The Big Idea and what you need to do (Part I)

The first rule of The Big Idea is there is no such thing as The Big Idea.

If you’ve watched Fight Club you will know this as pure plagiarism. But hey, the best ideas are there to be copied. If you haven’t seen the film (or read the book) then we can pretend the idea is all mine.

In this Great Lock Down our governments have been telling us how to behave. Do this, don’t do that, stay in, go out (but really only for exercise). I wonder how we’d react to this additional request?

Your phone rings. You pick it up. “Hi, it’s the government here.” You say “Hello…?” tentatively. “Yes it just that we want you to do one more thing. We need you to make a choice. There will be a menu of options but you’re only allowed to pick one. So, which meal will you have every single day?” That’s every meal for the next six months.

How would we cope with zero choice? How would we feel eating the same food — just one thing to nourish us? Picture yourself with a freshly cooked breakfast and steaming mug of tea, or a sizzling steak with chips, or a delicious sweet potato & lentil dhal (insert other favourite food here).

Yum on the first day. Mmm, on the second. Not so much on the third.

Humans are omnivores. Like chimpanzees, we eat pretty much anything. In the dim distant past this could also include each other (as chimps are still wont to do, from time to time). We don’t function well on one type of thing. Diversity is good for us. Variety is healthy. Man cannot live on bread alone.

And what applies to food also applies to life. If you only have one tool in your kitbag, a hammer for example, then every problem looks like a nail. So why do we cling to this notion of The Big Idea?

Religions do it. Ideologies do it. Even educated governments do it. They have one way of seeing the world. One set of lenses. Take ideologies for example — Capitalism (profit is controlled by private owners), Marxism (the workers own production), Neoliberalism (deregulation and individualisation). They all say, “This is the way. Follow us. No other paths will work.”

They like the idea of The Big Idea.

But we do, too. We have a failure of imagination. We think we can fix our (complicated, intricate, delicately balanced) lives by addressing one area. What one thing will make me happy? Sort my career, fix my relationship, lose weight. If I won that race, then I could…, if I climb that corporate ladder, then I will…, if I got pregnant, then we’d…, if I got divorced…

Sometimes we run after something and we’re able to capture it. But it doesn’t work. We don’t feel any better. We mull it over and come to the conclusion THAT thing wasn’t THE thing. We move on down the list. I’ll definitely be happier when I upgrade my phone.

One of the things my Spoon by Spoon interviewees do so well is that they aim for lots of things. They inch their way forward, test out this, have a go at that. They ask themselves, “Which ones move me forward, which ones keep me stuck, which ones make things worse?”

Some ideas work. Some fall flat. There are lots of stops and starts, tears and frustration. But The Big Idea for them is that there are a myriad of ways to transition into something better.

In part II of this blog I’ll share what some of my interviewees are up to. I’ll tell you about how they’ve changed their work, changed their mind-set about their work and what resources they’re using to get through it all.


This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.

Photo copyright of Charlotte Sheridan

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