Big Ideas

When we think of innovations, we generally think of devices and their applications in our daily lives. Innovations can also be big ideas. Consider for example the following innovations

  • A worldwide system for time (time zones and a 24-hour time system)
  • A way to connect land masses with an underwater telegraph cable
  • A rail line system to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

These were big ideas at the time much as the internet has been in our lifetimes. What’s remarkable about the above innovations is that they are the product of one man.

Sanford Fleming was born in Scotland. When he was 14, he began an apprenticeship to become a surveyor. At age 18 (1845), he and an older brother emigrated to Canada. He worked as a surveyor during his early years in Canada. He proposed that the Canadian government support a transcontinental railway system. His proposal was accepted and actually led to two provinces (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) to formally join the Canadian Federation making it a coast-to-coast country.

After missing a train because the departure time wasn’t indicated as an AM or PM, Sanford proposed a 24-hour universal time for the world. It took 8 years for this idea to be accepted, but it has become critical to worldwide communications today. He also proposed that each country, crossing more than one time zone, establish the borders for where times would change. This too has been implemented.

Sanford was an innovator and well-rounded individual. Other achievements included

  • Chancellor of Queens University for 35 years
  • The founder of several businesses
  • Leadership positions in horticultural societies as well as curling clubs.

Many hidden heroes are big thinkers. While many innovators have specialized knowledge which is the source of their ideas, what big thinkers may lack in specialized knowledge, they have an imagination that leads to ideas that often transcend many areas of society. Big idea innovations are also the enablers for many other innovations, but we often forget the hidden hero who first had the kernel of the ideas.

Just imagine the courage of a big idea innovator to propose something that to most people would seem to be unrealistic. How much cynicism must they be willing to absorb for their ideas? Those with big ideas often are lacking in their own education. Could that be helpful or hurtful in their thinking? How might we encourage those with big ideas and give them the tools to make their ideas a reality?

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“Big ideas come from forward thinking people who challenge the norm, think outside the box, and invent the world they see inside rather than submitting to the limits of current dilemmas.”- T.D. Jakes (Religious leader, Author, Filmmaker)

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