Monday, February 04, 2008

Step 4: Profit!

Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work - Janet Rae-Dupree @ NYT
Image Courtesy of Margaret Riegel

I came across this NYT article through Slashdot and was immediately intrigued by its subject. In philosophy there's always the issue of the 'black box' in a theory, a phrase pulled from the engineering fields I believe (a black box is a section in a theory or schematic where input goes in and out comes the desired result, but no explanation is given for what occurs within the box. Typically a black box in a theory or blueprint is its the deathknell). So Janet Rae-Dupree's article on modern inventors debunking the idea that a 'eureka' moment is what propells innovation has a certain attraction for me. Not that I believe all innovation is simply hard work, I just believe that innovation does not always require a leap in logic from nascent idea to finished product. Nikola Tesla is a rather good example of someone who could take those leaps of logic consistantly, but then again he also hallucinated a lot.
Where I do think that a eureka moment happens is when someone takes a problem or an existing product and sees clear potentials or solutions. The problem with the eureka moment isn't that it's so rare but that going from point A to eureka point Q takes a lot more than inspiration. History is filled with happenstance and chance--Napoleon falling ill before Waterloo, the failure to wake Hitler on the morning of D-Day, the WTC towers falling instead of just burning--and through those chance moments history is driven in a slightly different direction. So one must always remain open to lucky chances, to the eureka moments. Even then, the eureka moment does not instantly produce a solution or a radical new invention. The eureka moment is merely the starting point for the hard labor it takes to reach the eureka solution.
What many people forget is all the hard work that it takes to reach the eureka solution. There's a running joke on the Slashdot message boards where you have: a) a great idea; b) some money and support; c)???; and then d) profit! It's step c, those question marks, that separate those who make a successful product or a radical new theory versus those who merely have ideas that never come to fruition. No matter how good the idea or the potentially radical changes said idea might bring about, it will only happen through hard work. So don't dismiss the eureka moment, but realize what you are getting into. You still have to explain what is in that black box that separates the idea from reality.

No comments: