The Big Idea

UCLA Anderson hosted the LA Times' SUMMIT conference a few weeks ago. Named The Big Idea: Innovating for Tomorrow, the day long conference was presented by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.  The Awards are celebrating their 40th anniversary.

Since 1976, the Rolex Awards have recognized individuals who "have the courage and conviction to take on major challenges and who have initiated extraordinary projects that advance human knowledge and well-being." The awards cover five broad categories: science & health, applied technology, exploration and discovery, the environment, and cultural heritage. The Awards hope to transform lives and communities, as well as stimulate new ways of thinking about common problems. Hence the connection with the Times' "Big Idea" concept.

Conversation began with the definition of a big idea: it's only big if it transcends an industry. The idea has to be something that changes the game, not just the story. The automobile (i.e., not simply a faster horse), refrigerators (i.e., not simply ice blocks delivered faster), the cell phone (goes without saying).

The Rolex Awards are an international event and draw rising and established professionals from fields as varied as neuroscience and television programming to marine biology and gastronomy. Selecting Los Angeles as this year's host city, the organizers recognized the city as on "the cutting edge of innovation, leading in technology, and internationally diverse."

The three day conference and awards ceremony attracted more than 500 Angelenos and international guests of all ages, industries, languages, nationalities, and levels of professional accomplishment. I met writers, software developers, and lawyers. I sat next to Paul Rose, explorer and BBC tv star, whose new program,  Coastal Path, is set to air November 18.

Co-presenter Bhagwan Chowdry, Anderson professor and Faculty Director of Impact@Anderson, shared his mantra: he tells his students that excellence is not a choice, it's a moral obligation. When you excel, you inspire others to excel. (Impact@Anderson is an MBA specialization dedicated to educating the next generation of leaders to be social change makers.) 

As the pieces of the day fell into place, it occurred to me that the day was devised in the service of inspiring all of us to be big thinkers, to tell better stories. As Plato said, "What is honored will be cultivated."


CODA: According to Will Durant 

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.