I Have a Great Idea – via Harvard Business Review

Bear with me for a couple hundred words, can you? I have a “great idea”.

There is an HBR Article floating around that got me fired up. Really fired up.

It was sent over by my friend Phil O’ Brien of Climbing Fish.

The article, written by Umair Haque, argues that the rise of “TED-style thinking” is one cause for our broken relationship with great ideas. He argues that the rise of bite-sized, easily digestible, talks, blogs, learning opportunities are…easy solutions. Here:

We’ve come to look at these quick, easy “solutions” as the very point of “ideas worth spreading. But this seems to me to miss the point and power of ideas entirely. Einstein’s great equation is not a “solution”; it is a theory — whose explanations unravel only greater mysteries and questions. It offers no immediate easy, quick “application” in the “real world,” but challenges us to reimagine what the “real world” is; it is a Great Idea because it offers us something bigger, more lasting, and more vital than a painless, disposable “solution.”

It’s true – audiences (especially adult audiences) want to know: how can I utilize this information now, how is this relevant to me, and what is the ANSWER?! I’ve seen it in the workshops I teach, the consultants I work with, and in my own experience.

I am not unlike the audiences of today. As I sit through each Graduate school class in my Master’s program I find myself struggling with classes that don’t provide immediate utility, relevance and answers. I worry about the cost, both opportunity and financial.

But what Haque is arguing, is for these learning experiences to encourage more questions than answers. To give us space to reflect and the time to transform these great ideas into more great ideas of our own. The learning I receive in graduate school makes me uncomfortable, far more than I’d argue a TED talk ever could. It is me at my most vulnerable self.

Why? It’s because I’m not given the simple, quick solution and immediate utility. But, I have the space to ruminate on it, share with my learning community and make the process relevant and meaningful for myself.

It’s a hard lesson to learn – especially when you are impatient, passionate, excited, and anxious.

“That is precisely how Great Ideas change us: not merely by pleasing us, but by challenging us. That is precisely how they elevate us: not merely by pandering to us, or by provoking us, but by enlightening the whole of us. That is precisely what makes Great Ideas truly worthy — not just easily palatable, and commercially profitable.”

I think of this often as I design and deliver corporate workshops and engage in many others. I remember that when I was first learning how to Improvise (which, I consider the “Great Idea” that changed my life), it wasn’t boiled down into one class or one 18-minute talk. Improv teaches you there is no right answer, or one solution. Sure, it’s also relevant and applicable, but not just in one clear way.

This “Great Idea” keeps me constantly off-center. This sort of learning helps a person truly come into their own, the learning isn’t spoon-fed, it’s up to them to grab the spoon. And, it’s stuck with me longer than any TED Talk, blog post, article ever could. It didn’t just spew knowledge, it fueled reflection and a desire for more experience.

Not all great ideas are intended for the masses or for digestible consumption, but that also means the ideas don’t have to be perfect or fully-formed to start to spread.

Learning is personal. Learning is meaningful. Learning is powerful. How can we as educators help keep this alive with the boundaries that technology, time, money, have set? I want to hear your great ideas.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Lindsey. That’s a great angle on Umair’s article. I’ve never been part of a university programme – but can understand the “slow” reflective/learning process you describe. “….learning experiences to encourage more questions than answers. To give us space to reflect and the time to transform these great ideas into more great ideas of our own.” I’m constantly trying snatch information and knowledge to mould them into something great that makes a difference. Beware of the quick idea hit … it’s just a spark, but we need to find a way to make a real fire!

  2. Lindsay, this article got me fired up as well. I didn’t like that TED became like microwavable soup – a pour imitation for a slow-cooked homestyle stew. Great Ideas are what TED represents and showcases. Great work is more than just the presenter on the stage. Like any good play, there’s a lot more work that goes into a performance than the two-hour spectacle.

    Perhaps Umair’s argument is moot. Another angle to look at it is that TED is the spotlight and attention grabber that adds momentum to one’s work. It’s like adding jet fuel to a car instead of gasoline. It also gives a spectator an eye into the work of others. Seeing is believing and when one sees the great work of others through the lens of TED, it debunks “flying too low” (a la Seth Godin and “The Icarus Deception”) and encourages flying higher. Because, well, perhaps we can fly a lot higher than ever before.

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