Hunches take years to germinate, speaker tells Innov8 Lafayette

A 45-year-old author of eight books about science, technology and how cultures old and new developed ideas that changed the world, told about 500 people gathered at Innov8 Lafayette’s awards luncheon that the best breakthroughs were born from hunches that took years to blossom.

“The eureka moment is a myth,” said Steven Berlin Johnson, who drew from his 2010 book “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” in his address.

Johnson called the long-germinating idea the “Slow Hunch.”

“The defining characteristic is that they begin life as a hunch, and they stay a hunch for years,” he said.

Johnson was the much-anticipated speaker at the 2014 Innov8 Lafayette, an ambitious eight days of highlighting and promoting technology and collaboration to achieve innovation.

Tuesday was Innov8’s fifth day of presentations and seminars. The festival concludes Wednesday evening with the “Steampunk and Makers Ball” in downtown Lafayette.

Innov8 Co-Chairman Chris Allain called Johnson a U.S. “thought-leader.”

Johnson highlighted points in the history of civilization that at the time were no big deal but significant in hindsight to close observers. Such as the surge in industrial activity in the 1700s that Johnson attributes, at least partly, to a rise in coffee and tea consumption.

Until the early 1700s, coffee and tea were not affordable to most in Europe. The water was dangerously dirty, so people drank alcohol all day long: Beer for breakfast, wine for lunch, something stronger for supper. Johnson said even the children imbibed.

“The ironic thing was that this was the healthy choice because the water wasn’t safe to drink,” Johnson said. “The entire population of Europe was just drunk all day long.

When England discovered and could afford tea and coffee, production surged, Johnson said.

“They went from drinking a depressant all day long to drinking a stimulant all day long,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the London coffee houses also served as incubators of ideas, where learned men discussed politics, science, medicine and other subjects without alcohol fogging the conversation.

Lloyds of London, which invented the modern insurance industry, started as a coffee house where men in the shipping business banded about ideas on how to cut the risk of marine shipping, he said.

Greater Lafayette Chamber Of Commerce President Jason El Koubi said Johnson, a San Francisco writer, spoke to a kindred crowd in the Cajundome Festival Ballroom on Tuesday.

“Steven Johnson tapped into the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit in Acadiana,” El Koubi said.

And Innov8 honored others in Acadiana who tapped into that long-held hunch to produce something ground-breaking.

C&C Technologies won for its Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Project, an unmanned submarine that can survey ocean floor thousands of feet deep.

H.J. Adams won for his HIT Fitness routine that has had success in helping people get into better physical shape.

R3 Sciences researchers claimed the prize for a commercial process that produces methanol at a drilling site.

Acadiana Symphony Association won for its “Do-Re-ME” program that uses music and movement to instill literacy and language in very young children.

And United Way of Acadiana won for its “The Leader in Me” program, which instill in young pupils key skills that businesses and educators believe is needed for success.