Blog

Moving Ahead of the Pandemic

9 June 2020

with additions on 10 June and 15 June 2020.

SUMMARY
We talk about a “new normal” while we revert to the old normal. It could be killing ourselves instead of our economies. Hoping for the best is not a strategy. A way forward can begin with the recognition that the prevailing explanation for the transmission of the coronavirus (Level 1, proximate) leaves much unexplained. In contrast, evidence has been mounting about another form of transmission (Level 2, atmospheric), that could be the real superspreader, indoors as well as outdoors. If so, by stopping the polluting, we may be able to stop the pandemic. We could be opening up our economies selectively, to those activities and buildings that are largely pollutant-free. At stake is our health, short- and long-term, as well as the health of a globe that has had enough of our warming.

with additions on 10 June and 15 June 2020.

SUMMARY
We talk about a “new normal” while we revert to the old normal. It could be killing ourselves instead of our economies. Hoping for the best is not a strategy. A way forward can begin with the recognition that the prevailing explanation for the transmission of the coronavirus (Level 1, proximate) leaves much unexplained. In contrast, evidence has been mounting about another form of transmission (Level 2, atmospheric), that could be the real superspreader, indoors as well as outdoors. If so, by stopping the polluting, we may be able to stop the pandemic. We could be opening up our economies selectively, to those activities and buildings that are largely pollutant-free. At stake is our health, short- and long-term, as well as the health of a globe that has had enough of our warming.

We talk about a “new normal” while we revert to the old normal. It could be taking us to a deadly impasse. Either we kill our economies by keeping them closed or, in the event of a second wave, we kill more of ourselves by opening them up. Hoping for the best is not a strategy.

There is a way forward, for the health of ourselves and our planet. Having made no progress trying to publish this in several prominent newspapers (maybe it went into the trash alongside Trump and his bleach), yet remaining convinced that it has to be heard, I post it here again, more sharply, more clearly1, licensed in the Creative Common so that you can reprint it,  repost it, translate it, even nail its summary to the door of your favorite church, mosque, synagogue, or supermarket.

The prevailing explanation for the transmission of the coronavirus—through direct exposure to infected people —leaves too much unexplained. Why do so many people get infected without evidence of direct exposure? How come individual cases of COVID-19 can be found everywhere yet the major outbreaks are restricted to certain areas and facilities? What really stopped the outbreaks in Wuhan and South Korea? Something else must be going on.

Evidence has been mounting about the presence of another form of transmission, through polluted air. This was first reported in March by a team of researchers in Italy, was picked up by the Guardian newspaper in late April, and has recently been used with additional evidence in a report of an All Party Group in the British Parliament.2  The Italian team identified an association between atmospheric pollution and the rapid propagation of the virus, specifically that minute particles of the virus attach to particles in polluted air. Judging by earlier tests on Zika, SARS, and Ebola, the virus could remain active in the air for several hundred meters, and therefore infect people beyond a few meters.

This could explain why, by early April, all ten of the largest outbreaks of the pandemic—within China, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Germany—occurred in places of heavy pollution. The evidence that the air in some cruise ships and senior residences had high levels of contamination suggests further that the virus could circulate indoors, through ventilating systems (as was found with the legionnaires’ disease) or just in the natural flow of inside air. How else to explain why so many people locked down in their rooms become infected?  In its June issue, Environment International calls on “national authorities [to] acknowledge the reality that the virus spreads through air.”

We can call this Level 2 atmospheric transmission, to contrast it with Level 1 proximate transmission.

Level 2 atmospheric transmission is the likely superspreader, indoors as well as outdoors. While Level 1 contact can explain how individuals get infected in the first place, Level 2 exposure may better explain how the wider outbreaks occur, and why that happens in some places and not others. An individual can carry the virus to a new place and infect people nearby, but from there, polluted air may take over and do the superspreading, as it carries the virus in the atmospheres of some cities and buildings (depending on factors such as humidity, sun exposure, and air movements).

Consider Level 2 in terms of the density and duration of the active particles. The density of these tiny particles in the atmospheric air may be less than that for the heavier particles coughed into a room. But they can last longer—apparently up to hours instead of minutes—and be replaced continuously. We do know from the experience of health care workers that the longer people are exposed to the virus, the greater the chances of getting infected. Think of all those people who are exposed to polluted air, some for as much as 24/7 (indoors as well as outdoors). Go to a particular wedding in New York City and the odds of coming home with the virus could be rather high. But how often do you go to weddings? Live in the air of New York City and, even if the odds of getting infected are 1%, this amounts to 80,000 people. The city has had 200,000 cases of COVID-19. All from Level 1?

This evidence should suffice to provoke a reconsideration of how we deal with the pandemic, as well as how we investigate it. 

We require detective research, in the form of grounded learning, alongside the more formal procedures of proper research. I asked a number of epidemiologists to read earlier versions of this piece. Most were dismissive; all called for further research—one estimated two or three years of it. We can no more wait for that than can we continue to flatten the curve while waiting for a vaccine. Compare the evidence presented here with that for the hodgepodge of re-openings currently being pursued. What evidence supports the firing up of our polluting cities? While proper research must unfold as it should, we require detective research, namely the investigation of every plausible option. Is this risky? The course we are on is the risky one.

The stakes are high while the options are few. By suspending our exclusive belief in Level 1 transmission, we could be discovering all kinds of other ways to proceed. Should we open our windows to clear the air inside our buildings? Not if that brings in more dangerous air from the outside. Should we remove the masks when no one is nearby (as is now being done in some hospitals), or allow schools and plants to reopen so long as everyone can keep their distance? Not if the air inside is found to contain contaminants that could be carrying the virus.

By stopping the polluting, indoors and outdoors, we may be able to stop the pandemic. China and South Korea have been lauded for isolating their people to flatten the curve. But the greater benefit may have been serendipitous. With reduced traffic and industry, the outbreaks might have ended because the pollution abated. If so, then simply reopening our economies, however gradually, could turn out to be deadly—as we might be finding out with the coming of a second wave.

Must we force ourselves into this either/or impasse, between the flawed options of opening up and closing down? We can open up our economies selectively, where distancing is possible, by allowing activities that barely pollute to operate while keeping major sources of pollution closed until they can be cleaned up, if ever—certain power plants and factories as well as much vehicular traffic. Indoors, we can investigate every problematic space—residences and schools, offices and arenas, factories and hog plants—and allow no-one back in until experts declare the air to be safe from carrying the virus. (Smoke could be a factor in these plants, as well as in Chinese markets and at Indian funeral sites.3)

In essence, we may have to stop the polluting to stop the pandemic (#SP2SP). Beyond that, we need to stop the polluting of our bodies and our minds to rebalance our societies (#SP2RS). Does this sound harsh? Compare it with what we are doing now.
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In a 2003 poll, the British medical establishment chose Dr John Snow as their greatest physician. But in his lifetime, Dr Snow was dismissed by that establishment for questionning its belief that cholera had to be transmitted through air. During an outbreak in London in 1854, Dr Snow placed a pin on a map where each person had died. All but two clustered around one well. He travelled to the home of one of the outliers, where he was told that she preferred the taste of the water in that particular well and had it brought to her, also that her niece liked that water too. She proved to be the other outlier.  And so, while the medical establishment was frantically trying to cope with the outbreak, the handle was taken off the well and it ended. But not the cholera: 12 years passed, and many more people died, before the case for the transmission of cholera through polluted water was finally accepted. How long, and how many more deaths, before the case for the transmission of Covid-19 through polluted air will even be considered? We don’t have 12 weeks.
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We need a win. Recognizing Level 2 transmission alongside Level 1 offers a win-win, a way forward for our immediate and long-term health as well as for the health of a globe that has had enough of our warming. And what if we take this seriously and it turns out to have been wrong? Good. Finally, we will have dealt with our long-term health and global warming. So please take this seriously!

© Henry Mintzberg 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. For the questioning of more correctness in health care, please  see my book Managing the Myths of Health Care.

I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this effort during the past two mad months, some not necessarily having supported my position.
For investigating:  Hanieh Mohammadi, Paola Adinolfi, Simon Hudson, Alex Anderson, Pierre Batteau, and Diane Marie Plante
For suggesting sources:  Natalie Duchesne, Lisa Mintzberg, Susan Mintzberg, Leslie Breitner, John Breitner, Joanne Liu, Jonathan Gosling, Karl Moore, Rosamund Lewis, and Donald Berwick
For supporting professionally: Rick Fleet with Jean-Simon Letourneau and our IMHL.org Blindspots group, Toby Heaps and the Corporate Knights, Matthew Chapman and the Montreal Climate Coalition, also Bill Litwack for some early editing
For supporting behind the scenes:  Santa Balanca-Rodrigues and Phil LeNir as well as Marie-Michele Naud
And for supporting all this substantially as well as me personally, last and most: Dulcie Naimer

My blog on 31 March—“Investigating the Cause of the Coronavirus”—identified what I believed to be various anomalies associated with the coronavirus. On 2 April, I read an email from Nathalie Duchesne about the Italian researchers’ report and replied immediately: “WOW!! It could be travelling through air!! I was just musing. On particles. So taking the cars off the road could stop it!!” I published “Part II: Explaining the Anomalies” on 5 April. Since then, I have redrafted the above more than 20 times (with a revision posted here on 2 May), all the while trying to publish it on a prominent op ed page. Two said no; there was no reply from five others. (Too little science for the “opinion” page?)  Eventually, I hope to do a blog about Scientism in the time of COVID-19.

On May 29,  in a medRxiv preprint, researchers in the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge reported: “Our model indicated that exposure to PM2.5 and PM10 [pollutants found in outdoor and indoor air] increases the risk of COVID-19 infection.”  

