We like to think that invention comes as a flash of insight, the equivalent of that sudden Archimedean displacement of bath water that occasioned one of the most famous Greek interjections, εὕρηκα. Then the inventor gets to rapidly translating a stunning discovery into a new product. Its mass appeal soon transforms the world, proving once again the power of a single, simple idea.
Most scientific or engineering discoveries would never become successful products without contributions from other scientists or engineers. Every major invention is the child of far-flung parents who may never meet. These contributions may be just as important as the original insight, but they will not attract public adulation. They will not be celebrated by media, and they will not be rewarded with Nobel prizes. We insist on celebrating lone heroic path-finders but even the most admired, and the most successful inventors are part of a more remarkable supply chain innovators who are largely ignored for the simpler mythology of one man or one eureka moment.
Eureka moments do exist, and some inventors have made truly spectacular individual contributions. But we pay too much attention to a few individuals and too little attention to the many moments of meaningful innovation that come next.
This is what I term pivotal asymmetry!