A Journey into the Land of Epiphany

A Journey into the Land of Epiphany


I’ve always loved ideas and I think it stems from the fact that I’ve had so many to choose from. But it wasn’t about the sheer number of ideas I got to play with. Rather it was finding that one truly remarkable gem, the golden epiphany, hiding in amongst the others.

It’s hard to explain the epiphany experience, but it’s a euphoric high unlike anything else. Some have described it as “a orchestra from on high,” “a sudden realization,” “a epic breakthrough of the mind,” “an orgasm of the brain,” or “that Eureka moment!”

For me, I’ve become an epiphany junkie, always in search of the next great revelation. But there’s a big difference between a minor epiphany and what I refer to as a full category five epiphany – a mass-spectrographic, isotopic, double quad-turbo, full blown epiphany.

These are the ones people give half their kingdom for, but being part of the frequent-flier crowd for epiphanies, I’ve had the honor of dancing with them on a daily basis.

While this may sound like a braggadocios statement, rest assured, behind every idea junkie is a tortured soul. Every seismic shift in thinking is often preceded by days, months, even years of intellectual frustration waiting not-so-patiently for the next lightning strike to occur.

The epiphany phenomenon is also behind much of the surge in coffee and energy drink sales because caffeine and other stimulants can indeed trigger an “epiphanous” reaction.

For this reason I’d like to take you along on own journey into the land of epiphanies, and offer you some rare insights into this mysterious world.

Growing Up as an Epiphany-mongerer

My early years seemed unremarkable. A farm kid growing up in a desolate region of northern South Dakota, trying desperately to stand out. Like all other kids I tried to run faster, jump higher, and think faster than everyone else.

Among a similar group of average kids, the best way to describe myself was super average.

I hated that. I was never satisfied with beating some of the kids, I wanted desperately to beat all of them. Even if it was only in one single category, I had an unquenchable thirst to be number one…. in something.

My big break came at age 11 when my Mom got tired of me sitting around at home watching television. She took me out to the field where my Dad was working and told him to put me to work. You may think this sounds mean or ill-intentioned, but as far as farm kids went, I was a late bloomer. My older brother started at age 8, so with 3 additional years of maturity, I was already well into my prime working years.

My first chore was driving an old John Deere 70 out to work the fields. With a small cultivator attached behind to do most of the work, it would easily take my little tractor an entire day to work a large field. The following day was always the same, endless fields, mindless work.

This John Deere 70 and I became close personal partners in the war on weeds over the coming years

It was in these countless hours of tedious tractor driving that something remarkable happened. Where most young famers found boredom, I was able to master something far different - contemplative thought.

Yes, I realize contemplative thought will never end be an Olympic sport, and I’m not even sure if that’s even the best way to describe it. But something changed. Countless hours alone on a tractor with nothing to keep me entertained other than the crazy ideas I could manufacture on my own. So every day I needed to come up with something better to think about.

It was here that I entered the world of epiphanies, forced by boredom to open my daily clown car of ideas, hoping a truly remarkable clown would appear to entertain me for the day.

Starting the DaVinci Institute

Ideas seemed free and easy and when it came to solving problems, being young and cocky, I felt I could run circles around most people.

I spent 15 years working at IBM, and the company had developed a number of internal systems for empowering their employees. These were creative outlets that allowed ideas to be submitted and I used them heavily. In fact I tended to abuse them.

Over my 15 years at IBM, these ideas resulted in me receiving 274 awards, more than any IBM engineer.

People with lots of ideas tend to be a lot of work for everyone around them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was a lot of work.

So when I left IBM to go down the path of being an entrepreneur, I didn’t have the same type of creative outlets available to me. As a business owner, if I came up with a new idea, I would either have to act on it myself or the idea would simply disappear.

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?