Meat-packing plants have been the scenes of extensive outbreaks of Covid-19, apparently more than in other plants where people also work in close proximity. The BBC reported on 24 April that “When scientists analyzed hospital admission records in Brazil, they found that the number of flu cases tended to go up during the burning season, when there is more smoke in the atmosphere…” The report explained that the smoke blocked the solar ultraviolet light that would have killed the virus. But how did that virus get into that atmosphere in the first place? If the coronavirus hitches itself to particles of smoke too, might that explain some of these outbreaks: that infected air from the process of smoking meats such as bacon and ham could be a superspreader, within these plants and/or the nearby communities? “A small number of employees at the Wisconsin and Missouri facilities have tested positive for COVID-19... Both plants are located near areas where ‘community spread of COVID-19 has been prevalent’” (Business News). Moreover, might smoke from the BBQing of meat in Chinese markets better explain the spread of the coronavirus than the presence of exotic animals? And how about the funeral pyres of India: the more people die, the more the cases of CVID-19?

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Prendre les devants sur la pandémie

8 June 2020

Avec des ajouts les 10 et 15 juin 2020

RÉSUMÉ


Avec des ajouts les 10 et 15 juin 2020

RÉSUMÉ


Nous parlons de « nouvelle normalité » tandis que nous retournons à notre ancienne normalité. Cela pourrait nous tuer, plutôt que de tuer notre économie. L’optimisme n’est pas une stratégie. Prendre les devants peut commencer par reconnaître que l’explication dominante de la transmission du coronavirus (le premier niveau – la transmission de proximité) laisse beaucoup à désirer. Comparativement, il y a de plus en plus de preuves d’une autre forme de transmission (le deuxième niveau – la transmission atmosphérique), qui pourrait être responsable de la « superpropagation », tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur. Le cas échéant, en mettant fin à la pollution, nous pourrions être en mesure de mettre fin à la pandémie. Nous pourrions ouvrir notre économie de façon sélective, en optant pour les activités et les bâtiments qui sont en grande partie non polluants. À court comme à long terme, c’est notre santé qui est en jeu, de même que la santé d’une planète qui en a assez de notre réchauffement.

Nous parlons de « nouvelle normalité » tandis que nous retournons à notre ancienne normalité. Cela pourrait mener à une impasse mortelle. De deux choses l’une, soit nous tuons notre économie en gardant tout fermé ou, dans l’éventualité d’une deuxième vague, nous tuons un plus grand nombre d’entre nous en ouvrant notre économie. L’optimisme n’est pas une stratégie.

Il y a moyen d’aller de l’avant, pour notre santé et celle de notre planète. Après avoir fait du surplace en tentant de publier ce billet dans de nombreux grands journaux (peut-être s’est-il retrouvé aux ordures avec Trump et son eau de Javel), tout en étant convaincu que cela doit être entendu je l’ai publié ici, plus directement, plus nettement, plus clairement1, sous une licence Creative Common afin que vous puissiez le reproduire, le republier, le traduire, voire fixer son résumé à la porte de votre église, votre mosquée, votre synagogue ou votre épicerie préférée.

L’explication dominante de la transmission du coronavirus – par exposition directe à des personnes infectées – laisse beaucoup à désirer. Pourquoi tant de personnes sont-elles infectées sans preuve d’exposition directe? Pourquoi des cas individuels de COVID-19 se dénombrent-ils partout alors que les grandes éclosions sont limitées à des régions et des installations particulières? Qu’est-ce qui a vraiment mis fin aux éclosions à Wuhan et en Corée du Sud? Il doit y avoir une autre explication.

Il y a de plus en plus de preuves de la présence d’une autre forme de transmission, par la pollution atmosphérique. Cette notion a d’abord été rapportée en mars par une équipe de recherche italienne, a été reprise par le journal The Guardian à la fin avril, et a récemment été utilisée avec preuves supplémentaires à l’appui dans un rapport d’un groupe multipartite du parlement britannique2. L’équipe italienne a relevé un lien entre la pollution atmosphérique et la propagation rapide du virus, précisément le fait que des particules minuscules du virus se fixent à des particules d’air pollué. À en juger par des essais antérieurs sur le Zika, le SRAS et l’Ebola, le virus pourrait demeurer actif dans l’air sur plusieurs centaines de mètres, et ainsi infecter des personnes au-delà de quelques mètres.

Cela pourrait expliquer pourquoi, au début du mois d’avril, les dix plus importantes éclosions de la pandémie – en Chine, aux États-Unis, en Italie, en Espagne et en Allemagne – sont survenues dans des endroits où la pollution est importante. La preuve établissant que l’air de plusieurs bateaux de croisière et résidences pour personnes âgées avait des niveaux de contamination élevés suggère que le virus pourrait circuler à l’intérieur par les systèmes de ventilation (comme c’était le cas pour la maladie des légionnaires) ou simplement par la circulation naturelle de l’air à l’intérieur. Comment expliquer autrement que tant de personnes isolées dans leur chambre ont été infectées? Dans son édition du mois de juin, Environment International a invité les « autorités nationales à reconnaître la réalité que le virus se propage par l’air ».

Nous appelons ce deuxième niveau la transmission atmosphérique, par opposition au premier niveau de transmission de proximité.

Le deuxième niveau de transmission atmosphérique est probablement responsable de la « superpropagation », tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur. Alors que le contact de premier niveau vient expliquer comment des personnes ont été infectées en premier lieu, l’exposition de deuxième niveau pourrait mieux expliquer comment les grandes propagations surviennent, et pourquoi elles se produisent dans certains endroits plutôt qu’ailleurs. Une personne peut transporter le virus d’un endroit à l’autre et infecter les personnes à proximité, mais à partir de là, la pollution atmosphérique pourrait prendre la relève et être responsable de la « superpropagation » puisqu’elle transporte le virus dans l’atmosphère de certaines villes et de certains bâtiments (selon différents facteurs comme l’humidité, l’exposition au soleil et les mouvements de l’air).

Imaginez le deuxième niveau du point de vue de la densité et de la durée des particules actives. La densité de ces minuscules particules dans l’air atmosphérique peut être moindre que celle des particules plus lourdes expectorées dans une pièce. Toutefois, elles peuvent durer plus longtemps, apparemment jusqu’à des heures plutôt que quelques minutes, et être remplacées de façon continue. Nous savons de l’expérience des travailleurs de la santé que plus les gens sont exposés au virus, plus les risques d’infection sont grands. Songez à toutes ces personnes qui sont exposées à la pollution atmosphérique, certaines jusqu’à 24 heures par jour (à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur). Assistez à un mariage à New York et les chances de rentrer à la maison avec le virus peuvent être plutôt élevées. À quelle fréquence assistez-vous à des mariages? Respirez quotidiennement l’air new-yorkais et le risque d’infection est de 1 %, ce qui correspond à 80 000 personnes. La ville compte 200 000 cas de COVID-19. Est-ce seulement de premier niveau?

Cette preuve devrait nous permettre de reconsidérer notre façon de composer avec la pandémie, ainsi que la façon dont nous l’étudions.

Il nous faut faire un travail de détective, sous la forme d’un apprentissage empirique, en complément de procédures plus formelles de recherche proprement dite. J’ai donné à lire à certains épidémiologistes une version précédente de ce billet. La plupart l’ont rejetée du revers de la main; tous ont indiqué qu’il fallait une recherche plus approfondie; l’un d’eux a dit qu’il faudrait y mettre deux à trois ans. Nous n’avons pas plus le temps d’attendre de tels résultats que nous avons le temps de continuer à aplanir la courbe en attendant un vaccin. Comparez la preuve présentée ici au ramassis de solutions de réouverture actuellement avancées. Quelle preuve vient appuyer la reprise de l’activité dans nos villes polluantes? Bien que la recherche proprement dite doive être faite, il nous faut jouer au détective, c’est-à-dire qu’il nous faut examiner toutes les avenues possibles. Le pari est-il risqué? C’est plutôt la trajectoire actuelle qui est risquée.

Les enjeux sont considérables, alors que les options se font rares. En cessant de croire uniquement en la transmission de premier niveau, toutes sortes d’autres avenues pourraient s’ouvrir à nous. Devrions-nous ouvrir les fenêtres pour aérer l’intérieur des bâtiments? Pas si l’air extérieur apporte davantage de dangers. Devrions-nous retirer nos masques s’il n’y a personne à proximité (comme c’est présentement le cas dans certains hôpitaux) ou permettre aux écoles et aux usines de rouvrir tant que tout le monde respecte la distanciation? Pas si on découvre que l’air intérieur contient des contaminants qui pourraient faire circuler le virus.

En mettant fin à la pollution, tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur, nous pourrions mettre fin à la pandémie. La Chine et la Corée du Sud ont été saluées pour avoir confiné leur population afin d’aplanir la courbe. Toutefois, un avantage important est fortuit. Avec moins de circulation automobile et d’activité industrielle, l’éclosion pourrait avoir pris fin parce que la pollution a diminué. Le cas échéant, le simple fait de rouvrir notre économie, bien que graduellement, pourrait s’avérer mortel. C’est ce que nous verrons peut-être avec la venue d’une deuxième vague.

Allons-nous nous retrouver dans une voie sans issue, d’une manière ou d’une autre, entre des options biaisées de réouverture ou de fermeture? Nous pouvons rouvrir notre économie de façon sélective, là où la distanciation est possible, en permettant aux activités peu polluantes de reprendre leur cours tout en freinant l’ouverture des grandes sources de pollution – certaines centrales électriques et usines ainsi que la plupart de la circulation automobile – jusqu’à ce qu’elles puissent être assainies, si c’est possible. À l’intérieur, nous pouvons examiner tous les endroits problématiques, les résidences et les écoles, les bureaux et les arénas, les usines et les usines de transformation du porc, et ne permettre leur réouverture qu’une fois que les experts confirmeront que l’air ambiant ne fait pas circuler le virus. (Dans ces usines, comme dans les marchés chinois et les sites funéraires indiens3, la fumée est peut-être un facteur.)

