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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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What Do All Innovators Have in Common?

February 17, 2011, 12:00 AM

In his 15 years as a staff writer for the New Yorker, bestselling-author Malcolm Gladwell has profiled a host of what he calls "minor geniuses"—innovators or pioneers usually from a niche field or discipline. In talking with dozens of these trailblazers, Gladwell tells Big Think that he noticed attributes that they all shared. Above all, "they're all obsessive characters," says Gladwell. "What you find when you look at real innovators is a monomanical fixation on very specific questions or issues." These innovators are also able to act as the bridge between these very specific fields and the mainstream. "They're people who bridge the gap between private and public worlds," he says. "They take something that had been a feature of a closed, marginalized community and they make it accessible to everyone else."

During his Big Think interview Gladwell discusses a handful of these innovators, including hair care pioneer Shirley Polykoff and kitchen gadget inventor extraordinaire Ron Popeil, dissecting what particular insight or skill led to their success. Below Gladwell discusses philosopher and Wall Street oracle Nassim Taleb, whose unique background allowed him to win big as the global economy tanked during the Great Recession:


What Do All Innovators Have...

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