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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: Who are you?

Tommy Thompson: My name is Tommy G. Thompson. I am former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for four years, and former governor of the great state of Wisconsin for 14 years. So I’ve been in the elected officials and appointed positions of the highest levels of the federal government for the last 18 years. And I guess the easiest thing to call me is either “Tommy” or “Governor”.

I think you formulate all your really basic thoughts and premises and philosophies from where you come from, and from what your taught by your parents, and your siblings and your neighbors. And then also what you learn in your . . . in the school systems, both K-12 and university. I grew up in a small community – Elroy, as you know – population 1,500. Elroy is a community that is such that you know everybody in the community, they know you, you know the problems; but you also know how to help people. It’s a great learning experience. I think it’s a wonderful experience to grow up in a small town, in a small, rural farming community like I did. And I didn’t realize I was poor until I went away for university. My father had a small grocery store, and my mother was a school teacher as you said. And we also had a farm. And so I grew up on a farm as well as in the grocery store. My mother was Irish, and she was very compassionate and quite emotional. My father was more . . . more of a conservative and more of a hard-working German. And he believed that everybody should work. And so growing up, my job at the age of five . . . When I went in to see if I could buy a bicycle he said, “Sure. I’ll put you to work and you earn the money and you can buy it.” And so my first job at the age of five . . . now most people are still learning how to walk and talk. I was polishing eggs. Farmers would bring in eggs to trade at the grocery store for groceries, and I would have to sandpaper them and clean them. And to this day I have a very strong distaste for eggs. I think it was the fact that I’ve cleaned so many in my life and I’ve had so many explode on me. So I grew up there. And then I worked on the farm and I also worked in construction. And then I went away to the University of Wisconsin where I started my college career.

Recorded on: 7/6/07





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