Fondamentalement, il faudra peut-être stopper la pollution pour stopper la pandémie (#SP2SP). Qui plus est, il nous faut stopper la pollution de nos corps et de nos esprits pour rééquilibrer nos sociétés (#SP2RS). La solution est peut-être drastique, mais pas autant que ce que nous faisons présentement.
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Dans un sondage mené en 2003, John Snow a été élu par un panel de médecins britanniques comme le meilleur d’entre eux. Au cours de sa vie, toutefois, John Snow a été écarté par le corps médical britannique pour avoir remis en question la conviction admise portant que le choléra devait se transmettre par l’air. Pendant une épidémie à Londres en 1854, il a marqué d’une épingle sur une carte de la ville chaque endroit où il y a eu un décès. À l’exception de deux, ces épingles étaient regroupées autour d’un puits. Il s’est rendu à la maison d’une des deux personnes décédées ailleurs et a appris qu’elle aimait l’eau de ce puits, qu’elle envoyait sa domestique chercher. Sa nièce, qui buvait également l’eau de ce puits, s’avérait être l’autre exception. Ainsi, alors que le corps médical s’efforçait frénétiquement de contrer l’éclosion de choléra, la poignée du puits a été retirée et l’épidémie a pris fin. Ce n’était toutefois pas la fin du choléra. Il aura fallu 12 ans, et bien d’autres décès, avant que la transmission du choléra par l’eau polluée soit finalement reconnue. Combien de temps, et d’autres décès, faudra-t-il avant que la transmission de la COVID-19 par l’air pollué soit même prise en compte? Nous ne disposons pas de 12 semaines.


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Nous avons besoin d’une victoire. Reconnaître le deuxième niveau de transmission en complémentarité du premier niveau présente des avantages : un pas vers l’avant pour notre santé immédiate et à long terme ainsi que pour la santé d’une planète qui en a assez de notre réchauffement. Et si nous prenions l’idée au sérieux, mais qu’elle s’avérait erronée? Tant mieux. Enfin, nous aurons pris soin de notre santé à long terme et nous nous serons occupés du réchauffement climatique. Allez, un peu de sérieux!

© Henry Mintzberg 2020. Ce billet est publié en vertu d’une licence internationale de Creative Commons selon une attribution non commerciale, version 4.0. Pour en savoir plus sur la rectitude en matière de soins de santé, consultez mon ouvrage Managing the Myths of Health Care.

Je suis reconnaissant à tous ceux, dont certains n’adhéraient pas nécessairement à mon point de vue, qui ont contribué à cet effort au cours de ces deux derniers mois un peu fous.

À la recherche : Hanieh Mohammadi, Paola Adinolfi, Simon Hudson, Alex Anderson, Pierre Batteau et Diane Marie Plante
À la suggestion de sources : Natalie Duchesne, Lisa Mintzberg, Susan Mintzberg, Leslie Breitner, John Breitner, Joanne Liu, Jonathan Gosling, Karl Moore, Rosamund Lewis et Donald Berwick
Au soutien professionnel : Rick Fleet et Jean-Simon Létourneau, avec notre groupe Blindspot [angle mort] d’IMHL.org, Toby Heaps et Corporate Knights, Matthew Chapman et la Coalition Climat Montréal, ainsi que Bill Litwack pour des révisions antérieures
Au soutien en coulisses : Santa Balanca-Rodrigues, Phil LeNir ainsi que Marie-Michèle Naud
Et finalement, mais surtout, au soutien substantiel autant que personnel : Dulcie Naimer

Suivez ce TWOG sur Twitter @mintzberg141, ou recevez les blogues directement dans votre boîte de réception en vous abonnant ici. Pour aider à diffuser ces blogues, nous avons également des pages Facebook et LinkedIn.

Mon blogue du 31 mars, Enquête sur la cause du coronavirus, relevait ce que je considère être certaines anomalies liées au coronavirus. Le 2 avril, j’ai reçu un courriel de Nathalie Duchesne au sujet du rapport de l’équipe de recherche italienne, auquel j’ai rapidement répondu : « C’est incroyable! Le virus circule peut-être dans l’air! Je réfléchissais justement aux particules. Ainsi, retirer les voitures des routes pourrait mettre fin à tout ceci! » J’ai ensuite publié Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies, le 5 avril. Depuis lors, j’ai réécrit ce billet plus d’une vingtaine de fois (avec une révision publiée ici le 2 mai), tout en tentant de le faire publier comme lettre d’opinion dans de nombreux grands journaux. Deux ont refusé, alors que cinq autres n’ont pas répondu. (Trop peu de science pour une lettre d’« opinion »). Éventuellement, j’aimerais rédiger un blogue sur le scientisme en temps de COVID-19.

Le 29 mai, dans une prépublication de medRxiv, une équipe de recherche de l’unité de toxicologie du CRM de l’Université de Cambridge a rapporté que « [son] modèle indiquait que l’exposition à PM2,5 et PM10  [polluants présents dans l’air extérieur et intérieur] augmentait le risque d’infection à la COVID-19 ».

Des usines d’emballage de viandes ont été des foyers d’éclosions importants de COVID-19, apparemment davantage que d’autres usines où les gens travaillent également très proches les uns des autres. Le 24 avril, la BBC a rapporté que « lorsque des scientifiques ont analysé les dossiers des admissions dans les hôpitaux du Brésil, ils ont découvert que le taux de cas de grippe tendait à augmenter durant la saison sèche, alors qu’il y a plus de fumée dans l’atmosphère… » Le rapport expliquait que la fumée bloquait les rayons ultraviolets du soleil qui auraient tué le virus. Cependant, comment ce virus circule-t-il dans l’atmosphère en premier lieu? Si le coronavirus se fixe également aux particules de fumée, est-ce que cela pourrait venir expliquer certaines de ces éclosions : que l’air infecté par le processus de fumage des viandes comme le bacon et le jambon pourrait être responsable de la « superpropagation », dans ces usines et/ou dans les communautés environnantes? « Un petit nombre d’employés des usines du Wisconsin et du Missouri ont obtenu un résultat positif au test de dépistage de la COVID-19… Ces deux usines sont situées à proximité d’endroits où “la propagation communautaire de la COVID-19 est importante” » (Business News). D’ailleurs, la fumée du grillage de viandes dans les marchés chinois apporterait-elle peut-être une meilleure explication de la propagation du coronavirus que la présence d’animaux exotiques? Et qu’en est-il des bûchers funéraires en Inde? Plus les gens meurent, plus il y a de cas de COVID-19.

The greetings of the gods

22 May 2020

As we walked through the streets of Reykjavík some years ago, during Iceland’s financial crisis, a band suddenly appeared, marching through town. We followed, like kids, to the town square, and when they finished, we asked one of the musicians what was going on. She explained that, with people being so discouraged, they decided that each day, at noon, one band or other would play, to raise the people’s spirits. I found that so charming that I never forgot it. Now, I would like to do my bit to raise some spirits. Years ago, I wrote a number of short stories, mostly light-hearted, almost all non-fiction, about my personal experiences. (I hope to publish them one day, under the title Reflections from the Window. Reflecting on Doors, the first one, was posted here in 2015; it explains the title.) Today we have “The greetings of the gods”, a small visit with the heath care providers who are now serving us so well.

As we walked through the streets of Reykjavík some years ago, during Iceland’s financial crisis, a band suddenly appeared, marching through town. We followed, like kids, to the town square, and when they finished, we asked one of the musicians what was going on. She explained that, with people being so discouraged, they decided that each day, at noon, one band or other would play, to raise the people’s spirits. I found that so charming that I never forgot it. Now, I would like to do my bit to raise some spirits. Years ago, I wrote a number of short stories, mostly light-hearted, almost all non-fiction, about my personal experiences. (I hope to publish them one day, under the title Reflections from the Window. Reflecting on Doors, the first one, was posted here in 2015; it explains the title.) Today we have “The greetings of the gods”, a small visit with the heath care providers who are now serving us so well.

“What’s the difference between God and a surgeon?”
“I give up.”
“God never thought he was a surgeon.”

Fabienne, the head nurse on 4 Northwest, a post-op ward, told me this joke when I met her during a study of physician “well-being” at the hospital. She tells it to all the surgeons, she said, just to make sure.

Operating rooms are the sanctuaries of these gods. So when Jane, who organizes these rooms—and, thus, those gods—invited me to see for myself, I accepted, with great interest as well as the usual apprehension. “Oh no, you can’t do that!” she replied to my obvious question. “You’re not allowed to get a cerebral hemorrhage in there. There’s no one to look after you.” When I told Susie about this, my daughter whose work as a free-lance photographer then included a day a week in medical photography, she asked to join. Good, I thought, she can drag me out, with my cerebral hemorrhage.

Jane was more than happy to accommodate both of us—nothing seemed to phase her, which explains why she could run these sanctuaries of the gods. So we arrived one morning, ready to go. Finally I could play doctor almost for real: we put on green cotton shirts, pants, booties over our shoes, face masks, and surgeon caps as the cherries on top of us cakes—the whole McGilla, so to speak (the Jewish General being a McGill University hospital). Looking like the real thing—only our eyes revealed the truth—we headed into the surgeons’ sanctuaries.

“Hi! Come on in. Let me show you what I’m doing. It’s a hip replacement. You see we …“ This was Dr. R’s exuberant greeting as we walked in. He was standing behind a green sheet on a table, with a splash of red in the middle. There must have been a real person under there, but the whole thing looked rather like modern art. Ten other people moved about the room, including several residents and even a company sales representative (there to “check out a new kind of cement”, no less).

