The importance of thinking very big and very small

Dennis Sparks

“Good innovators typically think very big and they think very small. Ideas are sometimes found in the most granular details of a problem where few others bother to look.” – Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–But Some Don’t

A week or two back I noted that I was reading Nate Silver’s new book, The Signal and the Noise, in search of potential breakthrough ideas. I’m not sure if this idea is a breakthrough, but it certainly resonated with me.

The “granular details” Silver mentions often prove to be a source of good ideas or key to the implementation of new practices.

Innovation that leads to continuous improvements in teaching and learning involves both a richly-detailed vision of what the school community seeks to create and an understanding of the specific actions necessary to get there, particularly the very next action so that momentum is not lost in the press of too many things to do.

In my experience, maintaining the focus and energy necessary to implement new practices requires that everyone in the school community hold in mind both the big picture and the “granular details.” That includes:

1. A compelling, richly detailed vision of what the school seeks to create in terms of student learning and classrooms practices. Such a vision guides, energizes, and sustains the work.

2. Clarity about fine-grained, often mundane specifics – for instance, the forms teams/PLCs will use to communicate with principals and teacher leaders the nature of a group’s conversation, the ideas and practices generated there, and the team’s accomplishments.

3. “Next action thinking” in the last few minutes of every meeting, including those devoted to professional learning, so that participants have clarity and a sense of accountability about individual and group responsibilities.

Question: What seemingly mundane details have you addressed that either became a source of good ideas or helped lead to the implementation of new practices?

2 Responses to “The importance of thinking very big and very small”


  1. 1 Stephanie Grasso January 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Reblogged this on Teaching a World of Difference by Stephanie Grasso and commented:
    In thinking about my next career steps, I really liked this post by Dennis Sparks about big picture practices with smaller steps that bring in the practical to create change.


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