How does the ‘eureka moment’ happen? Who are the people that create a ‘eureka moment’ and what are their characteristics? What are the stories behind some of the inventions that have become an integral part of modern life? These are the fascinating questions that Gavin Weightman explores in his revelatory new book, Eureka: How Invention Happens, leading him to observe that the sense of ‘eureka’ as a moment of inspiration is very different from the concept of the ‘eureka moment’ and the actual point of scientific breakthrough.
In this four-part series for the YaleBooks blog, Gavin answers some intriguing questions about invention, and the innovation that now form a part of our everyday lives.
An Interview with Gavin Weightman – Part Two
Y: The Dragons’ Den generation finds innovation fascinating, with thousands of people lining up to pitch their ideas to ‘the dragons’ each year. The process of invention has inevitably changed since the early 20th century, but what can history still teach inventors today?
GW: The “dragons” in Dragons’ Den are business people rather than engineers or scientists. They have been chosen because they have a gift for backing the right horses in the world of commerce. An interesting–but sadly impossible–experiment would be to see if they would have invested in the telephone, or early wireless, or John Logie Baird’s television. In a spoof historical Dragons’ Den, comedian Harry Enfield had the judges rejecting all modern inventions including the toothbrush which they greeted with laughter, revealing their rotten and blackened teeth. Advice to modern inventors might be: “Don’t listen to the laughter” and have the courage of your convictions. It is a myth that in the past people were crying out for things to be invented or that innovation came about through “necessity”. Who “needed” television? And who could have guessed in 1925 when Baird first demonstrated his ramshackle “televisor” to customers in Selfridges that it would be a worldwide success? I feel sure the dragons would have roasted Baird alive.
Gavin Weightman is a journalist, historian, and former documentary filmmaker. He has published more than twenty books, including The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story and Children of the Light: How Electricity Changed Britain Forever. He lives in London.
Eureka: How Invention Happens by Gavin Weightman is available from Yale University Press
Featured image John Logie Baird and Stooky Bill by Orrin Dunlap, Jr.