Big Ideas – How To Have Them

The search for big ideas starts with big questions. What’s the basis of spirituality? Why can’t people motivate themselves to do what they really need to do? Is there a better way to organize a city? Do we always need to understand a problem to solve it?

To generate big ideas, then, whether for a book you’re writing, an essay, a discussion, or just for your own intellectual entertainment, start with powerful questions. Ask how things might be different. Questions that seem silly are okay too, as long as they are “big” questions like, “What if there were no wars?” or “What if cities had no streets or cars?” The “what if” questions are some of the best.

Big Ideas Come From Challenging Premises

Of the many specific idea-creation and problem-solving techniques that can yield new and big ideas, one of the simplest and most profound is to challenge existing premises. For an example, let’s look at the licensing of doctors by governments and how it affects people’s perceptions.

Licensing is a widely accepted idea which requires a minimum standard that is primarily measured in terms of education and training. Despite not measuring performance, licensing leads the public to think it means safety. People will typically spend more time researching which stereo to buy than which doctors to go to. This complacency comes from the premise that doctors are licensed and so are roughly equally safe.

Now, for some types of heart operations a given doctor might have one-in-a-thousand patients die on the operating table, while another has four fatalities. You are four times as likely to die with the second doctor, a fact not published anywhere, since his having a “license” is supposedly all you need to know. Well what about a system of ratings that tracks the real achievements and statistics of doctors and makes the information publicly available?

Then you could to pay according to the doctors skill. This may offend doctors with lower performance scores, and the first reaction of many is that they just don’t want the four-deaths-in-a-thousand doctor at any price. Of course there will always be better and worse doctors in any system, and there is no way for the best doctor to treat everyone, so doesn’t it make sense to pay less for lower quality?

What big ideas might come from challenging the idea of jobs? Could we all be self employed somehow? Are there advantages to this? How about the premise that lying is bad? Can a rule be found for when lying is a morally good thing? What about “punishing” those who commit crimes. Can we have a safer system by challenging this premise?

Creative Combining
An entertaining and effective way to generate new ideas is to combine ideas. Combine “car” and “kitchen,” and you get a “mobile restaurant,” for example. To use this technique for generating big ideas, you just start with at least one “bigger” concept.

The “free bonus” idea from marketing and “virtue” from morality might result in a better way to promote virtue. With products the perceived value is higher due to the addition of bonuses. Could you “sell” virtue by increasing the perceived value in a similar way? We’re so trained to respond to the word “free,” that this might translate directly. Nevermind a boring book on morality. Have a catalog of virtues, and after making a case for honesty, add, “Free bonus – buy this virtue today and get a better reputation, which translates into more success in business.” The fact that we “pay” with effort rather than money in this case may not matter. The bigger, more general idea here is that maybe virtue needs to be “marketed” better.

What else could you combine to generate ideas? Love and business, childhood and spiritual growth, survival of the fittest and ideologies, and on and on. You could even combine the concept of “art” with “big ideas,” to see where that leads.

About the Author: Copyright Steve Gillman. For inventions, new product ideas, business ideas, story ideas, political and economic theories, deep thoughts, and a free course on How To Have New Ideas, visit :

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