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Gustin Partners | September 21, 2016 |

Living in an Age of Big Ideas

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

Pundits have characterized the 2016 American presidential election as a contest pitting a candidate of no ideas against one with old ideas. I am not certain this is a totally fair assessment. This ideas-lite form of politics is surprising giving the fact that we live in an age awash with big ideas. I recently undertook a research project seeking to better understand the Big Ideas driving the world we live in.

EVERY vertical market and EVERY discipline is percolating with big ideas. In the past fortnight the average employee would have been exposed to news stories about:

Legalizing marijuana, the Basic Income Guarantee, total surveillance [body cameras for every one], robotization of work [how automation and algorithms will eliminate 47+% of jobs in America in twenty years], driverless cars, a variety of sewage-to-fuel prototypes, fork-lift upgrades on physical infrastructure via a WPA [Works Progress Administration during FDR’s New Deal] using veterans, prisoners and/or students, single payer healthcare, affordable university education, transparency in all things [e.g., IT costs/benefits; healthcare costs], comprehensive election reform, and mandatory information security training for all citizens

A Framework for Thinking about Big Ideas
Robert Kaplan, the president at the Dallas Federal Reserve, speaking on CNBC 15 August 2016 opined that it is “always a healthy thing for the Fed to Re-Review its framework.” What is missing today – in my humble opinion – is a framework to evaluate all the great big ideas swirling around society.

There are wrong ways – let me soften that – less than optimal ways to think about Big Ideas. The mistake many make is to evaluate a Big Idea in isolation – on its own. One of the most important Big Ideas of this decade is that all these Big Ideas are interdependent and interacting. Big Ideas have to be evaluated in context.

I find it helpful when thinking about a Big Idea is to trace its history. How did that idea evolve over time? My suggestion, don’t just analyze Big Ideas individually or at one point in time.

In the 20th century a driving Big Idea was that science would bring progress and make the world better. According to Peter Watson, author of The Modern Mind the 20th century “has been dominated intellectually by a coming to terms with science.” Science and technology – in combination with free market economics was thought to be leading us to a much better future.

I think every C-level executive needs to conduct an inventory of the Big Ideas impacting their area of responsibility. Every organization needs to think deeply about the ideas surrounding and flowing through it. Do we need a CIO- a Chief Ideas Officer?


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