Where is business headed?
Nancy Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School where she holds the James E. Robison chair of Business Administration. Koehn's research focuses on how leaders, past and present, craft lives of purpose, worth, and impact.
Her new book, Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times is an enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights that will be of interest to a wide range of readers—including those in government, business, education, and the arts—Forged in Crisis spotlights five masters of crisis: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.
Koehn is the author of numerous books, articles, and Harvard Business School cases. She writes frequently for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Harvard Business Review Online. She is also a weekly commentator on National Public Radio and has appeared on many national television programs. She has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and in many other venues.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, Koehn earned a Master of Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government before taking her MA and PhD in History from Harvard. She lives outside Boston and is a dedicated equestrian.
Question: Where is business headed?
Nancy Koehn: I’m astounded by the new possibilities. The possibilities for new business. The possibilities for new connections across formerly unpassable boundaries; the possibilities for new confidence and new contributions by what we call the millennial generation. I’m just in awe and … of what was called generation Y or the millennial generation, and what they want to accomplish and will accomplish, and the confidence and energy that they have. I’m amazed by the … just the astounding variety of capitalism. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think I’m going to see a new product and think, “My goodness. How can it be that another entrepreneur has created this product? This particular eucalyptus soap with this particular configuration of exfoliants that will sell for $18 with a gross margin of 98%.” I just marvel at capitalism’s inventiveness. I think I marvel finally at something much more … that you can only see in between the lines of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. And that is a yearning on the part of Americans for a reason to believe and to collect themselves in a belief. Collect themselves as a group, be part of a group, and to believe in something worthy. It’s there in the letters to the editor, which of course now are typed an hour after the story ran and e-mailed in the next minute. It’s there in the Style section on Sunday when you look at some of the very interesting social endeavors that people are involved in. It’s there in the Circuit section when you read about a new invention designed to help elderly patients do something better. It’s there in the occasional story about religion. We think we live in a massively and cleanly … pristinely clean, secular age. Oh no. Oh no, no, no. We live in an age of people longing to find a reason to believe in something larger than themselves and their stuff … and in some cases their country if they are really disillusioned. And I think we live in … I think as a historian we’re on the verge of an astounding, flowering emergence of new commitment on the part of people to causes, and being … and to a way of being much, much bigger than much of the 20th century has witnessed.
Recorded On: 6/12/07
Koehn marvels at the new possibilities for business.
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