What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: What’s the model of an iconic project?


Alan Webber: Exactly. The metaphor I used in the rule about iconic projects is the metaphor of Zoysia grass and that may not be familiar to everybody or anybody except me but it makes perfect sense to me. Zoysia grass used to be a very popular way of creating a lawn in the ‘60s and ‘70s, maybe nobody does it anymore where you would take a plug and put it in your lawn and let it start growing and then you would take another plug, a certain distance away and plant another plug and the plugs will start growing together and pretty soon you populate the lawn with these plugs and they weave together a new carpet, in effect.

That’s the model of an iconic project, it’s a plug, it’s not planting the whole lawn, it’s doing something that plants the seed and let’s people show how you’re thinking about your project. It stands for the larger idea but because it’s kind of immediately graspable, people can see it, they can see that it works, they can see that it has creativity built into it or thoughtfulness built into it or pragmatism built into it and then they can grasp what you’re trying to do.

It is very much like starting small, it’s the idea that showcase your thinking in a way that other people can see it, once you’ve got that then you can begin to build off of it in the larger models or scale it or add elements to it. I’ll give you an example, years ago I worked the mayor of Portland, Oregon and Portland like many cities was suffering, it’s downtown was in real trouble, stores, shops are closing and the mayor went to Seattle to visit with the Nordstrom Family and went on a mission to have Nordstrom build a new store in downtown Portland, the good news was that there’d been an extremely comprehensive planning project to drew new ideas to what would revitalize downtown Portland, a transit mall, new parks, all kinds of really visionary things but it was all vision, there was nothing to look at.

So, the thought was go to Seattle, woo the Nordstrom Family, have them build the first new department store in downtown Portland in decades, they’d agreed to do it, they put in a department store, as soon as that investment was announced, the downtown plan went from being a visionary document to a real program for revitalizing downtown Portland. One iconic project was catalyzing influence, it suddenly made the ideas believable and you could point at it and say, “Look we’re not just making this up, these people are in the retail business, they’re investing real money in the department store, they’ve got to believe or they wouldn’t do it.”

That proves our theory, there will be reinvestment and revitalization in downtown Portland. That’s an iconic project. You can’t build the downtown project, the downtown plan doesn’t get built all at once but if you could point at something that makes it real, all of a sudden, people don’t think you’re just talking about change, you’re demonstrating what change looks like.


Recorded on: April 23, 2009



How to Make Your Project Ic...

Newsletter: Share: