How to Have Big Ideas
Consider the following questions:
What is the basis of morality?
How can we motivate ourselves to do what we really need
Is there a better way to organize a city or a country?
Is understanding a problem always the best way to solve
it, or is it sometimes better to forget about the causes and
get on with the solutions more directly?
Big ideas start with big questions. If you want to have more
important ideas, then, whether for a book, an essay, a discussion,
or just for your own intellectual entertainment, start with powerful
questions. Ask how things could be different, and assume that
you will have some sort of answers. Ask questions that seem silly
even, as long as they are "big" questions like, "What
if there were no wars?" or "What if cities were built
without streets?" "What if" questions are some
of the best, by the way.
There are many specific idea-creation and problem-solving
techniques that can yield new and insightful ideas. One of the
simplest and most profound is to challenge the premises of existing
ideas. Let's look at an example.
Licensing of doctors by governments is an almost universally
accepted idea. Such licensing only requires a minimum standard
that is primarily measured in terms of education and training,
not performance, but this still leads the public to be complacent,
to the point where people spend twice as much time researching
which stereo to buy than they do researching which doctors to
go to. The premise patients have is that doctors are licensed
and so are roughly equally safe.
Of course, 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. The fact that you are four
times as likely to die with the second doctor isn't published
anywhere. His having a "license" is supposedly all
that you need to know. Or is it? How about a system of ratings
that tracks the educational, training and real achievements and
statistics of doctors and makes the information public?
Now, with this information, wouldn't it also make sense to
pay according to results? People would initially be offended
by this idea (especially doctors with lower performance scores).
The first reaction of many is that they just don't want the four-deaths-in-a-thousand
doctor at any price. But the truth is that there will always
be better and worse doctors in any system, and there is no way
for the best doctor to treat everyone, is there? Doesn't it make
sense to pay less for lower quality?
Challenge those premises! Consider what big ideas might come
from challenging the idea of employment. Is there a way to make
all people self employed, even if they have just one customer?
What would the advantages be? What about the premise that lying
is bad? Is there a rule to be found for when lying is a morally
good thing to do? What about the idea of "punishing"
criminals. Could we find a way to be safer by challenging this
One of the most entertaining and effective ways to generate
new ideas is to combine concepts. A "car" plus a "kitchen"
becomes a "mobile restaurant," for example. To generate
big ideas, then, you just start with "bigger" concepts.
Here are a few examples.
Combine the "free bonus" from marketing and "virtue"
from morality. People buy more when the perceived value is higher
due to the addition of bonuses. Although "paid" for
with effort instead of money, could we "sell" virtue
to people by increasing the perceived value in a similar way?
People are trained to respond to "free," so this might
be an almost directly translatable idea. Instead of a boring
book on morality, you have a catalog of virtues. After making
the case for honesty, for example, you then add, "Free bonus
- buy this virtue today and get a better reputation, which translates
into more success in business." Of course the bigger, more
general idea here is that maybe virtue needs to be "marketed"
What else could we combine? A few final suggestions to get
Politics + Business
Childhood + Spiritual Growth
Survival of the Fittest + Ideologies
Problem Solving Techniques + Art