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.
Question: How can we harness the power of technology?
Koehn: I think finally we need to begin to use the technology that now connects us in astounding ways. When the Internet was first commercialized, it was going to be like the television. And it was going to be like connecting eyeballs, like households that view a certain program. The Internet is not going to be like that. We’re in really a very different chapter now. We’ve come a long way in 10 years in terms of the commercialization and ultimate use of the Internet. And the Internet is going to become not only like a global library and a global stage, alright? It’s going to become a global classroom. I view what’s happening on the Internet right now in terms of the way people are using it . . . Think of YouTube, or think of some of the most popular sites that are used on the Internet – sites like The Secret, this very interesting small budget film that came out a year ago about how to live a rich, good life – the secret of living well – that was launched on the Internet. And it was the most popular site, or one of the most popular sites for a number of weeks. This kind of occurrence . . . this moment is equivalent to the printing press. It is fundamentally going to change how people know, and learn, and think about themselves and their place. And so I think that we need to learn to think strategically, and as global citizens and leaders about the Internet as opposed to what it’s really become . . . been for the first decade if its life – and that is a very interesting, very accessible kind of box, or addict, or basement where we put things, or go to things. And then we create, you know, California Closets or Google that helps us organize those. No, no, no, no, no. The Internet is the most powerful technological innovation in a thousand years . . . or 900 years. And now we need people willing to step up to the plate and say, “How are we going to use the power of this technology to unite the world and connect us along uplifting reasons rather than baser reasons?”
Lincoln's emotional awareness, that kind of explicit, reflective, conversation with himself is how he used all the adverse classrooms, from his mother’s death when he was nine to all those lost elections, to...