As we gawked from the side sheepishly, Jane explained what was happening, while a resident exhibited the props—a lump of something about the size of a baseball that had come out and a piece of something silver-like that was about to go in.

We left after a few minutes, and headed for the next room, where a tumor was being removed from the side of a head—over the course of ten hours! Jane warned us that this surgeon did not tolerate any noise in his sanctuary. Again there was the green sheet, this time with a smaller zone of red exposed near one end.

It was Jane who whispered something, after a few minutes, and the surgeon looked up in surprise. She introduced us and explained what I was doing in the hospital. “Are you happy, Dr. M?” Jane asked teasingly. “We’re happy when we’re in the operating room” he retorted with somewhat less delicacy than his work on the head. Then, contemplating my presence, he got angry. He thought I had come to interview him on physician well-being—right then and there! We thanked him quickly and high-tailed it out of there.

I guess Jane thought we had now been sufficiently acclimatized, because next we headed into open heart surgery. The “heart,” as the surgeons call the human being under te sheet (or the “hip” or the “head”), was open all right. It sat there, not beating, in a small rectangular cavity, with that ubiquitous green around it. Two surgeons worked on either side, with all sorts of other hearts beating in support, including one monitoring a machine that was beating for the patient’s heart. “That cost us $100,000.00,” Jane said proudly of their newest piece of equipment.

When one of the surgeons finally looked up, Jane introduced us, to which he replied dourly: “We already met,” continuing to work. “He didn’t show up for our meeting last week.” Ye gods, what a place to find out!

From the side of the room, two intriguing eyes fixed on us. They belonged to a nurse, as if in a niqab. As Jane left to attend other things, the nurse took Susie under her wing, explaining everything, while the anesthetist, for whose interview I had shown up, did the same with me. “That’s the cream cheese,” he explained of the yellow blob next to the heart. And “no, that’s not wrinkled skin; it’s the plastic plates we put on either side.”

Suddenly, the whole chemistry of the room shifted, with high alert in everyone’s posture. A critical moment had been reached in the operation—the patient was coming off the machine. Soon they relaxed, as the real heart began beating again on its own. The anesthetist said, “That’s a fairly routine transition. The patient came out OK” but later admitted that the situation had in fact been a delicate one.

Susie went back on the stool that the nurse had provided for her, absolutely enthralled as she peered straight into the cavity. Then the two surgeons sewed in some heavy thread, and as they pulled hard on either side, the cavity gradually closed. “Oh shit,” Susie blurted out in awe. “No,” the anesthetist shot back, “that’s in Room 12. This is blood!”

We had been there the better for part of an hour when Jane returned to collect us. Next was a cataract operation, where a lens was to be inserted into an eye. This time there was no greeting at all, since the surgeon was deep in concentration. Here we encountered the eeriest scene of all—just one tiny hole in all the sheeting, this time blue, out of which peered a single eye, also blue. The surgeon was using a television monitor to see things blown up—like the CBS logo for real.

So far the visits had gone remarkably well. Susie had no need to drag me out, and there was no way I was going to drag her out. Peering into a heart cavity, let alone seeing green, red, and blue on a table, is somehow OK, a visual abstraction. But watching an eye being worked on, especially when the blue turned to red as the lens was inserted, is another matter. I wear glasses, so I figured that I had more chance of finding myself here than in “blood.”

That eye operation finished quickly, and the sheets were pulled back to reveal a conscious patient. “A little old lady under there”, Susie whispered to me. “Suddenly the human appears!” Jane explained that she would be going home in an hour, but when we were taken to see the recovery room twenty minutes later, the little old lady had already disappeared.

Last was  a laparoscopic investigation of a knee, of special interest to Susie because she had torn ligaments in both knees ski racing.  Before we even got through the door, the surgeon greeted us with “We have Eric Clapton or Elton John.” It took us a minute to realize that we were being offered the choice of music to play. A number of doctors and nurses were chatting, about Sesame Street of all things, while the patient, a big guy, sat on the bed with his head bowed like a prisoner of war. An epidural was being administered to his lower back by the anesthetist who, after having some difficulty, announced: “Thank you for watching, everybody; it does not always turn out the way you like.”

This didn’t turn out the way Susie liked either, because we had to leave before the procedure began. That ended this amazing experience. We live in a world of dazzling technology, yet where else can we see it so vividly displayed.

There are, of course, no gods, at least among men (although I did interview a young woman surgeon, who works in that Room 12, of all places). But when mere human beings can handle a heart in someone’s chest that they themselves stop and restart, perhaps we can understand, if not quite appreciate, the association of that God with these gods. So hail to you, the gods of the operating rooms. I hope we never again meet in your sanctuaries.
_____________________________________________
© Henry Mintzberg 2020, first written in 1993. We did meet again, 22 years later, in the blood room (quadruple bypass for me). Our hips and our heads remain well, thank you, and our four knees are under control. Although at the time of this revision, cataract operations scheduled for me have been delayed by the coronavirus—while the truly heavenly work of all the gods of health care take over. An article from the hospital study was published in the Health Care Management Review, and you can also see my 2017 book Managing the Myths of Health Care.

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Going forward, not backward

2 May 2020

Building on two previous blogs about the coronavirus crisis, this one proposes a way forward.

Building on two previous blogs about the coronavirus crisis, this one proposes a way forward.

We appear to be headed into a lose-lose trap. By testing and isolating, we have tried to flatten the curve more than stop the coronavirus, in the hope that some vaccine or miracle drug will come along. Short of that, our choice may be coming down to killing our economies by keeping them closed or opening them up at the risk of killing more of ourselves. A way out may lie in the evidence that, beyond the direct transmission of the virus, is an atmospheric form of transmission, through polluted air. This could help to explain why the major outbreaks of the disease occur where they do, in facilities as well as cities. We can escape this trap, and face climate change in the bargain, by using selective shutdowns of the major sources of pollution. The time has come to go forward.

A number of key questions about this pandemic have lacked adequate answers. Why have outbreaks occurred in some large cities but not others, often not even in their own surrounding areas? Why do we see such virulent outbreaks in some confined facilities, including cruise ships and seniors’ residences? What can explain the rather abrupt end of the outbreaks in Wuhan and South Korea? And why do some people get the virus with no evident exposure? Something else must be going on.

This answer begins with a study conducted from 21 February to 13 March, by a team of Italian researchers—chemists, biochemists, and environmental scientists—who considered the association between atmospheric pollution and the rapid propagation of the virus. This correlation has been reported elsewhere, but these researchers found a possible causation: minute particles of the virus attach to polluted particles carried in the air that we may be breathing.

Judging by tests on other viruses (Zika and Ebola), this one may remain active for only a few hundred meters. Outbreaks might thus be found where polluted air sits over a specific locality—as it does in smog-ridden cities such as New York—although not far into surrounding areas. The ten largest outbreaks across the world (as of April 8)—within China, the United States, Italy, Spain, and Germany—all occurred in heavily polluted areas.

We know that the virus spreads through proximate contact, for example via coughing and touching. This can be labeled Level 1 transmission, direct. We also know that polluted air can damage people’s lungs, thereby putting at greater risk those who have come down with Covid-19. Here, however, something different from both is being postulated: that people, even alone, can become infected as the virus reaches them in the particles of polluted air. This can be labelled Level 2 transmission, atmospheric.

Covid-19 cases can now be found throughout the world, but major outbreaks are not, despite all the dire predictions. This could be explained by these two levels of transmission. The virus can be carried to some new place by an infected individual, who then transmits it at Level 1, say at some social gathering. But once there, the virus may require Level 2 transmission to become an outbreak, by hitching to particles in the locally polluted air (with this effect possibly being mitigated by climatic factors, including humidity that may lengthen the active period of the virus and sun exposure that may shorten it—both indicated in the Italian report—as well as wind that can clear the air). Polluted air may thus be the major factor in explaining where outbreaks occur, after the virus lands—indoors as well as outdoors.

Level 2 transmission can also help to explain why some people get infected with no direct exposure—they can get it from polluted air—and why a major outbreak might not spread to less polluted areas beyond the immediate one: the virus can travel the distance in an infected person (Level 1), not in the open air (Level 2)

China and South Korea have been lauded for isolating their people to slow the rate of infections. Fair enough. But a more significant benefit may have been serendipitous. With reduced traffic and industry, the pollution abated, and thus did the outbreaks. This suggests that getting back to business and polluting as usual, in America no less than Asia, could bring about new waves of the virus—the beginnings of which may be seeing now in Japan. If we don’t clear the air, will we contain the pandemic?

In 1854, during an outbreak of cholera in London, Dr. John Snow, dismissed as a maverick for challenging the established belief that cholera had to be transmitted through air, placed a pin on a map where each person had died. All but two clustered around one well. He travelled to the home of one of the outliers, where he was told that the deceased preferred that water and had it brought to her. A niece who visited her from the place of the other pin also liked that water. These two outliers substantiated Dr. Snow’s case for transmission of cholera through polluted water. The handle was taken off the well and the outbreak ended.

Could certain confined facilities, such as cruise ships and seniors’ residences, be the outliers that substantiate the case for transmission of the coronavirus through polluted air?

People in these facilities normally mingle. But with the occurrence of infections, they were locked down in their rooms. Yet the infections continued to spread. The orthodox explanation for this has been Level 1: the virus was being carried directly to them, perhaps in the trays left at their doors, also by infected caregivers coming into the seniors’ residences. Again, no matter how correct this explanation may be, is it sufficient to explain the high incidence of cases?  It would have an awful lot of explaining to do. Are we seeing only what we believe?

