When asked about the ‘exact moment’ that he came up with the idea for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg paused before saying, “I don’t think that’s how the world works.” The isolated “A-Ha!” moment — that light bulb going off in your head as you drive to work or walk down the street — giving you the idea of the year, perhaps even of the decade, isn’t real.
In my opinion, three things are key in understanding how to generate innovative ideas. Firstly: the greatest ones never just come to you. They are the end result of intense interest, comprehensive study, and thorough understanding. They are the lines that you draw between the dots.
The greatest ideas lay at the intersection of differing frames of reference. The most innovative and powerful thinking is multi-dimensional and integrative. Here’s an example of what I mean:
You’re an aspiring computer scientist, and you are majoring in the subject. You live and breathe code. Then you decide to also study art history and design. Unexpected? Certainly. Illogical? No. As David Gelernter of Yale University says, “understanding the connections between art and technology helps us see the aesthetic principles that guide the best engineers and technologists, and the ideas of clarity and elegance that underlie every kind of successful design.” By overlaying these two frames of reference, a world of possibilities becomes apparent. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
But what if you aren’t a computer scientist? The truth is that this concept isn’t exclusively applicable to any one discipline. Additionally, anyone can have an “A-Ha!” moment. According to Tony Buzan, the average brain has 100 billion cells, each of which is connected and interconnected with as many as 20,000 other cells. Think about this: each of those connections is capable of producing a new idea or insight. That’s the equivalent of saying that each person is capable of experiencing 100,000,000 to the 20,000th power “A-Ha!” moments!
Make no mistake; the “A-Ha!” moment is a work of art, not an equation to be solved. Surprising instead of persuading, it is ultimately subjective. You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg to come up with the next big thing. Change your frame of reference, and you may just be able to change the world. The question is: which dots will you connect?