A speech should be built around one, and only one, idea. But it has to be a big idea. Something that engages the imagination, the intellect, and the emotions. Something that illuminates complexity without being complicated or confusing. Something that causes people to wonder, to speculate, and ask more and better questions.
Here are three ideas for generating big ideas:
Read a Book
Reading a book — as opposed to browsing a summary, an article, or a website that has been optimized for mobile devices — requires attention, concentration, and sustained thinking. Books don’t just contain big ideas, they also train our minds to think big — to think long and hard and deep.
“The one thing that I do worry about is the question of ‘deep reading.’ As the world looks to these instantaneous devices … you spend less time reading all forms of literature, books, magazines and so forth. That probably has an effect on cognition, probably has an effect on reading.”
Take a Hike
Hiking has at least two benefits.
First, hiking make us smarter. It’s a form of aerobic exercise, and as John Medina shows in Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School exercise increases our brain power.
Second, hiking gets us out in fresh air, sunshine, and nature. Which are all good things, not just for the body but for the soul. William Wordsworth, the great English romantic poet, said, “Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.” When I hike, alone or with others, I find myself thinking of things I hadn’t considered before. I wonder as I wonder. And wondering is a doorway into thinking big.
Just Don’t Do Something, Sit There
Silence and the willingness to sit in stillness are probably the greatest counter-cultural “activities” you can engage in. When everything urges you to just do it, it takes moxie not to do it or anything else. Stop cruising the internet. Turn off the TV. Take out the earbuds. Stop going to meetings. Spend less time responding to email. Be quiet and allow — don’t force — ideas to percolate up to your awareness. If you tune out or turn down the volume of all the noise around you, who knows what you might hear?
Where do your best ideas come from?