Nancy Koehn On Finding Time for Civic Duty

Nancy F. Koehn, an authority on entrepreneurial history, is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Koehn's research focuses on leading in turbulent times and the social and economic impact of entrepreneurship.

She is currently working on a book about the most important leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln and another on social entrepreneurs.  Her upcoming book, The Story of American Business:  From the Pages of the New York Times (2009), sketches some of the most important people and moments from the last 150 years of U.S. business history.  Koehn's most recent book, Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers' Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (2001) examined six entrepreneurial visionaries who have created powerful brands and best-of-class companies in moments of great change.

Koehn consults with many companies on a range of issues including leadership development, effective brand stewardship, and customer relationship management.

  • Transcript


Topic: Finding Time for Civic Duty

Nancy Koehn: When we move really fast, and when people are so busy and find time so increasingly scarce is that we also lose opportunities for what, in my grammar school class, we called “civic activity”. Broadly defined, civic activity meant contributing to your community. Contributing to your … to the state or local government. Contributing to your kid’s school. It meant being a citizen – an …, to use the Greek word – an active, responsible member of a governed group. And if you survey Americans as I do … someone who studies consumer behavior and who surveys Americans on how they use their time … and this is not nearly as true in other countries, but it is becoming more true in many countries. The portion of time Americans devote to community, and civic and political activity is decreasing. And yet if we believe that the problems … at least some of them have been more urgent, that’s not a good … that’s not the right balance on either side of the equal sign. That’s not the right equation. So I think slowing down and creating forums for people to make a difference and to listen to each other is really important. And we’re gonna need some leadership from the top on that. We’re gonna need some sanctioning of that kind of behavior from the top. And it’s gonna have to be more than just a CSR department in a corporation. Not that that isn’t important, but that’s not … that’s not the same as leaders stopping and being … and setting an example of the importance of trying to change and improve a number of different problems … change some things in the world and improve a number of problems. We’re going to need more people like Oprah Winfrey, like Bono, like Nelson Mandela, like Peter Gomes – people that stand in front of others and bet their energy, and bet their talents on problems that are much larger than they, and larger than their career. We see almost none of that in American national politics today. We have to look other places for it. We need more of it. Young people need more of it. Middle aged people need more of it. And the … and the rapidly increasing number of people over 65 will have some time on their hands and a lot of experience and wisdom to contribute need to see more of it. So we need more civic activity.

Recorded On: 6/12/07