Socrates is said to describe poetry as a divine gift, ‘gathered…… out of glens and gardens of the Muses and they bring them as the bees do honey, flying in like the bees.’Picasso is said to have seen the handlebars of a bicycle and created the thoroughly modern ‘Bull’ from the handlebars. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s fantastic, vivid poem Kubla Khan, was written after a fevered dream. But luck of course favours the prepared mind. In this case, Coleridge was a voracious reader. Kalidasa who was dumb from birth, broke into song , after a vision of Mother Kali. Whether it is Archimedes discovering the laws of displacement and screaming his ‘Eureka’ moment through the streets of Syracuse or Madame Curie discovering the iridescent gleam of radium in her cluttered garret laboratory, the moment seems to be a flash of inspiration. The idea of evolution floated into Darwin’s mind as he read the essay on the Malthusian nightmare of over-population and over-crowding. Of course Newton and his apple or any of the others would never have reached that moment of seeming serendipity, if they had not preceded it by long hours of toil. A total obsession and long years of preparation of effort seem to stand silently behind that limelight moment of sheer magical discovery.
While in all cases inspiration seems to be the result, there is a process that sets the stage for that flash of serendipity to take place. Inspiration is rare. Hard work and systems thinking are more under our control.