Big thinking not (just) Big Data

I am intrigued but not moved by big data.

I’m definitely interested and impressed about the implications of big data and the obvious benefits to improving systems. But it is not the main priority (or crisis??) that needs to be faced up to by organisations and leaders today. What I see as the biggest challenge is a need for big thinking.

If big data is the pumping heart of improving systems, then big thinking is the pumping heart of imagining directions, organisations, systems, engagements and experiences that don’t even exist yet. Big thinking is the fulcrum point of innovation and disruption. Without it we are just polishing the same old things in different and more efficient ways. Lets be clear, big thinking is not the same thing as design thinking. – A method that is suffering from being over sold as the ‘saviour” for corporations that have forgotten they serve human beings in the first place. (Not dissing design thinking but it has its weaknesses and limitations).

Over the last number of years I have had the good fortune of working with an organisation that has been applying cutting edge techniques at very senior levels. We came to a recognition, very early, that elements of a design thinking approach are useful but not enough. As a result we have developed a methodology that integrates a systematic approach with strategic thinking and design. But today let’s focus on becoming a big thinker. More importantly how can leaders become big(ger) thinkers?

Here are a selection of some (not all!) of the principles derived from our deep experience of imagining with our clients:

Cut through the crap:

How many meetings have we been in where very limited managers and leaders have bamboozled with sector and discipline specific language. Move away from this kind of language and get to a simpler place about what you are trying to do and trying to achieve.

Go up:

Move above the noise and adopt a much higher level satellite view of the opportunity or situation. Focus on interesting interfaces and interactions between key elements of your business, or value chain and view each element as a system that can be evolved and revolutionised.


Deconstruct what you are as a business to it’s simple common denominator – think in current and future outcomes and functions to explore opportunities in new ways.


Find the conflicts:

Actively seek out seemingly contradictory or conflicting requirements that might yield interesting perspectives or new avenues for exploration e.g. what is ‘old’ and ‘new’ retirement?


Harness flow and gestation:

Don’t get caught in the ‘user centric’, ‘insight’ trap – real big thinking leaders need to understand the undercurrents of change and seek out how systems are organically evolving over time and how fast or slow this happens – become flow centric not user centric, include ‘humans’ in your thought processes but at a macro level.


Think in dimensions:

Move beyond traditional perspectives of physical and digital views of the world and think about how these worlds mesh, overlap, interact and integrate across different times, spaces and under different conditions.


Diverge with end result direction:

Don’t just diverge in your thinking. Define an end result direction based on flow and gestation and diverge within that context. Once you understand this your creative or divergent thinking processes will actually be empowered NOT limited.

Over to you – big thinking time.