Celebrate the eureka moment | Sunday Observer

Celebrate the eureka moment

12 June, 2021

Most of us do not have brilliant ideas because we do not try to get them. However, there are people who always try to do something new and come up with solutions to human problems. After a long day raking up leaves and grass in the garden, John Coathupe wondered for a moment whether there could be a quicker way of doing such a time-consuming job. As a former engineer he knew how technology worked. At first he thought of making a vacuum cleaner, but he had to solve two problems. A fan would clog with wet leaves and the suction would be reduced. But he did not give up the project. He wanted to produce a machine that would suck up garden leaves and transfer them directly to a bag. He eventually made such a machine and got the patent rights.

If John Coathupe could produce such a machine, why don’t others get such brilliant ideas? We forget the fact that the human brain is the most complex object in the universe. Unknown to us, more than ten billion neurons send electro-chemical signals round your head at speeds up to 400 km an hour. This means there is an inventor in all of us waiting to be awakened. According to Trevor Baylis who opened an Academy of Invention, we can do many things to awaken our faculty of invention.

Some of the eureka moments come to us when we do some exercises such as swimming, running to catch a train or walking on the grass glistening with dew drops. When you do some such exercises your conscious brain will go into a relaxed state. This is somewhat similar to meditation. When you are in such a frame of mind, the creative half your brain starts working. Sir Clive Sinclair who invented the ZX series of personal computers, used to do exercises every morning. He got all kinds of brilliant ideas when he was running or just walking. When you do exercises, your mind gets cleared up and paves the way for new ideas to germinate. However, you do not have to be an engineer or scientist to get new ideas.


All of us have the capacity to generate brilliant ideas. New ideas to invent a machine or imaginative solutions are like butterflies that would fly away. Therefore, whenever you get brilliant ideas you have to record them in a notebook. How many times have you woken up in the night with a brilliant idea only to find the details of it have faded in the morning? Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and author of The Human Brain has offered a solution for this problem. She says we should keep a pen and paper handy to write down the new ideas straight away. Neil Summers who invented the award-winning Backstretcher, an exercise device for athletes and back-pain sufferers, used to get up at 11 pm and write down the new ideas he got while asleep.

When you get a brilliant idea do not start working on it at once. Give it some thought and discuss it with a knowledgeable person. Another person is sure to see its strengths and weaknesses. Pam and Phil Richardson, a retired couple, were involved in making medical equipment. The wife was more techno-savvy than her husband. As a retired nurse she knew exactly what doctors and surgeons wanted. While working as a nurse she observed that sometimes needles punctured surgical gloves during operations. She experimented with surgical gloves to find a solution. Her idea drew the attention of Biogel, a medical equipment manufacturer. As a result a new type of Reveal surgical gloves were made available.

Brilliant ideas may not come if you are cooped up in a dingy room. You need a change of environment every now and then. People travel to different places for this purpose. A change of environment will make you more alive to your surroundings. In this receptive state your brain can be more alert to new ideas. Sir Clive Sinclair got the idea for the Zeta 3, a detachable electric motor for bicycles, while he was on a flight from Hong Kong to London.

Be alone

Sometimes you get brilliant ideas when you allow your mind to wander. For this you have to be alone. Whenever possible go to a quiet place by the river or at the foot of a hill and sit comfortably. Breathe in fresh air and allow your mind to wander. Just look at the clouds floating in the sky making beautiful patterns. I knew of an artist who created beautiful paintings simply by looking at the clouds. One day, the granddaughter of Iris Whyte returned home from the hostel with a load of soiled socks for washing. They were of different colours. If they were washed, it would take a long time to sort them out. Iris decided to join the pairs of socks with a plastic fastener before washing. She received the Silver Award for her idea at the International Inventors’ Fair held in 1997.

There is no time limit for the brain to work. It works all the time whether you are awake or asleep. For instance, if you put a problem aside without solving it, the brain will take it over. Even without warning, a new idea and a fully formed solution will come to you from the unconscious. Barry Jones was shocked to see people living in top floors of sky-scrapers dying in sudden fires. Fire fighters had no way of reaching them. Then he saw a magician create the illusion of a rising ladder by telescoping tubes of cards. Jones decided to make telescopic emergency ladders out of metal. A manufacturer in Scotland undertook to produce Barry’s ‘Laddermatic’ and distribute it in the United Kingdom.

Above all, you need to believe in yourself. Deborah Withington’s experiment is a case in point. She was an auditory neurophysiologist at Leeds University. While driving home, she heard an emergency vehicle siren but she could not find the direction from which it was coming. She knew that the problem was that the human ear needs to hear a broad range of frequencies to pinpoint a sound. For instance, when a mobile phone rings on a bus or train, everybody checks their bags. After many trials, she produced the ‘Directional Fire Alarm’ which can guide people to keep away from a burning building. She won the ‘Prince of Wales Award’ for the invention.

If you create the right environment, all types of bright ideas will come to you making the eureka moment a reality. And that’s a moment to celebrate!

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