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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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Question: What can entrepreneurs learn from the past?

Nancy Koehn: One is that you can build something to last. I mean we live in a society with an extraordinarily short and shortening attention spans and sense of time. And the people that I've studied not just in this book, but over now two decades, are people that really built institutions and products and developed people for the long run. So thinking in a longer time span than how long it takes our iPod to sort of boot up is, I think, a worthy endeavor. The second lesson is that for almost all of these people, the work, and the business, and the company, and the endeavor was completely tied up with who they were. So the idea of finding an outline in which you can use your passion, and use your gifts, and learn about your weaknesses, and try and move forward, you know, toward light and possibility is just completely imbedded in many, many … most entrepreneurial stories.And then I think finally what you learn as an entrepreneur  and I've spent many, many years coaching entrepreneurs in a sort of one-on-one or one-on-three way what you learn as you take those steps along the entrepreneurial path is how much input an individual has. For the first few months, first few years, sometimes longer over an entrepreneurial venture, almost everything hinges on the two or three people that hold the idea and are building the company. They're the mother lode of the computer of this possibility. And so you can see in really pure, stark terms when you look at an entrepreneurial venture really what kind of impact a single person or a very few people can have.

Recorded On: 6/12/07


What can entrepreneurs lear...

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