Inspiration Really Does Come From Bright Sparks

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One never sets out to touch live AC wiring on purpose (well, there are a few exceptions), but it does happen accidentally, and when you survive, you’re supposed to learn something.

But I didn’t realize until today that the experience could be so literal. (Yes, it took a few days for this to sink in, perhaps as a result of ~52 VAC…)

My first experience feeling AC was trying to repair the electric metronome in the SMHS band room, back in 1980-something. (And my second, a few minutes later. Lesson apparently not learned; probably the same delayed recognition period in effect.)

But Wednesday’s shock was interesting. The immediate danger made me pull out my AC test tools, determine what was likely going on, and trigger the fix-it ticket.

I have long known of the limitations inherent in GFCI testers, and that there wasn’t a great (or at least cheap and easy) way around them.

But when I got curious and tried the GFCI tester again, it reported a different result. And that’s when the delayed spark from Wednesday’s shock, and the slow hunch described by Steven Johnson worked their magic.

It will take a few years to realize, but the big-picture that it sparked was exactly the fodder I needed to up-level our pitch into a compelling story that turned out to be the missing element I hadn’t figured out yet.

I can’t tell you what I came up with (though maybe you’ll see it come to fruition in a few years), but that’s not the point to this story.

The point is that the mind is like tea leaves. It needs space and time to brew, instead of being confined to one small (even if translucent) compartment.

If you want to innovate, you have to explore and experiment beyond your cubicle. When you see something unusual, don’t just say, “Oh, that’s interesting” and go on about your business. Stop, investigate, maybe even take it apart (unless it’s a live AC circuit!), and see what’s going on. Think about it for a bit, then go back to what you were working on. Let it lie fallow for a few hours or days, and then come back and see what connections your brain has formed.

If the co-workers around you chastise you for goofing off, ignore them. And then either smile to yourself, because you know you can out-innovate them and be noticed, or if too high a percentage are like that, maybe look for a new company, because the current one is not made up of people who understand how innovation works. And if instead, all your co-workers  nod approvingly or otherwise encourage you, smile and count your blessings.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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