What's the Big Idea?
"A single priest often does the work of a hundred soldiers - far more cheaply and effectively."
- Yuval Nooah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
During the summer my reading list tends to wander away from sports / leadership / culture books and into other subjects of interest. This summer that has included a dalliance with history and politics, or more specifically, the big ideas that have changed history and influence politics today.
In his best-selling book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Historian Yuval Nooah Harai describes a time during human development called the Cognitive Revolution when shared ideas became the driver of human behavior.
These big ideas centered around hierarchy, economics, and religion to unify massive numbers of people into entire societies. They allowed humans to bind behavior (social norms) and belief (the fundamental stories we tell) to "cooperate effectively and forge a better society." According to Harai, no other species on earth is capable of organizing around a central idea, and that has led to human domination of the planet.
This seems to be a common thread throughout history. The best and most efficient inspiration for collective action is a Big Idea. For example, Jane Mayer's book Dark Money explores how some have spent millions of dollars in recent years to promote the big idea that government is inherently bad, while others have spent millions to promote a belief that government is inherently good. We derive policies, allocate resources, and enact laws based on one assumption or the other.
What I find fascinating about this theory is that a single idea can drive the behavior of millions of people who otherwise have nothing in common and no connection to one another. Jared Yates Sexton's book American Rule provides an in-depth example of how bygone notions of white supremacy continue to plague society today. History is littered with notorious events, behaviors, and beliefs that trace their roots to the big idea that one race is superior to another.
While I enjoy the intellectual stimulation these books provide, it has challenged me to consider something else.
What is the Big Idea I want driving our basketball program?
We are in the beginning stages of building a youth basketball program at Mount Vernon, and that presents an opportunity. If there was one singular notion I would want to permeate every mind in our program, from youth to alumni, to coaches and parents, what should that be?
I don't think the answer relates to a style of play, a list of values, or even a definition of success. At the end of the day, the single big idea that would serve our program best is the belief that basketball is fun.
Players that have fun work harder, get better faster, make it more enjoyable for others, are more likely to show up in the off-season and continue playing through their senior year of high school. I cannot think of another idea that could have the same powerful impact on an entire program than this.
Defining the big idea is just the first step of a thousand mile journey as we figure out how to ingrain this belief into every aspect of our program, but it's worth considering for yourself.
Does your program have a big idea that drives everything you do?
Food for thought.
- Nate Sanderson
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