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Brilliant Flash of the Obvious

I don’t know when I first heard the phrase “Brilliant Flash of the Obvious”. I know I was using it already in the 1990s, in California and I’m sure I didn’t invent it. It has some currency today — David Allen uses it in one of his talks — but only two google hits before 2005.

So what is a brilliant flash of the obvious? It’s an insight, or revelation, or transformative moment that contains absolutely no new information. The world doesn’t change, the available information doesn’t change – but something does change, in your internal cognition.

Maybe it’s easier to give an example. In my senior year of college, in P-Chem lab, I suddenly had a brilliant flash of the obvious: everything is made out of atoms! Normally, you’d hope that a senior chemistry major would know that already. But suddenly in that moment it hit me: I’m made out of atoms, the glassware is made out of atoms, the lab bench is made out of atoms, EVERYTHING is made out of atoms.

I was staggered. I must have said something out loud (e.g., “Whoa! Everything is made out of ATOMS!”) because my lab partner Jeff started making fun of me, and Dr. Cave told him to leave me alone. Which I appreciate, in retrospect, but at the moment I was too blown away to care or notice.