When I’m stressed or bored, I pull up the Sudoku app on my smartphone and start playing it. Anyone familiar with the game probably knows (at one level or another) that it is but a bunch of pattern matching moves, that you repeat until you win.
You win because:
a. You know how to play Sudoku
b. You have a set of strategies that you follow
c. You keep applying these strategies until you win
d. You know what doesn’t work because you plugged in the incorrect piece, aka failed
If you’re taking a coffee break, and you have an “epiphany” and you win the game, it’s because a, b, c and d, were already in place. The epiphany is not an isolated idea, forged by years of hard work. The perception that is just a lone idea is a combination of media mythology, survivorship bias and the human brain’s penchant for feel good stories.
The same principle applies at a different scale for, most (if not all), epiphanies attributed to scientific discoveries, technology breakthroughs, business ideas, startup ideas, pivots, etc.
*Note to self* next time you read a billion dollar startup story where the founder got his/her idea in the shower, rest assured he/she spent years of their life thinking about the problem.