When the penny drops up the hill

In the first academic year of 2006, which at the time was my last year of my degree, I was sat in a lecture theatre at Leeds Art College as the course leaders of my Visual Communications talked us through the schedule for the year. Christian Lloyd, an all round interesting chap stood in front of us all and said, “Who here feels like the penny has dropped for them?”

I remember thinking that the penny had dropped for me. Why? At the time I thought the penny must have dropped because I knew that you started your degree expecting a job and a career to land in your lap at the end and I had learnt that in fact, you had to get out there and start making that happen for yourself – while you were still studying. However, later on I started to think, shit, what if that wasn’t really what Christian meant – did I have the wrong penny?

We always have a touch of self doubt, even the most arrogant people have their moments. The more I wondered about the right and the wrong penny I began to think that the ‘penny drop’ is whatever you want to make it. Fundamentally though it’s all about understanding a different or new perspective on something. That moment where you see or feel what it’s like to step out of where your brain once was and putting it somewhere new.

Last year I was riding up a hill in Wales on my road bike, Wales is relentless, just when you think you have climbed the hardest hill of the day it spits you down a super fast decent and then slaps you with a hill even bigger and steeper. At the time I would look at the road ahead and sit up off my saddle, legs burning and lungs getting heavier I would painfully fight my body to what looked like the top of the hill. The whole time thinking about how great it would be once I was at the top. The thing is though, and this is quite a massive thing, you are very unlikely to ever be at the top. The bit of road you can see ahead, thats just another turn up the hill, it’s rarely the top of the hill. I would set myself up for constant dread and ultimately disappointment as I saw turn after turn and more climbing being added to what I had guessed as the finish of the hill climb.

Then. The penny dropped.

Hill climbs are not about wishing on the next turn being the end of it. They are about forgetting about the next turn and seeing the hill as a whole, a thing that you will have conquered that day not in the next 10 seconds. Finally, it’s about using your body like the machine it is, feel it’s heart pump, it’s legs stiffen and it’s brain focus.

I guess penny drop moments are those times where our brain flips and understands something new about something we were already aware of. Perhaps it’s insight, perhaps it’s reverse thinking or even just ‘getting it’. The most interesting thing for me is that I felt compelled to write about these two moments because the more consultation and strategy work I do in digital the more I find myself having penny drop moments. Some might say this is a little Edward De Bono, it is, and I firmly believe that with practice you can force yourself into a different line of thinking and with that hopefully you gain some insight.