When did you last get an epiphany?
Many years ago, when I was in high school, I participated in a quiz contest. It was organized to increase awareness about blood donation among students. I still vividly remember my team was tied with another for the top spot. The final question posed to decide the winner was, “How much blood can a person donate in one go?” The other team had the first go at the question. If they got it right, they would have got the points for the final round. As it happened, they could not answer correctly and the question was passed on to us. I looked around and none of my teammates knew the answer. With a lot of pride, I gave the answer—350 ml or 10-12 per cent of the total volume of blood. We won. But here’s the most amazing thing—a day earlier when I was preparing for the quiz, I came across this very information on blood donation. I had a vision, a moment that this question would be asked and no one else would know the answer. I know that it sounds unbelievable, but this was my moment of truth, my epiphany. I remember many other moments in life when a vision or strong insight suddenly came from the unknown. Research says that each one of us has our “moments of truth”, our epiphanies.
The Webster dictionary defines epiphany as a moment in which one suddenly sees or understands something in a new or very clear way. The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” meaning “appearance” or “manifestation” and referred to the revelations brought to us by the gods. Christians celebrate Epiphany season that lasts until the first day of Lent and it is a season of new beginnings. Some people think that these are magical moments and there is divine intervention, a hidden force that helps us get there.
The objective of this article is to explore this realm and help increase our effectiveness. Here are some steps that I propose:
Deep concentration: I was unable to solve a complex mathematical problem while helping a neighbourhood kid with his studies. For those of you who have specialized in Mathematics, it was in the area of integral calculus. Since I was unable to solve it, I got fed up and decided to go for a run, but my mind had not left the problem. I was still thinking about it. Suddenly, while running I found a way out and rushed back in excitement. As I reflect back on this situation and think of everyone who has spoken to me about epiphanies, there is a consistent story of deep thinking. At the moment the epiphany occurred, irrespective of what the person was doing, their mind was deeply engaged with the problem.
Engage the subconscious: The term subconscious mind stands for our individual accumulation of knowledge through personal experiences—mental and emotional, our beliefs and all of our past programming. Numerous cognitive neuroscientists have conducted studies and have shown that we engage only a very small percentage of our mind. How do we engage more and more of the large subconscious mind? While some people may say that one needs to meditate, to discover self, I think a simple way to engage the subconscious is by keeping the focus on the topic by continuously repeating the problem. A constant focus engages the portions of the mind never engaged before.
Trust your gut: Ever hired a candidate who looked great on paper but something felt “not right”? You could not put your finger on it and ended up hiring the person. Later, it turned out to be a disaster. While data helps in building the case, one must trust their instincts on people related decisions.
Don’t give up: Very recently, we were working on drafting a “purpose statement” for a team. It involved a massive exercise of engaging various stakeholders and large section of employees. After all the hard work, we were able to narrow down the themes and with the help of experts, came up with a few drafts. Even after four iterations, the business leader was not convinced. He kept questioning the drafts and said that what you have does not position us in a unique way; that these were not inspirational purpose statements. We also felt that while we could identify the key differentiators, we were missing something critical. After one of these frustrating meetings, I went to take a shower and had an epiphany. When we shared this version, it was received with a smile and finally, acceptance. As I reflect on the situation, we were lost in fitting in big words and neglected the most critical and simple theme, which formed the basis of the final “purpose statement”. After every discussion, I felt like giving up... felt that we were expected to bring the moon and stars. Actually, each iteration got us closer and the moment of truth had arrived suddenly, ultimately we got there by not giving up.
There are complex problems and there are these magical moments, which we call moments of truth or epiphanies, but there are only simple solutions and we get there by hard work, focus and commitment, not by magic.