How to Hold a Big Idea

Sam Snead didn’t have calluses on his hands.

The golfer from rural Virginia won 82 PGA tournaments and was a three-time Ryder Cup captain. Over a 50-year career, Slammin’ Sam made his mark on golf and the man still didn’t have calluses on his hands.

It was all in how he held the club.

“Grip the club,” Mr. Snead used to say, “like you’ve got a bird in your hands.” As golf coach Harvey Pennick elaborated, hold the club “with just enough pressure that the bird can’t fly away, but not so tightly that the bird can’t breathe.”

Big ideas, I think, need to be held the same way.

By Big Idea, I mean the kind of idea that emanates from our gut, that unsettles us, that may unsettle convention. The kind of idea that forces us out of our Hobbit Hole and into the unmapped wilderness. In short, the kind of idea that matters.

It might be a career decision, how you raise your child, an artistic pursuit. Whatever the form, a Big Idea deserves respect. And despite their force, despite how much they demand of us, Big Ideas are still fragile birds.

We must hold that bird, be a soldier for it. Because people aren’t always kind to these ideas: if they’re big enough or different enough, they will get misunderstood, dismissed, and rotten-tomatoed, by strangers, perhaps even by those we love. But remember: the response is to the idea, not us.

And though we go to battle for that bird, we must try not to hold it so tightly that it can’t breathe or grow.

Because Big Ideas change and they take time. Charles Schulz spent 10 years trying to get Charlie Brown – all six or so strokes of him – right. It’s why movies have rough cuts and books have editors. Big ideas, like the birds they are, grow. And it takes flexibility and humility to grow with them.

I’m no pro. I’m writing this as much for myself as for anyone else. But I believe the world is moved by the Big Ideas that people fought for, grew with, and respected enough to make them real.

Unlike Mr. Snead, we’ll probably get calluses. And rips, burns, and breaks. But like Mr. Snead, we’ll have made our mark.

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