“Nearly everyone aspires to something–wealth, fame, happiness. But a few people aspire to changing an entire paradigm, the way the Wright Brothers did when they invented a glider with an engine, the way Nelson Mandela did when he endured decades of imprisonment to see his nation transformed, the way Thomas Jefferson did when he doubled the territory of the young U.S. by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France for less than three cents an acre. All seem like obvious ideas in retrospect, but in fact all appeared quixotic at the time, as wrongheaded as the alchemy that had been attempted for 300 years without ever succeeding in turning a base metal into gold.
In Arc of Ambition, authors James Champy (Reengineering Management, Reengineering the Corporation) and Nitin Nohria see these visionaries as creators, but also recognize two other species of genius: capitalizers, who take great ideas and create great businesses or social movements from them; and consolidators, who lead these businesses or movements into maturity. All three types have the titular “arc of ambition.” That is, they start with a great idea, realize it, cope with the success of it (the chapter on overreaching and squandering opportunity includes the cautionary tales of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton), and decide when and how to turn the product of their imagination over to others. Ultimately, The Arc of Ambition is the entire history of the modern world, of its politics and technology and art. Everything we know and either cherish or loathe starts as someone’s ambition, and ends when the product of someone else’s ambition becomes the dominant model. It’s an interesting and entertaining way to organize the world, to look at the facts with new eyes. In that sense, the authors display the fruits of ambition even as they explain them. –Lou Schuler “