Studies in some cruise ships and senior residences have found high levels of pollution in the air, which could carry the virus beyond the range of direct contact. Ventilating systems (as identified for the legionnaires’ disease) can accelerate the flow of such air, but each facility also has its own internal atmosphere that might suffice to spread the disease. If so, we shall have to find out what chemicals are being used in such spaces, with what propensity to carry the coronavirus, so that each space can be tested to eliminate what is dangerous. The same can be concluded for mass gatherings in indoor arenas, theatres, and the like, also meat plants: Look for Level 2 transmission, not just Level 1.

Does this make the case for Level 2 transmission? Perhaps more than has the case been made for the iniquitousness of Level 1 transmission.  A number of epidemiologists have challenged what is being discussed here as lacking sufficient evidence. Tell me, where is the evidence for the hodgepodge of solutions currently being pursued? Show me the evidence that drove the decision here in Quebec to reopen the schools first? What evidence supports firing up our polluting economies and hoping for the best? With the stakes so high, and the options so limited, we cannot wait years for confirmation of a proposal that is not only plausible, but constructive. We need to move forward, not backward. 

To open or not to open is now the question. It could be dead wrong, carrying us straight into the lose-lose trap. Level 2 transmission points to another way, forward. Stop the polluting to stop the virus. #stopP2stopV. Rather than keeping an economy closed. or opening it to polluting as usual, we can engage in selective shutdowns. Open those parts that hardly pollute while keeping the major sources of pollution closed until they clean up, if possible—power plants, factories, vehicles, and the like that are the heaviest emitters. This could be harsh, but not nearly so harsh as the two options that are currently being pursued. In fact, taking the handles off the wells that are polluting our air, indoors and outdoors, could turn out to be win-win, for our immediate and long-term health as well as for a climate that has had enough of our warming. Surely this is the time to do what we should have been doing long ago.

© Henry Mintzberg 2020. Managing the Myths of Health Care was published in 2017. Feel free to translate and circulate this for non-commercial purposes so long as you link to the original source.

I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this effort during the past mad month
Investigating:  Hanieh Mohammadi, Paola Adinolfi, Simon Hudson, Alex Anderson, Pierre Batteau, Diane Marie Plante
Suggesting studies and publications:  Natalie Duchesne, Lisa Mintzberg, Susan Mintzberg, Leslie Breitner, Joanne Liu, Jonathan Gosling, Karl Moore, Rod Willis, Andrew Humphreys, Rosamund Lewis, Don Berwick, not all necessarily supporting this position
Supporting professionally: Rick Fleet with Jean-Simon Letourneau and our Blindspot group, also Bill Litwack in editing
Supporting behind all this:  Santa Balanca-Rodrigues, Marie-Michele Naud
And last but most, substantially no less than personally, Dulcie Naimer

For the record, I have posted this here after offering it to four prominent newspapers, one of which turned it down nicely, twice, and as of this writing, I have had no word from the other three. Quite a number of epidemiologists saw this; I recall none who did not dismiss it for want of sufficient evidence— while it seems to me that, in our efforts to go forward, we are pursuing hope-for-the-best courses of action.

The original report was unpublished in Italian; it was recently published in English.

An article in the Guardian on 24 April finally discussed this finding, but not its consequences, quoting  experts on its plausibility, and one who said that confirming it could take two or three years.

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Aller de l’avant, plutôt que de reculer

1 May 2020

Fondé sur deux blogues précédents au sujet de la crise du coronavirus, celui-ci est tourné vers l’avenir.

Fondé sur deux blogues précédents au sujet de la crise du coronavirus, celui-ci est tourné vers l’avenir.

Nous semblons pris dans un piège dont personne ne ressortira gagnant. En testant et en confinant les gens, nous avons tenté d’aplanir la courbe plutôt que de freiner le coronavirus, dans l’espoir de voir surgir un vaccin ou un médicament miracle. À défaut, le choix qui s’impose à nous est de tuer notre économie en gardant tout fermé ou de la rouvrir au risque de tuer un plus grand nombre d’entre nous. Une façon de s’en sortir réside peut-être dans la preuve portant que, au-delà de la transmission directe du virus, il y aurait une forme atmosphérique de transmission, par l’air pollué. Cela viendrait peut-être expliquer pourquoi les éclosions importantes de la maladie se produisent là où elles se produisent, dans des installations autant que dans des villes. Nous pouvons échapper à ce piège, et nous attaquer aux changements climatiques du même coup, en fermant de façon sélective les grandes sources de pollution. Le temps est venu d’aller de l’avant.


Un certain nombre de questions clés à propos de cette pandémie n’ont pas trouvé de réponses adéquates. Pourquoi les éclosions se sont-elles produites dans certaines grandes villes plutôt que d’autres, sans même parfois toucher les régions avoisinantes? Pourquoi y a-t-il des éclosions si virulentes dans certains espaces confinés comme des bateaux de croisière et des résidences pour personnes âgées? Comment expliquer la fin abrupte de l’éclosion à Wuhan et en Corée du Sud? Également, pourquoi certaines personnes contractent-elles le virus sans exposition évidente? Il doit y avoir une autre raison.


La réponse à cette question commence par une étude menée du 21 février au 13 mars par une équipe de recherche italienne composée de chimistes, de biochimistes et de scientifiques de l’environnement ayant réfléchi au lien entre la pollution atmosphérique et la propagation rapide du virus. Cette corrélation a été mentionnée ailleurs, mais l’équipe italienne a découvert une causalité possible : des résidus de particules du virus se fixeraient à des particules de pollution transportées dans l’air que nous respirons peut-être.


À en juger par différents tests effectués sur d’autres virus (Zika et Ebola), le virus demeure actif sur seulement quelques centaines de mètres. Des éclosions se remarquent donc peut-être dans des endroits où l’air pollué plane au-dessus d’une localité spécifique (comme c’est le cas dans des villes où le smog est important, à l’instar de New York), sans toutefois s’étendre bien loin dans les régions environnantes. Les dix éclosions les plus importantes à travers le monde (en date du 8 avril), en Chine, aux États-Unis, en Italie, en Espagne et en Allemagne, sont toutes survenues dans des régions très polluées.


Nous savons que le virus se propage par contact de proximité, par exemple par la toux ou le toucher. Cela peut être considéré comme une transmission de premier niveau, une transmission directe. Nous savons également que l’air pollué peut toucher les poumons des gens, présentant donc un risque plus important pour les personnes ayant contracté la COVID-19. Ici, toutefois, nous formulons un postulat différent : les gens, même isolément, peuvent devenir contaminés alors que le virus les rejoint par les particules d’air pollué. Cela peut être considéré comme une transmission de deuxième niveau, une transmission atmosphérique.


Les cas de COVID-19 se dénombrent maintenant partout dans le monde, mais pas les éclosions importantes, malgré les prédictions catastrophiques. Les deux niveaux de transmission peuvent nous fournir une explication. Le virus peut être transporté d’un endroit à l’autre par une personne contaminée, une transmission de premier niveau, disons lors d’une rencontre sociale. Toutefois, une fois sur place, le virus peut nécessiter une transmission de deuxième niveau pour déclencher une éclosion, en se fixant aux particules d’air polluées localement. (L’effet est possiblement modulé par certains facteurs climatiques comme l’humidité qui pourrait prolonger la durée de la période active du virus et l’exposition au soleil qui pourrait la réduire, comme l’indique le rapport italien, ainsi que par le vent qui peut dissiper la pollution.) L’air pollué pourrait donc représenter le facteur important qui explique où surviennent les éclosions, là où le virus se pose, à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur.


Le deuxième niveau de transmission permet également d’expliquer pourquoi certaines personnes contractent le virus sans être directement exposées, en présence d’air pollué, et pourquoi une éclosion importante ne se propage pas aux régions moins polluées en périphérie : le virus peut franchir de grandes distances avec une personne contaminée (transmission de premier niveau), mais pas dans l’air (transmission de deuxième niveau).


La Chine et la Corée du Sud ont été saluées pour avoir confiné leur population afin de réduire le taux de contamination. D’accord. Toutefois, un avantage important est plus inattendu. Avec moins de circulation automobile et d’activité industrielle, la pollution a diminué, de même que l’éclosion. Cela permet de croire que le retour à la normale, au même niveau de pollution, en Amérique comme en Asie, pourrait entraîner une nouvelle vague de contamination. C’est ce que nous constatons potentiellement actuellement au Japon. Sans assainissement de l’air, est-il possible de contenir la pandémie?


En 1854, au cours d’une éclosion de choléra à Londres, le Dr John Snow, considéré comme un marginal pour avoir remis en question la conviction admise portant que le choléra devait se transmettre par l’air, a marqué d’une épingle sur une carte de la ville chaque endroit où il y avait eu un décès. À l’exception de deux, ces épingles étaient regroupées autour d’un puits. Il s’est rendu à la maison d’une des deux personnes décédées ailleurs et a appris qu’elle aimait l’eau de ce puits et qu’elle s’en faisait porter. Une nièce qui lui rendait visite de l’autre endroit isolé aimait également cette eau. Ces deux exceptions sont venues corroborer l’hypothèse du Dr Snow relativement à la transmission du choléra par l’eau polluée. La poignée du puits a été retirée et l’épidémie a pris fin.


Des endroits confinés, comme un bateau de croisière ou une résidence pour personnes âgées, pourraient-ils être les exceptions qui corroborent le fait que le coronavirus peut être transmissible par l’air pollué?


Habituellement, dans ce genre d’endroits, les gens tendent à se réunir. Cependant, avec l’occurrence des contaminations, les personnes ont été confinées dans leur chambre. Pourtant, le virus a continué de se propager. L’explication classique se veut une transmission de premier niveau : le virus a été transmis directement, peut-être par les plateaux déposés à leur porte, peut-être également par des soignants contaminés qui viennent travailler dans les résidences pour personnes âgées. Ici encore, peu importe la plausible exactitude de cette explication, est-ce que cela suffit à expliquer le taux relativement élevé de cas? Il y aurait beaucoup de choses à expliquer. Est-ce que nous voyons simplement ce que nous croyons?


