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As a fellow graduate of Harvard Business School, I know Salman Khan is well-versed in turning good ideas into potential business opportunities. When it came to Khan Academy, however, the online education platform offering free lessons in everything from algebra to art history, Khan dreamt bigger.

We know that as a result of a psychological phenomenon called the Einstellung effect, executing a familiar solution blinds us to other, more creative possibilities. But new problems present new opportunities.

Thanks to his training in software development, Khan didn't need to rely on outside talent to begin building prototypes of Khan Academy. And once a basic scaffolding of his vision was created, he credits his longstanding devotion to science fiction as much as his business acumen for allowing him to imagine the possibilities of what Khan Academy might become. He explains in his Edge interview:

"Instead of it just being a one-off collection of videos or a one-off software app that I tried to do as a venture-backed business, maybe [Khan Academy] could be the next Stanford, the next Harvard, this new type of institution that people haven't visualized quite yet, but it could help empower millions or billions of students for the next 500 years.

And as soon as you start thinking on those scales, you go after a bigger problem and you phrase things differently and, frankly, you inspire more people. More amazing people are going to want to be part of that audacious goal."


At Big Think Edge, we broke down Khan's main ideas so you can integrate them into your own professional approach:

Set audacious goals

  • New problems present new opportunities. Resist the urge to impose limits on your thinking.
  • Thoughts influence words. Words influence actions. By dreaming big, you push everyone around you to be more ambitious.

Give everyone ownership

  • Create processes that allow people to practice autonomy while being held accountable for results.
  • Promote adaptability over the long term by encouraging frequent, short-term experimentation.

Architect the future

  • As a leader, take a bird’s eye view. Focus on shaping the organization’s evolution over time.
  • Create a set of processes whereby good ideas naturally get surfaced, prioritized, executed, and tested in a nimble way.

Learn more about Big Think Edge.