Monday, 23 September 2019


Historically civilisation has revolved around big ideas.

Successions of great empires like the Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mughal, Chinese and British. Movements like the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. Revolutions like the French and American. Technological breakthroughs: Gutenberg’s printing presses, the Agrarian, Industrial and Transport Revolutions and the Information Revolution around now for just two decades.
Then we had dictators (and leaders) from Attila to Julius Caesar to William the Conqueror, to Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mao Ze Dong. History is full of big (and often bad) men.

All the big ideas of the past were driven by big brains and strong-minded people. But big ideas have more recently been usurped by distractions or small-minded ambitions. We seem be making the world a smaller place. In this smaller place figures like Trump, Putin and Farage stand out not through being better, bigger or smarter but be being simpler and louder.

When people talked about the benefits and cost savings being bigger brought, they were doing so in the context of the industrial age. A big idea like those we find in the writings of Harari, Gladwell or Lewis comes from one man’s mind not a scaled up machine. When we play new video games they, as often as not, are conceived by clever individuals. Creativity is not about bigger it’s always about smarter, more liberated thinkers.

Life has become more splintered. Big organisations like Arcadia, Carillion and Thomas Cook falter on mountains of debt and huge fixed-costs. Buying anything on line has neutralised consumers’ concept of size. Political parties are no longer broad churches. In 2017 the UK had three parties, Conservative, Labour and SNP. Now we‘ve at least two Tory parties, two Labour parties, the Lib Dems, Brexit and SNP. It feels more like Italy than Britain.

In 2019 it feels better to be a small independent restaurant than a large chain. Small and opinionated is better than big and amorphous. Which brings us back to ideas. Big ideas do not belong to big organisations; they are driven by simple easy-to-cling-to concepts.

We currently have four I can see:
- Go back to the past – read Robert Harris’ Second Sleep.
- Resist rapid progress – globalisation, federation, technology, change in general
- Accelerate communication – social media, more film providers, more fragmentation
- Stop Climate Change – a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl has done more than David Attenborough to wake up the world

Brexit doesn’t get a mention but the bigger companies will suffer most and the smaller will cope best as will – if it happens - the smallest, who’ll thrive by being alert to changes.

This “new world” is the really big idea.

 A chameleon-like, rebellious place where people skip school to protest and get applauded not detention, where new political tribes are formed and where big is seen as “titanically” irrelevant against our melting icebergs.

Weep for Toyota, Facebook and Tesco. Memories of the past before people found their voices.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

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