Des études menées sur des bateaux de croisière et des résidences pour personnes âgées ont noté des taux élevés de pollution dans l’air, ce qui pourrait transporter le virus au-delà du contact direct. Les conduits de ventilation (comme c’était le cas pour la maladie du légionnaire) peuvent accélérer la circulation de cet air. Toutefois, chaque endroit possède sa propre atmosphère interne, qui pourrait suffire à propager la maladie. Le cas échéant, il convient de trouver quels produits chimiques sont utilisés dans ces endroits, quelle est leur propension à transporter le virus, afin que chaque endroit puisse être testé dans le but d’éliminer les dangers. Il en va de même pour les lieux de grands rassemblements comme les arénas, les théâtres et d’autres endroits du genre, ainsi que les établissements de traitement des viandes : cherchez la transmission de deuxième niveau, plutôt que simplement celle de premier niveau.


Est-ce que cela établit le bien-fondé de la transmission de deuxième niveau? Peut-être davantage que de plaider en faveur de l’iniquité de la transmission de premier niveau. Bon nombre d’épidémiologistes ont remis en question ce qui est avancé ici en clamant le manque de preuve. Dites-moi, où sont les preuves du ramassis de solutions actuellement avancées? Montrez-moi la preuve ayant mené à la décision prise ici, au Québec, de rouvrir d’abord les écoles? Quelle preuve vient appuyer la reprise de notre économie polluante en croisant les doigts? Devant l’énormité des enjeux et la rareté des options, nous ne pouvons nous permettre d’attendre des années pour confirmer une proposition non seulement plausible, mais également constructive. Il faut aller de l’avant, plutôt que de reculer.


Ouvrir ou ne pas ouvrir, là est maintenant la question. L’idée est peut-être complètement erronée, nous entraînant directement dans le piège dont personne ne ressortira gagnant. La transmission de deuxième niveau nous oriente dans une autre direction, vers l’avant. Stopper la pollution pour stopper le virus. #stopP2stopV. Plutôt que de garder l’économie fermée ou de l’ouvrir au même niveau de pollution, il est possible d’opter pour des fermetures sélectives. Ouvrir les parties de l’économie qui polluent peu tout en gardant fermées les sources importantes de pollution, jusqu’à ce qu’elles s’assainissent, si possible : les centrales électriques, les usines, les véhicules et les autres installations du genre qui sont les plus grandes émettrices. La solution est peut-être drastique, mais pas autant que les deux options actuellement avancées. En fait, si nous retirons les poignées des puits, intérieurs comme extérieurs, qui polluent l’air, tout le monde peut en sortir gagnant, pour notre santé collective immédiate et à long terme, ainsi que pour le climat, qui en a assez de notre réchauffement. De toute évidence, il est temps de faire ce que nous aurions dû faire il y a longtemps.


© Henry Mintzberg 2020. Managing the Myths of Health Care a été publié en 2017. N’hésitez pas à le traduire et à le faire circuler à des fins non commerciales, en indiquant le lien vers le texte original.


Je suis reconnaissant à tous ceux qui ont contribué à cet effort au cours de ce dernier mois un peu fou.

À la recherche : Hanieh Mohammadi, Paola Adinolfi, Simon Hudson, Alex Anderson, Pierre Batteau, Diane Marie Plante

À la suggestion d’études et de publications : Natalie Duchesne, Lisa Mintzberg, Susan Mintzberg, Leslie Breitner, Joanne Liu, Jonathan Gosling, Karl Moore, Rod Willis, Andrew Humphreys, Rosamund Lewis, Don Berwick, pas tous nécessairement en faveur de cette position

Au soutien professionnel : Rick Fleet et Jean-Simon Létourneau, avec notre groupe Blindspot [angle mort], et Bill Litwack à la révision
Au soutien en coulisses : Santa Rodrigues, Marie-Michèle Naud

Et finalement, mais surtout, au soutien substantiel autant que personnel : Dulcie Naimer


Pour mémoire, ce blogue a été affiché sur cette page après avoir été proposé à quatre grands journaux. L’un d’eux l’a rejeté gentiment, à deux reprises. Au moment de cette publication, je n’ai toujours pas eu de réponse des trois autres. Plusieurs épidémiologistes l’ont lu. Tous, de mémoire, l’ont rejeté par manque de preuves. Toutefois, il me semble, dans notre effort pour aller de l’avant, nous poursuivons un plan d’action optimiste.


Le rapport original en italien n’a pas été publié; il a récemment paru en anglais.
2 Un article paru dans l’édition du Guardian du 24 avril a finalement abordé cette idée, sans parler de ses conséquences. L’article a cité des spécialistes quant à la plausibilité de cette idée, l’un d’eux affirmant qu’il faudrait deux à trois ans pour la confirmer.


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Investigating the Cause of the Coronavirus - Part II

5 April 2020

Part I. Identifying the Anomalies

Part II. EXPLAINING THE ANOMALIES

Shortly after posting Part I, Identifying the Anomalies, I came across a recent study with an insight that could reframe this whole discussion. For me at least, it seems to explain the anomalies. After considerable digging by colleagues (see below), here are the conclusions.

Part I. Identifying the Anomalies

Part II. EXPLAINING THE ANOMALIES

Shortly after posting Part I, Identifying the Anomalies, I came across a recent study with an insight that could reframe this whole discussion. For me at least, it seems to explain the anomalies. After considerable digging by colleagues (see below), here are the conclusions.

Authored by a number of academics and medical authorities in the north of Italy, the report links atmospheric pollution to the rapid propagation of the Coronavirus: it  attaches itself to minute particles  which can remain in the air—the report claims “even for hours, days and weeks, and that can be carried for long distances.”. But, importantly, other evidence suggests that most of it can remain active that way for only a few hundred meters.1

If true, then this might explain why people can get infected with no direct exposure, just from the air they breathe where they live. This could also explain why the outbreaks do not hop much from central cities to surrounding towns, sometimes even local suburbs. It also suggests why some places, especially big cities, get major outbreaks, while some others do not: they can be especially polluted by traffic and industrial activity (Wuhan, New York). Compare this with most rural areas, maybe even with favelas that have few cars or big factories (also higher temperatures, which appear to be negatively correlated with the spread of the virus.) Consider terrain as well: cities that are surrounded by mountains that trap polluted air (such as Tehran), and that experience inversions and heavy smog (such as New York), could be more susceptible to large outbreaks than  those in flat areas with stronger winds (such as in the Arab states of the Middle East). 

China and South Korea have been lauded for the isolation of their people to slow the spread of the virus. True enough, but perhaps another significant benefit has been serendipitous: with less driving and many factories closed, pollution has been greatly reduced. Can this explain the two rather abrupt endings to their outbreaks?

Let’s put this together in three levels of transmission: Level 1 is direct and personal—immediate exposure in a room or a park to droplets in the air, from a cough (with evidence now that this can extend beyond two meters), or that fall on a surface that is then touched. Level 2 is local and atmospheric, from particles in polluted air presumably inhaled (or touched when grounded?), most likely in an industrialized city, but not beyond.

In between these first two levels might be institutional and confined, as in senior homes, cruise ships and wedding halls, where problematic particles (aerosols? microplastic particles?) could be traveling through central ventilating systems. This raises a key question: what kinds of particles are most susceptible to carrying this virus around?

Level 3 is global and geographic, namely travel from infected centers to other places in the world. Coronavirus is certainly moving worldwide, but when it lands, how extensively is it spreading? This third level seems to be a combination of the first two levels: The virus could be traveling personally, and spreading directly, for example as someone infected flies in without being quarantined. But it could, or could not, be spreading locally, depending on the local conditions, such as pollution, temperature, wind, and terrain, maybe humidity as well.

What to do with all this? We can reframe our thinking from “It’s coming! It’s coming!” to the virus is coming everywhere but the outbreaks are not spreading everywhere. Hence we can consider where it might it be likely to spread, and, accordingly, how to allocate efforts and equipment. We can study weather patterns, especially wind,  and predict movements of the virus in the immediate area. Areas with outbreaks may have to take aggressive actions to reduce their pollution, for example by closing down polluting plants immediately (also for the sake of global warming—remember that?). Is this the handle off the polluted well? And traffic can be restricted when the outbreak is severe enough (even relying on electric vehicles where possible in the interim).

Guess what Dr Snow, We're back to the air!

_____________________________
Thank you Nathalie Duchesne for drawing my attention to the Italian study, and to Hanieh Mohammadi and Paola Adinolfi in Italy, as well as Nathalie, for digging out so much useful material.

 

Most of the viruses are super fragile and if they are flown away by the wind, most of them get deactivated because the outer shell of the virus will be broken. Tests that show the presence of the virus in long distances from the origin of the virus are only tracing the RNA of the virus (ribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid present in all living cells), but most of those RNAs are not active (PCR tests). Previous studies about other viruses, such as Zika and Ebola, appear to reinforce this finding.

© Henry Mintzberg, 2020. 

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Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies

4 April 2020

Première partie : RELEVER LES ANOMALIES

Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies

Devinez quoi, Dr Snow, on revient à l’air ambiant!

Peu après la publication du billet précédent, j’ai eu vent d’une étude récente (en italien) qui offre une perspective redéfinissant le cadre de la discussion. De mon point de vue, du moins, l’article semble expliquer les anomalies. Après une recherche approfondie menée par des collègues (voir plus bas), voici les conclusions qui ont été tirées.

Première partie : RELEVER LES ANOMALIES

Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies

Devinez quoi, Dr Snow, on revient à l’air ambiant!

