Ideas are feelings first: Epiphanies in everyday workplace creativity

Ad van Iterson, Stewart Clegg, Arne Carlsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This paper contributes to the literature on workplace creativity by
combining insights on epiphanies with theory on the embodied and
relational nature of understanding. We explore and develop the concept of
epiphany, defined as a sudden and transient manifestation of insight.
Primarily, we are interested in the implications of the concept’s artistic and
philosophical origins for organizational creativity. We start from a
consideration of the importance of epiphany in the literary works of Joyce,
who underlined the crucial aspect of the conjunction of different human
senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching). Next, we draw up
upon the theory of insights as embodied, experientially felt qualities, as
described by Mark Johnson (2007) and predecessors in pragmatism.
Using three sets of empirical snippets as aids to reasoning, we arrive at
renewed understanding of epiphany as a phenomenon in creativity that is
experientially multi-sensuous and collective rather than merely cognitive
and individual. Epiphanies are typically manifest as a series of felt
occurrences arising within collective practice, follow from a history of
preparation, and do not solely involve breakthrough ideas but can also
include feelings of doubt, movement, opening up or disconfirmation.
Understanding epiphanies in this way extends research on organizational
creativity as collective practice. The article suggests further attention be
paid to the transient and noetic qualities of work on ideas in organizations,
such as visual and material stimuli in sensorial preparations of creativity
and the use of openness in marking felt insights.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-238
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • epiphany
  • multi-sensuous experiences
  • embodied idea development
  • workplace creativity

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