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything




9 Responses

  1. It really is hard to be brief responding to this one so I apologize in advance for its longevity.
    My ‘epiphanic’ moment came, in the middle of the night too. Maybe somebody should start a website “I’mhavinganepiphanicmomentrightnow.net” where you can log on & share your moment with other people also having ‘a moment’ in the middle of the night.
    It was basically down to 2 things, Hagrid of Harry Potter fame & one of his utterances, “Something isn’t right. In fact something is very wrong, Harry.” & also the series Downton Abbey.
    For the history content on our guided tours of England & Ireland I have always relied on ‘recorded’ history rather than doing research – no time!
    For our history snippet blog 18 months ago I did a lighthearted bit on Queen Elizabeth 1st of England. For over 400 years there have been doubts about QE1’s provenance even to the extent that she was actually a man. [More plausible than you might imagine.]
    Then in the middle of the night I could ‘hear’ Hagrid saying to me, “There’s something not right about QE1, in fact there’s something very wrong.” The next thing that came into my head was Downton Abbey where the servants know everything about what’s going on ‘upstairs’.
    So research QE1’s & Henry 8th’s minions & there would be the answer I deduced.
    Within 24 hours by researching just that I found a connection that ran from QE1 when she was just 10 years old through to the 1880s in Gloucestershire, England. On the basis that if ‘little ol’ me’ based in Colorado could find this connection surely scholars at Oxford & Cambridge with all their archives must have made the connection. For the last 18 months I have been checking every historical documentary on QE1 [There are millions!] to see if the connection has been made before & it hasn’t. It seems to be the classic cold case file where the detective says, “They didn’t find the connection the first time because they weren’t looking for it.”
    So my ‘epiphanic moment’ 99.9% [Could only be 100% if I could jump in Doctor Who’s Tardis & travel back in time!] proves that Queen Elizabeth 1st was an impostor & the real Elizabeth died or was murdered age about 11.
    One thing’s for sure this won’t be going out as free info. on blog! Tongue-in-cheek deduction: On the basis of the foregoing please spare a thought for our present Queen Elizabeth 2nd who shouldn’t be living in Buckingham Palace but a council flat in Peckham.
    Regards Gregg

  2. Tom:

    I too am an epiphaniac….or an epiphaniaddict. Like you, I found that the brain juice high I get from an epiphanies is truly addicting and can be somewhat of a problem.

    Over the course of my life, I would say that the great majority of my epiphanies have resulted in nothing…either because they were not as profound as I first hoped or my follow-up was not so good.

    As I have matured, I have learned to focus my mind more onto one problem…one dream…one goal. And then let my mind pop epiphanies related to that one objective. I have found that the highs are not so high, but the results are more meaningful. This is true at least for me…someone who does not have the broad spectrum of outlets for their on-going creative thoughts that you have.

    Thanks for another great piece.


  3. What a wonderful article and interesting subject! I find that my best epiphanies and richest ideas come to me when I wake up in the morning after a great night’s sleep, especially if I had time for reading, meditation or thoughtful contemplation the day before. New solutions and options become clear to challenges and issues either personally or with clients, that I didn’t have access to before. These epiphanies are gifts of brilliance that may be coming from my own ability to problem-solve when at rest or perhaps from divine intervention in some way.

  4. Mike Spalding

    Thanks for the article. I have had the same problem. While I was running my business, I would come up with lots of great ideas for other businesses. But I only had time to put them in a database. Now that I’m retired, I’m working through them one at a time. It takes a long time. I like your idea of processing them by speaking about them. Maybe I need to do a blog and spew them out to the world.

  5. FuturistSpeaker


    I love the way you describe this. I’ve often felt tortured by my ideas because I didn’t have the ability to do anything with them.

    I’m thinking it’s the true black belt epiphany masters that can use their epiphany wiring system to find answers to their most pressing problems of the moment. I’m certainly not there yet, but the experiments are continuing, so maybe sometime soon.

    Thomas Frey

  6. Blake Walter

    Three ingredients for any ephiphany recipe that I have ever seen:

    1) A good night’s sleep — our brains really do keep working once they get “us” to go away and quit interfering with them for awhile.

    2) Changes of pace — I’m a Christian, so I tend to frame this in terms of “sabbath”, but the same concept is there in many other traditions and lifestyles: Give it a rest; Do something different; Whichever side of your brain you have been exercising, go do something that engages the other side.

    3) Think in community — Often the difference between an epiphany and a Really Bad Idea is good advice or a clear-minded critique. You have to inculcate the personal habits that keep you attentive to creative, paradigm-shifting ideas, but those “upsights” (thanks to Neal Stephenson for that word) need to be honed with other people, including some really linear, ISTJ types who are good at thinking through the details.

  7. Gavin

    Some people who listen to voices get medicated Thomas. :)

    I am not sure if it was an epiphany but the mandelbrot set ranks high in my mind for human cognition.

  8. FuturistSpeaker


    I have a special note pad in my shower, made by Aqua Notes, that allows me to jot down any ideas that happen to get steamed out of my head. But I also love audio books, and those with an idea inspiring message tend to be the best.

    Thomas Frey

  9. Chad Crane

    Hello,Thomas,glad i found my way to your website,very interesting.

    The one thing that surprised me was how much you and i have in common.

    I to am a farm boy in southern saskatchewan who has maybe spent 10 months off the farm my entire life and i just turned forty.

    The epiphanies also started on the tractor,which was to loud for a radio,so my mind would just wonder and wonder,countless hours over the years,to this day i never listen to the radio on the newer equipment(much to the bewilderment of friends and co-workers).

    I almost wish i wasnt a “thinker”,farm work is now a pure form of torture to me.

    The only way i can explain when “they” come is when i’m relaxed and in a half daze,with a problem in the back of my mind and the solution working back from the problem.

    So why are escalator hand rails not being cleaned or disinfected as they spin around?

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