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Posted: March 13, 2014

The futurist: Confessions of an epiphany junkie

Living for that "Aha!" moment

Thomas Frey

Over time, I started noticing some of my best ideas starting to slide off the edge of the table. Running a business, I had to be very focused. But as a creative person, there was a circus going on in my head every day.

This created no small amount of internal tension and conflict in my life. Ideas were flowing like a steady stream of water with no place to put them and no vessel to contain them.

Then one night everything changed.

I often wake up in the middle of the night with a grand idea that I wrestle with in a half-groggy state of mind. This typically lasts for a few hours before I can get tired enough to fall back asleep. But this night was different. This night I was receiving a vision that turned into a total nightmare for me.

During this vision, I was told that if I didn’t figure out a way to do something with my ideas that they’d be taken away from me. The idea stream would dry up and I would no longer have them.

The message came through loud and clear. As a person whose best friends were his own ideas, losing them was nothing short of a tragedy in the making. It was similar to having my arms or legs cut off I would be reduced to a fraction of my former self.

At the same time, this lack of tangible outlets for my ideas was clearly becoming a problem I needed to solve. Over the next few days it would become an obsession.

As I worked through the problem, my first step was to create a vehicle for leveraging ideas. This process resulted in me launching the DaVinci Institute in 1997. The Institute was intended to be a flexible and creative organization with a large enough umbrella to cover all of the projects I wanted to take on.

The second part was to develop a fast way to take these sparks of imagination from rough concepts and quickly build them into usable ideas. As an entrepreneur, taking an idea and turning it into a product was a slow and grueling process. I needed something faster.

In 1998, I started down the path of becoming a professional speaker. No, I didn’t have a clear idea how this would turn out and I seemed to be tremendously deficient in so many areas getting started.

However, the piece that most appealing to me was that I could come up with an idea and incorporate it into one of my talks in a very short period of time. The distance between idea and implementation was no longer months or years. It had been reduced down to days, and often times, even minutes.

Since then I’ve developed a number of creative outlets such as producing magazine columns, books, videos, interviews, social media and much more. 

Final Thoughts

Since then I’ve become an avid student of epiphanies, and what triggers them.

For me, I’ve found that epiphanies often occur during the middle of the night. But I can also trigger them by creating the right conditions like listening to the right kind of music while riding bike or working out at the gym. With the right stimulus in the right surroundings, I can often create “epiphanies on demand.”

But when it comes to the big ones, creating a category five, mass-spectrographic, isotopic, double quad-turbo, full-blown epiphany, those are still rare. However, my research is ongoing and I hope to have better answers very soon.

Bottom line is that epiphanies are very important. Every new product that get launched starts with an epiphany. Every new business, every unique service, every original marketing strategy, every novel piece of legislation, and every mobile app can all trace their origins to a single epiphany. They are essential for business and an integral part of a growing economy. Epiphanies are a critical part of society, and the better we understand them the better we can leverage them to benefit society.

Over the years, I’ve looked back at my big life changing moment and wondered what it would have been like to go down a different path. I’ve concluded I was always destined to end up here. This was my calling and if I had only listened to the signals earlier, it wouldn’t have taken nearly as long for me to get here.

Sadly, most people avoid “listening to the voices” and as a result, they never actually get to where they were intended to go.

With that in mind, please let me know how epiphanies have affected your life. Are you an epiphany-junkie like me, and if so, what happens to all your great ideas?

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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