Yes, it’s a serial cable show meant to keep you in a perpetual cliffhanger. And, yes, it’s about hopers and hunters of rumored buried treasure that may or may not actually be there—roles and realities you’re unlikely to find yourself in. But the History Channel show The Curse of Oak Island recently taught a very real lesson about what it takes to reap true value in anything, and the lesson is this: 

Though we often think otherwise, there is no such thing as an aha! moment, a lightning-strike idea, or success based solely on luck. Everything is a result of a gradual accumulation, and being attuned to that is the true key to mining that “gold” you’re working so hard to find.

Eureka! Well, Not Exactly

You might assume otherwise, but Oak Island co-star Rick Lagina is just like the rest of us. As a treasure hunter and a cable show star, from the outside he may look different. But below the surface he’s surprisingly the same, something he proved in a season 7 episode of the show. In a crescendo moment of discovery for a show that already has over 100 episodes in the books, Rick summed up the breakthrough saying this: “It was a truly aha! moment.” But it wasn’t. 

Had they made a great discovery? Yes, yes, they had. More than 25 feet deep into the ground, Rick and his team had found an enormous piece of evidence hidden for over 150 years—a massive manmade shaft putting them right where they have ample reason to believe that, if there is a site where vast treasure is to be found, they now stand on its cusp. But there was no aha! about it. The finding came at the end of a long line of countless other discoveries that together brought them to that moment and that place, a continuum that continues. They arrived at their discovery not by coincidence but by a gradual accumulation of ideas, clues, and people who made it possible. It’s that “fore” story—the part with all the small and sometimes boring steps, the part with all the wading and waiting, the story laced with the errors and dead ends that we too often dismiss for our belief in, search for, and even obsession with the lightning-bolt moment or idea. Why?

Our Obsession with Aha! — and Proof It Isn’t True

The reason we fixate on this moment can be explained in part by the romanticism of it. The aha! is wonderfully fairy tale. It has a nice heroic superhuman ring to it as well. And, quite frankly, we are very nearly programmed to expect it by every story told of discoveries past, stories inevitably skewed by the read view we take in telling them. But those who disproportionately create the greatest new value (entrepreneurs), and those who birth the most innovative ideas (practiced creative minds) will tell you that there is no aha!, no overnight, and no immaculate conception when it comes to value creation. Despite his declaration, Rick Lagina knows this too. A quick summary of the show, the past six years, and even the past 500 years proves it.  

Oak Island is an uninhabited postage stamp of rock and trees off the east coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s a place you’d never know about or pay attention to were it not for a 224-year-old mystery. It’s believed by some that the island is hiding one of the greatest stores of buried treasure ever rumored. Many say it’s where legendary pirate Captain Kidd stashed his booty in the 1600s. Others say the hold of a Spanish galleon was unloaded there. Some say Marie Antoinette’s jewels are hidden amid its trees and swamps, or that even the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail were left long ago by the Knights Templar. Whatever its form and source, the treasure is believed to be buried 100 feet or more deep underground, accessed by a series of false and one true tunnel. 

To attempt to find the treasure, over the past half dozen years Rick, his partner brother Marty, and their team have had to make countless decisions—about which rumors to pursue, which places to explore, what kinds of tools and experts to employ, and how to read the clues they’ve unearthed. Does a hundred-year-old iron cross mean the Templars were actually there? What should be read into a 500-year-old garnet brooch, or iron spikes possibly from ship decks or wharves, not to mention a variety of pottery and buttons and coins of differing European origin? Whatever these puzzle pieces might say individually, all of them slowly added together are what brought the team to the precise site where they plunged a deep hole and found a wood-framed, manmade tunnel they refer to as Shaft 9. Its importance is that this tunnel matches the description of one of the shafts reputed to have been built in 1862 by a team believed to have been on the cusp of finding the hidden treasure chamber, affectionately known as the Money Pit. That find was Rick’s self-labeled aha! moment … a full six seasons and hundreds of years of moments in the making. 

Suffice it to say, the Laginas didn’t find the shaft by guessing, any more than they found it by looking for a big black ‘X’ on the forest floor. They found the spot they chose to dig through layers of careful research. Getting to that shaft has taken an ever-increasing number of team members, too, each with different knowledge and skills, from construction and seismic experts to metallurgists and shipbuilders, not to mention a cast of dozens at the History Channel who helped conceive of, develop, and bankroll much of the team’s efforts. One step led to another, including many backwards steps. Until one afternoon they came upon what may be the pathway they’ve been seeking to the riches they hope to find. May be. 

The Real Gold in the Hunt

Or may not be. Who knows? Even if the Lagina-History Channel team already know the answer, the “gold” they’re mining from the franchise they’ve built around the whole undertaking promises to stretch out the timeline to when they decide to tell us. But as we wait for the imagined treasure, Rick has already given us the most valuable treasure of all: The reminder that there is no isolated aha! moment in which the value we seek just appears. Such moments and such value are made—bit by bit, idea by idea, adjustment by adjustment, and by paying attention to what is, rather than just daydreaming about what might be.

A version of this article first ran in the author’s Innovator’s Edge column for Inc. Magazine. To learn more about the author, his columns, books, and more, visit: