The Elusive Big Idea: Let me think about that and get back to you.

By Matter


Last week I read an article in The New York Times called, “The Elusive Big Idea.”

It scared the crap out of me.

We’re living in a time when information is fast, efficient, neatly-packaged & delivered— suspended in a magical (and convenient!) web of ether just waiting to be accessed.

…But how much of it are we actually processing?

As a new PR professional, I’ve noticed a change in my way of thinking. While I was in school, I took home books or articles, read them at a steady pace, underlined, revisited— and mulled, if you will. Most of the time, I would then sit down and start writing in order to develop and lengthen these study-lounge musings.

I find there to be much less time these days to study and mull. I’m submerged in the deep end of the information pool where quick facts, stats, industry news headlines, blurbs, and witty one-liners leave me drenched. Keeping the best interest of my clients’ business in mind, I pay attention to a much different, and much wider range of topics now than before. Relevant information is quickly bouncing back and forth between status updates, twitter handles, and blog posts. Web addresses aren’t even written in full anymore— our short messages are shortened further by’s and tinyURL’s, even embedded behind # and @ signs.  It’s enough to make my head spin. I’ve learned, though, that scanning alone does not produce the best results.

As Gabler writes in his NYT piece,

“In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world, but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.”

Does this new trend of “apprehension” truly make us more informed? Smarter? I’m inclined to say no, that it only gives us the ability to move more quickly —finish the lap— call out a message first in order to win the recognition of passing the baton. We can certainly find the answer to just about any question online, but we need to remember to reflect on what we know first. The relevancy, context, and reliability of what we find must then be considered, as well as how we plan to use our new information sensibly.

Getting a bit more philosophical, can you say that you’ve thought through your own worldview, end to end, amidst the blur of contradicting information that’s available to us? If there was a line drawn across a particular ideal you’ve lived by, would you be able to confidently stand on one side armed with sturdy reasoning, or are you positioned a bit more shakily (and perhaps more safely) in the gray middle area? Have you thought through any one thing so thoroughly that you could ignite a fiery debate, and still stand unburned on your own turf?

As intellectual people with such amazing innate potential, I hope we can all say yes.

“We are like the farmer who has too much wheat to make flour. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to.”

Isn’t it strange to consider that this overload of information, be it significant or trivial, has actually occupied space in our minds meant for new ideas?

For the maintenance of my own sanity, I need to set aside some time to step away, process, think, and comprehend. This is the key to generating innovative ideas! There comes a point when in order to be a good PR pro (or person of real substance, for that matter), we may need to disconnect in order to reconnect to our own thought process.