The Myth of the "Ah-Hah!" Moment

Nov 28, 2011

The world has been celebrating the life of Steve Jobs.  At the same time, a story popped up in Harvard Business Review that’s worth thinking about in the context of Mr. Jobs.  It’s about the myth of innovation.  

The point of the article is that we celebrate great innovators such as Jobs and Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton; all great discoverers, inventors and innovators.  And, generally, we believe in that ah-hah moment of the innovator.  

But research, according to the writer, Art Markman, indicates that true ah-hah moments are few.  Innovation often is a process that percolates for perhaps years in the minds of others as well as the one who ultimately gets the credit.

That reminded me of my fifty-some-odd-years in advertising and the truly innovative ideas and campaigns that came from our agency.  At first, I thought my job was to have great ideas.  All the great ideas.  

It took years to realize that the real job of the leader is not to try to have all the great ideas.  It’s to stimulate, then recognize great ideas when they come from your employees and co-workers.  Think of the difference in a few great ideas from the boss, versus the ability to recognize great ideas coming from a hundred other people.

That should be one objective of successful innovators.


John Malmo is a marketing consultant who concentrates on helping business owners grow their businesses with effective marketing.  To reach Mr. Malmo, hear and read more of his commentaries, or to ask him your own marketing question, go to