Where Do Your Eureka Moments Come From?

July 23, 2016 | Source: next.ft.com
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Emma Sinclair, entrepreneur
“I spend a lot of time thinking. I get ideas from people I work with and people who work for me. I read a lot of thought leaders — I like agility and simplicity and I love Dan Ward, who is a former lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force. On rare occasions I take time out. I recently went to Silicon Valley on a trip organised by the London mayor. It took me out of my day job and comfort zone and I was surrounded by a very high concentration of intelligent people and entrepreneurs. I came back and felt my thinking had gone up a notch. But I believe it’s also important not to live in a bubble — for example, I’ve been to Africa with Unicef’s Building Young Futures programme and often think back to this. Having a diverse range of people and experiences to draw on in your life gives you a competitive edge when it comes to ideas.”

Jon Moulton, venture capitalist
“The main things I produce that require inspiration and ideas are articles and speeches. I find the Financial Reporting Council website an inexhaustible source of absurdities that provide me with excellent ideas. I also read extensively. If I have a problem, I read everything available; I’m blessed with a very high reading speed. But for a really difficult problem, I find the best thing is eight hours’ sleep, after which I wake up with the answer. This probably tells you something about my character: I’m not a worrier.”

Lynda Gratton, academic
“I do two things that are quite separate. I run around meeting people and listening to them and visiting companies, and I take copious notes. I also write notes to myself and use my iPhone to dictate notes. But then I just throw them on my table — what I’m doing is trying to get a universe of ideas. Later, when I’ve got the time, often in summer, I start thinking and reflecting and assimilating. I often go to another place to do this. I have a house near Barcelona overlooking the sea and I just hang out there. When I write, I go through a lot of drafts. It’s very iterative — almost like a conversation with myself. I need to be quite focused. If I come across an idea that’s interesting but too far from my area of interest, I don’t pursue it.”

Peter James, crime novelist
“Most of my ideas for crime novels come from research I do with the police in the UK, US and other countries. I go out with the police regularly and go to a lot of conferences because I want my scenes to be realistic. I’m connected to the Reading Agency, which does work in prisons, so I get quite a few ideas from criminals I’ve talked to over the years. One of the ideas for my current book came from a woman prisoner I met who’d poisoned her mother-in-law and, when she went to hospital, embezzled her bank account. But the mother-in-law didn’t die and her husband became suspicious, so she had to poison him too. It was all true, but the only thing that concerned the prisoner was that another woman who’d committed a very similar crime got a shorter sentence. I thought, ‘You can be my black widow character.’ People occasionally ask me if criminals get ideas from my books. I always reply, ‘There’s nothing criminals haven’t done already.’”

Adrian Rossi, advertising executive
“Archimedes had it easy. He only had to come up with one “eureka” moment. In advertising, you’re expected to do it every day. First you immerse yourself in everything. Learn about the subject, be around interesting people and understand where they are coming from. Then, you need to move away from distraction. It can be too much noise, too much visual distraction, too much of your mobile phone, even too much of a nice view. Activities that mean you’re not thinking about [whatever it is you are doing] are good. You might be exercising or in the shower or on the loo and then, bang, you have the idea. You need to be doing something that lets the other part of your brain work and make connections. The one consistent thing you need is time, although you can learn to do it quicker.”