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: Do you have a creative process?
Nancy Koehn: My creative process is not systematic or formulaic. I think I'd be calmer and more peaceful if it was. It never has been. I'm very intrigued by art. And so I think sometimes my … some of my best work has come from seeing a painting; or hearing a piece of music; or in the case of, you know, a sermon, hearing a fabulous sermon from Peter Gomes and seeing a nugget there that led me to see a bunch of other things about my own work, or about the topic I was thinking about in my book, or for my class. I think that's been . . . the nuggets of art, and literature, and music, and great speaking have been incredibly motivating and inspiring for me Ã¢â‚¬â€œ always and still are. You know I'm a bit of a … a bit of a sociologist in terms of ideas. That is … I can't remember who said that some of the best sociologists are people who talk to taxi drivers all the time. And I certainly know of folks of mine that used to ask taxi driver for investor tips … investment tips. But I talk to people all the time, and some of my best ideas have come from a very casual conversation. So I have good ears, and I have pretty good antenna. And I use the magpie light and take them and go.
Recorded On: 6/12/07
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...