Peu après la publication du billet précédent, j’ai eu vent d’une étude récente (en italien) qui offre une perspective redéfinissant le cadre de la discussion. De mon point de vue, du moins, l’article semble expliquer les anomalies. Après une recherche approfondie menée par des collègues (voir plus bas), voici les conclusions qui ont été tirées.

Rédigé par plusieurs intellectuels et autorités médicales du nord de l’Italie, le rapport établit un lien entre la pollution atmosphérique et la propagation rapide du coronavirus. Selon le rapport, le virus se fixerait à des particules minuscules pouvant demeurer en suspension dans l’air « pendant des heures, des jours, voire des semaines, et pouvant voyager sur de longues distances ». Toutefois, il est important de le noter, d’autres indices semblent indiquer que la plus grande partie n’est active de cette façon que sur une distance de quelques centaines de mètres1.

Si cela est vrai, alors cela expliquerait peut-être pourquoi les gens peuvent être infectés sans être directement exposés au virus, simplement en respirant l’air ambiant. Cela pourrait également expliquer pourquoi les éclosions ne font généralement pas le saut des villes-centres aux villes avoisinantes, voire parfois aux banlieues locales. Cela semble expliquer également pourquoi certains endroits, particulièrement les grandes villes, connaissent d’importantes éclosions, alors que d’autres, non. Ces endroits peuvent être particulièrement pollués par la circulation automobile et l’activité industrielle (Wuhan, New York). Comparons-les à la plupart des régions rurales, voire des favelas qui comptent peu d’automobiles et de grandes usines (en plus d’avoir des températures plus élevées, ce qui semble avoir une corrélation négative avec la propagation du virus). Considérons également le terrain : les villes qui sont entourées de montagnes emprisonnant l’air pollué (comme Téhéran) et qui connaissent l’inversion thermique et une concentration importante de smog (comme New York [en anglais]), pourraient être plus susceptibles de connaître d’importantes éclosions que celles qui sont campées sur des terrains plats et venteux (comme les États arabes et le Moyen-Orient). 

La Chine et la Corée du Sud ont été saluées pour le confinement de leur population qui aurait ralenti la propagation du virus. C’est probable, mais un autre bienfait important est fortuit : avec moins de voitures sur les routes et plusieurs usines fermées, le taux de pollution a grandement diminué. Cela pourrait-il expliquer la conclusion plutôt hâtive de ces éclosions?

Rassemblons le tout en fonction de trois niveaux de transmission. (1) Le premier niveau est direct et personnel : exposition immédiate dans une pièce ou dans un parc à des gouttelettes en suspension dans l’air, en provenance d’une toux (et nous détenons maintenant des preuves établissant que le virus peut voyager plus de deux mètres), ou tombées sur une surface qui est ensuite touchée. (2) Le deuxième niveau est local et atmosphérique : exposition à des gouttelettes en suspension dans l’air pollué et sans doute inhalées (ou touchées après être tombées sur une surface?), fort probablement dans une ville industrialisée, mais pas au-delà de cette ville.

Entre ces deux premiers niveaux, on pourrait retrouver un niveau institutionnel et confiné, comme une résidence pour personnes âgées ou une salle de réception, où des particules problématiques (des aérosols? des microplastiques?) pourraient circuler dans des installations de ventilation centrale. Cela soulève une question clé : quels types de particules sont plus susceptibles de propager le virus?

(3) Le troisième niveau est mondial et géographique, à savoir que le virus voyage des centres infectés vers d’autres endroits dans le monde. Le coronavirus voyage certes à travers le monde, mais lorsqu’il se pose, quelle est la portée de sa propagation? Ce troisième niveau semble être une combinaison des deux premiers niveaux : le virus voyage personnellement et se propage directement, par exemple lorsqu’une personne infectée prend l’avion sans être mise en quarantaine. Cependant, il se propage ou non localement en fonction des conditions locales comme la pollution, la température, le vent et le terrain, peut-être également en fonction de l’humidité.

Que faire de tout cela? Nous pouvons recadrer notre réflexion. Le « Ça s’en vient! Ça s’en vient! » devient  « Le virus s’en vient partout, mais ne se propage pas partout ». Ainsi, nous pouvons estimer où le virus risque de se propager et comment allouer en conséquence les efforts et l’équipement. Nous pouvons analyser les phénomènes climatiques, particulièrement le vent, et prévoir les déplacements du virus dans la région immédiate. Les zones d’éclosion devront peut-être prendre des mesures drastiques afin de diminuer le taux de pollution, par exemple en fermant sans tarder les usines polluantes. (C’est aussi bon pour contrer le réchauffement climatique, vous vous en souvenez?) Également, la circulation automobile peut être réglementée lorsque l’éclosion est assez importante. (Nous pourrions être tributaires des véhicules électriques entre-temps.)

______________________
Je remercie Nathalie Duchesne d’avoir attiré mon attention sur l’étude italienne et à Hanieh Mohammadi et Paola Adinolfi, en Italie, ainsi qu’à Nathalie, pour avoir déniché tant de données utiles.

© Henry Mintzberg, 2020.

Traduction par Nathalie Tremblay

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1La majorité des virus sont très fragiles et, s’ils circulent dans l’air, la plupart d’entre eux sont désactivés en raison de l’éclatement de l’enveloppe extérieure du virus. Les tests qui font état de la présence du virus à grande distance de son point d’origine retracent simplement l’ARN (l’acide ribonucléique, un acide nucléique présent dans toutes les cellules vivantes) du virus. La plupart des ARN ne sont toutefois pas actifs (tests PCR [en anglais]). Des recherches antérieures concernant d’autres virus, comme le Zika (en anglais) et l’Ebola (en anglais), semblent corroborer ces conclusions.

Enquête sur la cause du coronavirus – Première partie

3 April 2020

Première partie : RELEVER LES ANOMALIES

Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies


La pompe

Première partie : RELEVER LES ANOMALIES

Deuxième partie : Expliquer les anomalies


La pompe

Il est temps de réexaminer l’histoire du Dr John Snow, qui a été élu par un panel de médecins britanniques comme le meilleur d’entre eux. Cette distinction est venue plus d’un siècle après qu’il ait été écarté par le corps médical britannique pour avoir remis en question la conviction admise portant que le choléra devait se transmettre par l’air. Pendant une épidémie à Londres en 1854, il a marqué d’une épingle sur une carte de la ville chaque endroit où il y a eu un décès. À l’exception de deux, ces épingles étaient regroupées autour d’un puits. Il s’est rendu à la maison d’une des deux personnes décédées ailleurs et a appris qu’elle aimait l’eau de ce puits, qu’elle envoyait sa domestique chercher. Sa nièce, qui buvait également l’eau de ce puits, s’avérait être l’autre exception. Ainsi, alors que le corps médical s’efforçait frénétiquement de contrer l’éclosion de choléra, le puits a été bloqué et l’épidémie a pris fin. Plus tard, on a découvert que des eaux usées s’écoulaient d’une canalisation à proximité et contaminaient l’eau du puits.

Ma spécialité, c’est la gestion, pas la médecine. Toutefois, j’ai examiné les mythes de la gestion des soins de santé (en anglais) dans un ouvrage intitulé The myths of managing health care. L’ouvrage décrit la grande force de la médecine moderne – sa capacité à catégoriser –, ainsi que sa faiblesse débilitante, à savoir le fait de s’enliser dans ces catégories.

Quelques explications viennent cerner la nature et la transmission du coronavirus, toutes vraisemblablement correctes (d’une façon ou d’une autre). Sont-elles toutefois adéquates? Il semble y avoir des anomalies dans les données largement véhiculées. Sont-elles simplement des curiosités ou révèlent-elles des angles morts? Est-ce que la façon qu’a la maladie de se manifester cache quelque chose? Je suis peut-être très mal informé sur ce qui suit, et les choses évoluent si rapidement que certaines notions peuvent être dépassées en quelques heures. Pourtant, si une des idées en apparence ridicules ci-dessous vient aux oreilles d’une personne qui est en mesure de la préciser, alors l’exercice en vaudra la peine. Ainsi, faites fi de votre incrédulité et voyez si vous pouvez en trouver une – une idée ou une personne.

