What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

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.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: Why did you consider your first business, LinkExchange, such a failure? 

Tony Hsieh: From the outside, the first company, LinkExchange, that I co-founded seemed like a success. It was actually a pretty sad thing selling the company. Most people don’t actually know the reason why we ended up selling the company. It’s because the company culture just went completely downhill. I remember when it was just five or 10 of us; it was kind of like your typical dot-com back in the day. This was 1996, and we were working around the clock, sleeping under a desk, had no idea what day of the week it was, but it was a lot of fun. But we didn’t know any better to pay attention to company culture. 

So, by the time we got to 100 people, we hired all the people with the right skill sets and experiences, but not all of them were culture fits. And when we got to 100 people, I remember I myself dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to the office. And that was kind of a weird feeling because this was a company that I co-founded and if I felt that way, then I wondered how all the other employees must have felt. So, we ended up selling the company. And with Zappos I wanted to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistake again. So from the beginning culture has always been really important and to this day, culture is actually the number one priority in the company. And our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great service, or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own. 

Question: Why was the culture at LinkExchange lacking? 

Tony Hsieh: So, I guess my definition of whether a culture would be a right fit for me personally, would just be; would I want to hang out with these people if we weren’t forced to work together? And at LinkExchange the answer was, no. And at Zappos the answer is yes. In fact, most employees when they leave the office we go hang out with other Zappos employees and we spend our weekends together. And so that’s probably the criteria I use for whether a culture is right for me. 

Question: Why is culture so important in building a company? 

Tony Hsieh: Our whole belief is that, if you get the culture right then most of the other stuff will happen naturally out of it. But it really depends on, you know, what the culture is. So, it’s a big "if." For us we’ve really kind of formalized the definition of our culture into our 10 core values. So if you do a Google search for Zappos' core values, you’ll see what those 10 are. And I think it’s inherent in those 10 needs to be stuff that is relevant to business. 

For example, one of our core values is to embrace and drive change. I think that’s really important for business. Another one is about being adventurous, creative, and open-minded. And another one is to do more with less. And so I definitely think that the core values need to incorporate business concepts, but they don’t necessarily need to sound business-y. For example, other companies might say, “Increase company efficiencies,” which is exactly what "do more with less" means. We are just less formal about it in terms of the actual wording.

Recorded on May 27, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

More from the Big Idea for Thursday, October 06 2011


The Importance of a Company...

Newsletter: Share: