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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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The Madness of Success

The Big Idea for Monday, August 19, 2013

We spend a lot of time, as a culture, thinking about what drives people to the highest levels of success. Willpower? Single-mindedness? Neglecting sleep? Forgoing human relationships? Inherent genius?

Yes, to all of those things, but that may not be the whole picture. For one, many people who meet all of those criteria do not find the sort of stratospheric success that they are promised. For another, finding that success may be inextricably linked to other kinds of failure.

In an interview with Joshua Kendall on Specific Gravity, Jeff Schechtman examines whether a sort of obsessive madness from childhood pain is a running theme between people from history who have achieved over the top success, from Thomas Jefferson to Charles Lindbergh to Estee Lauder to Steve Jobs.

The psychological and neuroscientific underpinnings of success are fascinating, and they can give us clues as to how to find it ourselves, but they can also offer a word of warning.


  1. 1 Under The Lid of Over The Top Success
    Nicholas Clairmont Specific Gravity
  2. 2 The Failure Fetish
    Daniel Altman Econ201
  3. 3 The Neuroscience of Success
    Jason Gots Think Tank
  4. 4 There's No Success Like Failure: Why You Need to Learn to Sing the Blues
    Robert Steven Kaplan What You're Really Meant To Do

The Madness of Success

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