Lightbulb moments, magic beans and other innovation myths – how to (actually) generate ideas

The lightbulb moment when an idea pops into life? The flash of brilliance? The sudden epiphany that changes everything?

All complete myths!

From the printing press to the iPhone, innovations have always been the product of ongoing development processes.

In his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation”, Steve Johnson proves how almost every major innovation of the past (including the pencil and the battery) were born out of the ‘slow hunch.’

As we discussed in our recent podcast on How to Generate, Filter and Judge Innovative Thinking, a much better analogy than the lightbulb for innovative ideas is the slow-burning spark that starts to blaze more brightly in the right conditions.

This is actually very good news for organisations that might still be waiting for their lightbulb moment or under pressure to start building their CEO’s big, bright idea overnight.

Rather than pin your hopes and resources on a flash of brilliance, you can stay focused on day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter operations whilst at the same time nurturing your culture of innovation.

In this article we discuss the best ways to generate and manage innovative ideas; busting more myths in the process.

Innovation Myth: Magic Beans and Silver Bullets

Just as there is no lightbulb moment, there is no million-dollar magic idea either.

Imagine planting one magic bean in a pot. You water it, feed it, keep it in the right environmental conditions and lavish it with attention.

It’s possible this bean will flourish and grow into a beanstalk.
But it is equally possible that it will wither away or turn out all freaky-looking.

Now imagine scattering a handful of magic beans into a well-prepared field.

There’ll probably be some magic beans which don’t develop into plants and some that do better than others, but your chances of growing something incredible will be increased tenfold.

Planting a bean in one pot only gives you one shot at success. In the same way, investing everything in one idea or product reduces your chances of success.

It’s better to generate dozens of ideas, test them and develop the best ones in quick but effective Product Sprint.

Silver bullets do not exist in innovation.


Innovation Myth: Don’t tell anyone, or it won’t come true

One wish.

That’s all you get when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake each year.

It’s so fragile that you’re told over and over again,


It’s no wonder most organisations get hung up having one key idea. Nor any wonder that they guard their ideas so closely.

It’s the same in the startup world where most entrepreneurs are petrified of their ideas being stolen. They may also harbor secret fears of their ideas being proven wrong.

But bringing ideas into the open allows them to be better tested. After all, how can you do user research if you’re not willing to share what you’re working on?

It’s better still to share, test and go all out to disprove your idea. Just as scientists attempt to disprove their theories..

If you try to make it fail and it still stands up at the end of the process, then you’ve probably got something special.

Innovation Myth: Blue Sky Thinking

Where do good ideas come from anyway?

It’s very common for senior management to do a lot of the heavy lifting or ‘blue sky thinking’ when it comes to generating ideas.

The problem is, the best ideas are never plucked from the sky or the brains of your managers; they are more likely to be found lying around your workplace.

They are in your support staff’s notes or the feedback your sales team are receiving.

The best way to think of a product idea is as the solution to a problem. As the people on the front-line have the best understanding of your customer’s problems, they are usually your best source of ideas.


What’s a proven way of generating and managing ideas?

Ideas which are grounded in customer insight and observable problems – however sketchy – are far more powerful than worked-out solutions.

The best approach is to pull a diverse team of people together to generate as many ideas as possible (Innovation Days can help with this) then work out which ones stand the best chance of making it.

You can use our online tool Distiller for a fun way to test your different ideas and decide which to work on first

Or, you can answer these simple questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the value of solving it – how will it make a difference?
  • How are we going to approach solving it?
  • What will our next step be?

Running potential products through this filter gives a really simple, repeatable process to identify the strongest ideas to take forward.


Successful innovation is not about lightbulb moments, big ideas or one-off brainstorms.

It’s about developing the right framework so that you have a constant pipeline of different ideas and products at different stages of development.

Need to start your own innovation stream? Our Product Innovation Framework will introduce you to a simple, repeatable process from taking an idea from prototype to return on investment, and beyond.