Early in level 4 lockdown, a contact approached me wondering how to get a good, Covid-related idea in front of a minister.
It involved a novel testing technology for Covid-19 – or any other disease detectable using breath samples – which might credibly revolutionise the cost, efficacy, and availability of testing for the virus.
At that stage, testing capability was still far lower than it needed to be and there was a scramble on for solutions.
The question: where would one direct this potentially valuable innovation, which includes a big chunk of New Zealand intellectual property, so that someone would consider it?
I wasn't much help. The idea was channelled through a health contact into what sounded like a very large and overflowing bucket of similarly big ideas that were arriving in droves daily.
The big idea that came my way could be a great health tool, earn this country big money, and even spawn an industry. But almost certainly, it is a tool that will only be ready in time for the next pandemic rather than the one happening right now.
This minor personal exposure to the phenomenon made me attuned over following weeks to an upwelling of complaints from frustrated purveyors of big ideas whose irritable cries mostly boiled down to: "I've got the answer, but no one's listening to me!"
The trouble was that government ministers, their advisers, and anyone with a working knowledge of Wellington was being swamped with offers of this kind.
The tsunami of big ideas – good, bad, indifferent, lunatic, wild and inspired – was simply too overwhelming for a government engaged in crisis management to deal with.
You could call it the curse of big ideas.
In fact, by the time it had put the country into lockdown, the Government had already effectively made its biggest choices for expert advice and ideas to latch on to.
External epidemiological experts had pushed hard for lockdown against more cautious advice from the Ministry of Health, and won.
A de facto private sector sounding board of rich-listers – including the Mowbray family, The Warehouse's Sir Stephen Tindall, and former Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe – had the Prime Minister's ear on both health and economic responses.
By the time everyone else's big ideas started flowing, there were already enough big ideas, big egos, big spending, and big decisions in place. There was little or no room for more.
Futurists like Roger Dennis have seen this all before.
Christchurch-based, Dennis watched a similar outpouring of fresh thinking, optimistic future-casting and blue skies idea-mongering as the region sought to find its feet after the earthquakes.
"What we saw in the disaster was lot of arm-waving. They were all reasonable ideas but about 20 per cent were tangible and implementable.
"Probably 10 per cent might have got some consideration by government.
"And about 1 per cent made it through."
His particular disappointment – and one of the biggest missed opportunities of the Canterbury rebuild – was the failure to include data-gathering sensor technology throughout the above and below-ground urban infrastructure that had to be replaced.
An opportunity to set Christchurch up as a world-leading city in the Internet of Things was lost in the rush.
Those kinds of missed opportunities will be happening right now in the covid-19 response.
A lot of completely impractical ideas are also being cast aside in presumably equal haste.
How, in this pressure cooker environment, to choose what to pursue and what to ignore?
Until recently, the rule has been what Finance Minister Grant Robertson described it as a "no regrets" approach to swift decision-making, where momentum was more important than perfection.
That's what lay behind the infamous memo from the Beehive advising ministers there was no need to defend decisions revealed in a document dump on the Friday afternoon before Budget week.
"Onwards, ever onwards!" is the mantra in crisis. Stopping to wonder simply looks like hesitation and a public craving decisive leadership can sense that a mile off. That is the story of the Government's stratospheric current poll ratings.
But the health crisis is starting to recede, barring a resurgence of the virus.
Ahead lies a three to five-year slog to recover from the global recession of which New Zealand's inevitable recession will be just one part.
The opportunity to make deliberate choices that favour a more productive, equitable, environmentally sustainable and infrastructurally resilient economy is starting now.
It is a Herculean task, but the time to start trying to make sense of that outpouring of big ideas is now.
After all, history tells us that pandemics have more impacts on societies and economies than wars although their impact derives from the same phenomenon: huge and sudden disorder.
Among those trying to bring order to chaos, Dennis is but one individual – albeit a better than averagely connected individual, with networks that span some of the world's smartest thinkers about the future and deep links into the New Zealand public and private sectors. His contribution to the current conundrum is anew.nz, which starts from the optimistic premise that "New Zealand is one of the few countries to emerge from the immediate crisis and this creates an extraordinary opportunity" when the global economy has entered an "unknown state".
Some of those involved are at the "usual suspects" end of the scale: Business New Zealand executive director Kirk Hope is there, as is Xero founder Rod Drury, whose ideas about letting the super-rich come here lasted just long enough to endure a withering putdown from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Others include: Steve Carden, the climate change-conscious chief executive of the state-owned farming company formerly known as Landcorp, now trading as Pamu; Mind Lab founder Francis Valintine; tourism entrepreneur and investor Paul Bingham; Tourism NZ chair and one of a new generation of Maori leaders Jamie Tuuta; Traci Houpapa, a director at both the Treasury and NZ Trade and Enterprise, as well as chair at Te Arawa Group Holdings; climate change activist-commentator Rod Oram; and primary healthcare leader Ranja Patel.
Contributions so far cover the future for primary industries, which was shifting before Covid-19 but is becoming more important for New Zealand in the aftermath; how to revive a different, higher value international tourism industry; accelerating the growth and belief in New Zealand's ICT sector; and discussion about how the business environment will change post-Covid.
"People, particularly officials, are looking for what we can pick up and implement that's rational and bite-sized," says Dennis. "At the moment, they're reaching for the Christchurch playbook and saying: 'don't worry, it's under control'."
But it's not.
Whether the ideas he promotes are the rights ones, and no matter that others will pursue similar initiatives, Dennis's central thesis has to be right: that if we play a reactive game from here on in, New Zealand will be likely to recover more slowly, have less control over its future, and miss opportunities that deep disruption can accelerate.
"I'm just trying to separate the signal from the noise," he says.