The Big Idea

Our conversation emerged around the notion of a central big idea—the search in our world and in our work for some things that are powerful, lasting, and necessary; the things that should be grounding a lot of what we do. We discussed the locus of ideas and the power or the process of creating ideas. We explored whether a deeper understanding of the control of that opening or the influence of that locus could inform our processes for creating big ideas. It became important for us to try to better understand what might be the process of creating big ideas that undergird much of our work. We asked: how we could do it better? Who are the gatekeepers? What is the process that works and when doesn’t it work well? What are the barriers? Does philanthropy facilitate this process of becoming more creative? We thought the process was, of necessity, interdisciplinary or diverse. There are principles to it, focusing the tension, finding the running room, creating the ability to incubate ideas–a way to spark dreams, distill them and work through testing and refining.

Powerful big ideas emerge from a field of potential and possibility. Effective leaders will understand this and be able to read and create a formative context, an open environment, and a sense of expectation within their organization. It requires people or a process (or both) to be working simultaneously inside and outside/back and forth. The continuous movement from opening to creation to distilling options to implementation naturally requires leaders to play multiple roles—at times the visionary and the leader; at other times the learner, the teacher, the follower, the facilitator. We are hardly ever acting in just one of those roles.

(graphic by Ken Hubbell)

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