Ultimately what the man had to say as provocative as it was, may have been less telling than what he had actually done.

For three hours Allan Kennedy the author of Corporate Cultures, had been talking about change, about how social trends, personal economic growth, and the deepest impulses of our national character are transforming us into a nation of entrepreneurs. We are redefining the word risk, he argued. We are creating new models for success and new visions of accomplishment. We face new challenges, challenges that no one, in large business or small, can afford to ignore.

But nothing so dramatized Kennedy's thesis as the man himself.

A year ago, by any conventional yardstick, Allan Kennedy, now 40 years old, had reached the top. As a partner in McKinsey & Co., one of the leading management consulting firms in the United States, his advice was sought by the nation's corporate leaders. As the author of a ground-breaking study of informal organizational theory, he had created a concept of internal cultures that had become part of the national business lexicon. He was admired by his colleagues, respected by his clients; his future seemed assured.

So he quit.

For years Allan Kennedy had watched entrepreneurs in action. He had marveled at their drive and the success it brought, and pondered about how to inject their energy into the corporate world of his clients. But always from a distance. As happy as he had been at McKinsey, he wanted to try it on his own. Selkirk Associates Inc., the Boston applications-software house he started about a year ago, would give him that chance.

Were Allan Kennedy alone, an isolated case, the dramatic leap he has taken would be merely one man's story. But he is not alone. Last year some 600,000 other new businesses were born, more than three times as many as 20 years ago. At the same time, some of America's largest companies are pondering their own future in light of these same trends, and coming to surprising conclusions about how to foster innovation and productivity. A new age of entrepreneurism is being born, an age that will challenge and change the assumptions that have for so long dominated American business. And the world will never be the same.

With this special issue, INC. has attempted to explore some of the consequences of this transformation. We talked with the innovators among the fortune 500 to see how such corporations as IBM and NCR are trying to manage the change (see page 64). We looked at the men who best exemplified the new spirit of the era, pioneers like Fred Smith of Federal Express Corp. and Ken Iverson of Nucor Corp. (see page 81). We explored "adventure capital," a new source of funding born of the entreprenurial explosion itself (see page 93). We examined how the lessons of California's Silicon Valley and Massachusetts's Route 128 are beginning to change businesses around the world and make America once more the international corporate model (see page 146). We studied the odyssey of Bob Swiggett, the chief executive officer of Kollmorgen Corp., who has struggled over the past 17 years to make the pursuit of profit and the pursuit of satisfaction for his employees one and the same (see page 121). And we looked back at some of the more memorable stories covered in INC. over the past five years, the people, events, and trends that brought about the new age (see page 163).

The picture that emerges is one of tremendous opportunities -- and equally tremendous risks. "The leading organizational issue in the future is how to kindle some kind of entrepreneurship," Kennedy argued when we spoke in his offices late this winter (see page 106). "But the companies that push the farthest in that direction will be the next wave of successful companies."

For Allan Kennedy, however, talk is not enough. He plans to be at the edge of the next wave. Although Selkirk Associates is still small, Kennedy's vision of growth comes from a firm belief in a decentralized future. As soon as the company expands to 50 employees, he hopes to break it into five divisions, "to keep the scale down." For new product development he hopes not to hire staff, but to make equity investment in other would-be entrepreneurs. "We are trying to structure our organization to look like what we think will be the successful organization of the future," he says. "And we're putting our money where our mouth is."

It is that ability to dream new dreams -- and that willingness to take a risk to see them come true -- that makes Allan Kennedy and the hundreds of thousands like him entrepreneurs.