Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It is the time for little ideas.

Big ideas were fine for their time, the industrial era, but that time is, as we know, past. It is only the death throes of vested interests that keep big ideas on our agendas. The industrial era was about mass production, supported by mass consumption, delivered by mass communications, all big ideas. Tremendous wealth was created, but big ideas come with big problems. The automobile was such a good idea that the North American economy is built around it. It spawned individual freedom to travel, suburban living, jobs, roads, pollution, congestion and dependence. We're now spending billions of dollars to support automobile manufacturing because we can't think what else to do about our troubled economy.

The information era, with accessible media, is designed for propagating little ideas. With the proliferation of media, people have more control over their individual identities, can build and exist in small communities of common interest. Businesses can find and access niche markets. Consumers get much more choice. Little ideas come with problems too, but small ideas are more easily avoided. You don't like one small community, simply join another. When problems cannot be avoided, they affect fewer people.

Big ideas require permission and leadership. "Think globally, act locally" is an expression that emphasizes the power of little ideas. Big results come from the accumulation of small decisions made by people focused on improving their immediate environments. So thinking small is not a new concept, but my point here is that the merits of an idea can now be determined by its size alone.

The industrial era is passing. China, India, Brazil are the world centres for mass production. For big manufacturing to survive in North America more and more work will be done by robotics, while art, by its nature, is about individual, human expression. The big three North American auto manufacturers admit, as they bargain for public funds to tie them over to the future, that they are not going to employ as many people as they have in the past. The arts on the other hand, specifically the visual arts, are a form of micro-manufacturing. They may not take up the slack in the manufacturing sector alone, but they are a sector of economic growth in the same way that eating locally grown food is a response to problems resulting from factory farming and global agriculture.

The global economy is a big idea. It is complex, difficult to regulate and when parts of it fail nearly everyone is affected. Throwing billions at a few big ideas will buy some time, but finding solutions will involve testing a lot of small, local ideas.

I'd like to use this blog to discuss the little-recognized implications of big ideas, the beauty of little ideas (especially as used to overcome the difficulties with big ideas) and as an exchange for little ideas that work. Comments might even be poems, stories, articles of creative non-fiction and other works of art.

It is time for little ideas. Some of them may as well be ours.

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