Big ideas never start out big

I believe big ideas never start out as big ideas.

Big ideas almost always start out as small answers to the question of “what if?” What if this isn’t what it seems to be? What if we took a gamble? What if we tried it a different way? What if we follow this mistake all the way through?

In every big idea there is a small start.

Even if you look at big ideas that seemingly began with the effort to revolutionize an industry, or the world itself, you can trace it back to one smaller instance of a smaller idea.

The iPhone began as a response to the question of “what if the iPod could make calls too?” Penicillin started as an accident followed by the small idea of “what if we studied this more?” The personal computer, espresso, cubism, Harry Potter, all began not as big ideas that would impact history. They each started as small ideas which grew naturally.

So why do we find ourselves constantly in pursuit of the next “big idea?”

I’ve learned this lesson in a round-about way in my own life, as most of my biggest successes started out as small hunches. The reason big ideas typically start small is because we can only ever see what’s relevant here and now, and big ideas are shapes in the future. It’s often fruitless to aim for the future when you can only influence the present.

Forget about having big ideas. Focus on the small ideas, the things that make you wonder. It’s from those small ideas that big ideas evolve. Not always, but more often than not.