  • Partout, au pays comme à l’étranger, on entend : « Ça s’en vient! Ça s’en vient! ». Cependant, ça ne s’en vient pas partout, seulement à certains endroits. Pourquoi en ces endroits? Le taux d’infection et de décès varie manifestement d’un pays à l’autre, d’une région à l’autre, d’un endroit à l’autre, et ce, souvent de façon étonnante. Le virus vient de la Chine, ou du moins de la région de Wuhan. Pourtant les pays voisins sont peu touchés, à l’exception de la Corée du Sud. Il se propage en Italie et en Espagne, mais pas de la même façon en Scandinavie. L’Iran est durement touché; Israël compte de nombreux cas. (Ces deux pays sont d’origine caucasienne.) Toutefois, les pays arabes de cette région sont moins touchés. (Le virus touche vraisemblablement même moins le sud de l’Iran dont la population est plus d’origine arabe.) Y a-t-il quelque chose dans l’air, dans les pratiques, dans l’alimentation? Pourquoi le virus s’est-il propagé de façon catastrophique dans certains espaces confinés plutôt que d’autres : sur des bateaux de croisière, dans des résidences pour personnes âgées et à l’occasion de quelques mariages juifs, mais pas autant dans les favelas du Brésil (dont la densité de population est assurément plus grande que celle d’un bateau de croisière). Il est moins répandu également dans les régions rurales et les réserves des Premières Nations du Canada. Certains pays et certains endroits sont-ils intrinsèquement plus ou moins à risque? Et pourquoi? Nous avons quelques explications toutes prêtes, mais inadéquates. Et si on se penchait sur les anomalies?
  • Pourquoi certaines personnes contractent-elles le virus sans y être exposées de façon flagrante? S’agit-il simplement de retrouver l’exposition ou y aurait-il une forme de transmission inconnue? Certaines personnes sont peut-être intrinsèquement immunisées contre le virus et d’autres intrinsèquement susceptibles de l’attraper?
  • L’Italie et l’Allemagne sont des pays quasiment voisins. Pourtant, le taux de décès y est totalement différent. Cette donnée peut s’expliquer de plusieurs façons. Est-ce que cela justifie la différence? La population italienne ne peut pas être beaucoup plus âgée que celle de l’Allemagne. Et de vastes équipes chinoises travaillaient non seulement dans le nord de l’Italie, mais aussi dans d’autres endroits où le virus ne s’est pas répandu de la sorte. La planète se divisera-t-elle en plusieurs Italie et plusieurs Allemagne? Le cas échéant, trouverait-on une explication dans l’environnement, dans l’alimentation, dans le mode de vie ou encore dans la culture? Au New Jersey, une famille a été dévastée par des décès dans deux générations. Cette famille est d’origine italienne. Est-ce là une anomalie révélatrice de quelque chose d’important?
  • Comment se fait-il que la Chine et la Corée du Sud semblent avoir mis fin à la propagation du virus (jusqu’à maintenant)? Le dépistage et le confinement peuvent-ils expliquer la situation dans un pays de plus d’un milliard d’habitants, alors qu’une personne dans une soirée ou un mariage en Occident peut contaminer des dizaines de personnes? Il n’y a eu aucune fête en Chine récemment?

D’une certaine façon, le Dr Snow est sorti des paradigmes reçus de l’époque. Les paradigmes d’aujourd’hui ne sont pas différents : ils orientent notre réflexion tout en escamotant d’autres possibilités. Le Dr Snow a employé une méthode de recherche inhabituelle au regard des normes médicales actuelles, semblable au travail d’un détective et mieux adaptée pour trouver la cause que le traitement. Son examen d’un échantillon de deux exceptions a éclairé sa cause. Il a d’abord eu une idée, puis il a analysé des données. Sa population était une communauté ciblée.

Grâce à Zoom, je discute deux heures par jour avec plusieurs personnes au Québec, principalement des urgentologues, dont certains travaillent pour le ministère de la Santé. Il n’a pas été facile d’avancer cet argument, et pour cause : ils devaient composer avec la situation. Finalement, au cours d’une de ces conversations, la Dre Joanne Liu, une urgentologue qui vient de terminer deux mandats à titre de présidente de Médecins Sans Frontières, s’est souvenue de l’histoire d’un camp de réfugiés au Bangladesh où une éclosion de choléra annoncée ne s’est jamais concrétisée. Elle s’était interrogée au sujet du sol argileux. Puis, une infirmière de la Colombie-Britannique, responsable du personnel d’intervention des réserves des Premières Nations de la province, a ensuite dit qu’il n’y avait pas encore d’éclosion dans les réserves. En fait, une personne d’une réserve qui avait récemment pris l’avion à côté d’une personne infectée n’a pas contracté le virus.

Nous avons mis sur pied un plus petit groupe sur Zoom, trois penseurs parallèles et trois médecins chevronnés, pour tenter d’expliquer certaines de ces anomalies. Le travail de détective pour trouver la cause doit explorer toutes les avenues possibles. Ainsi, voici quelques pistes plausibles, certaines probablement invraisemblables. Est-ce possible que certains médicaments, outre le fait qu’ils traitent des maladies, rendent des personnes plus, ou moins, susceptibles au virus? On pourrait en choisir quelques-uns des plus courants, des médicaments contre l’hypertension, le cholestérol et/ou l’anxiété, et recueillir des données sur leur utilisation dans des endroits où le virus est plus ou moins actif. (On émet des hypothèses. Alors que je rédigeais ces lignes, Hanieh Mohammadi, une étudiante au doctorat que je supervise à l’Université McGill, m’a envoyé un courriel concernant un rapport en Italie portant que le virus toucherait peut-être plus durement les personnes qui ont une carence en vitamine D.) Ou encore une comparaison entre Israël et les états arabes, et ces mariages juifs? Est-ce qu’il y aurait quelque chose en lien avec l’alimentation, la génétique ou les problèmes cardiaques? La consommation de sel ou de sucre pourrait-elle jouer sur la susceptibilité ou la sévérité? (La vitamine D faisait à l’origine partie de cette liste, mais on l’a retirée parce que l’idée semblait trop tirée par les cheveux!) Et que dire de ces minuscules particules de plastiques qui sont peut-être plus nombreuses dans l’air de la ville et des régions développées? D’une part, la pollution de l’air affecte les poumons; d’autre part est-ce que cela affecte le déplacement du virus qui pourrait voyager sur plus d’un mètre ou deux? (J’allais retirer cette hypothèse également, mais je me suis ravisé.) Frank Fan Xia, un professeur d’école commerciale de Rennes, en France, a fait le commentaire suivant : « La transmission fécale-orale pourrait expliquer l’éclosion du SRAS-CoV à Hong Kong en 2003 (Cotruvo et al, 2004, et Yeo et al, 2020). Il est permis de penser que le SRAS-CoV-2, que l’on retrouve dans les matières fécales des patients (Holshue et al, 2020) et dans les cuvettes des toilettes (Ong et al, 2020), puisse également emprunter la voie fécale-orale. Si vous habitez un immeuble d’habitation/hôtel ou si vous êtes sur un bateau de croisière, et qu’un voisin est infecté, veuillez désinfecter les toilettes et les drains avec du javellisant ». Revient-on à l’histoire du Dr Snow? (Frank a également mentionné les aérosols et les conduits de ventilation.) Qui sait?

Ce que je sais, c’est qu’il faudrait explorer toutes les avenues possibles, parce qu’une explication évidente de la cause est peut-être à notre portée, comme c’était le cas pour le Dr Snow. Y a-t-il un autre Dr Snow quelque part?

Cliquez ici pour lire la deuxième partie.

© Henry Mintzberg, 2020. Notre groupe Zoom, « Blind spot [angle mort] », a été organisé par des participants stimulés et des diplômés de notre programme international de maîtrise en gestion de la santé (imhl.org), un programme dérivé de notre programme international de maîtrise pour gestionnaires en poste (impm.org). Je tiens à remercier Rick Fleet et Jean-Simon Létourneau, de la cohorte IMHL 2020, qui ont réuni le groupe malgré leurs responsabilités d’urgentologues à Québec.

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Le NOUS informé n’importe comment

2 April 2020

Ce blogue est une adaptation de deux extraits de mon nouvel ouvrage Managing the Myths of Health Care.


Le patient est la « personne la plus sous-utilisée du domaine de la santé ». Cette personne, c’est vous et moi. Nous ne sommes pas des joueurs occasionnels en ce qui concerne notre santé, peu importe notre état de passivité lorsque nous nous retrouvons devant un médecin.

Ce blogue est une adaptation de deux extraits de mon nouvel ouvrage Managing the Myths of Health Care.


Le patient est la « personne la plus sous-utilisée du domaine de la santé ». Cette personne, c’est vous et moi. Nous ne sommes pas des joueurs occasionnels en ce qui concerne notre santé, peu importe notre état de passivité lorsque nous nous retrouvons devant un médecin.


La plupart du temps, nous ne sommes même pas devant un médecin, voire des patients. Nous devons assumer personnellement la responsabilité de notre propre santé, y compris en matière de prévention de la maladie. La plupart du temps, d’ailleurs, nous sommes les « premiers répondants ». Nous sentons qu’il y a quelque chose qui cloche et nous allons consulter un professionnel ou encore nous nous occupons nous-mêmes du problème. (Vous avez mis un pansement dernièrement?) Et pas que pour nous. Nous pouvons être les premiers répondants pour nos enfants, parfois même pour nos parents âgés. Il convient donc de bien s’informer.


Savons-nous bien nous informer? Il existe tout un éventail de renseignements en matière de soins de santé. À quelle part de ces renseignements importants avons-nous accès? Est-il exagéré d’avancer 10 %?


À l’épicerie, je trouve des œufs, certains étiquetés « Oméga 3 », d’autres « bio ». Lesquels sont préférables? J’ai toujours l’intention de consulter Internet en rentrant, mais j’oublie tout le temps de le faire. À quoi bon? La réponse changera probablement rapidement de toute façon. Ce n’est toutefois pas la fiabilité des renseignements qui me préoccupe, mais plutôt l’interprétation qui en est faite pour mon usage personnel.


Bon, alors comment puis-je bien m’informer pour ma propre survie? N’importe comment. Si je n’avais pas écouté la radio une certaine journée l’an dernier, je n’aurais pas su que je n’avais plus besoin de me forcer à boire huit verres d’eau par jour. En revanche, cette année, si je n’avais pas écouté mes amis qui travaillent dans le domaine médical, je n’aurais pas consulté un naturopathe et découvert qu’il me fallait après tout boire toute cette eau pour traiter un problème de santé. Est-ce là la façon de m’informer sur ma propre santé : une émission de radio, le journal télévisé, une consultation, un article envoyé par un ami et, de façon plus systématique, toutes ces publicités qui m’indiquent quel analgésique avaler?


Seulement, j’ai un avantage : je suis instruit et j’ai le temps de lire. De plus, j’ai des amis médecins que je peux consulter au besoin. Et maintenant, grâce à Internet, je peux trouver toutes sortes de renseignements à mal interpréter. Particulièrement, toutefois, je suis dépassé par tous ces renseignements disponibles et je ne sais trop quoi en faire. J’ai besoin d’AIDE!


UN NAVIGATEUR DE LA SANTÉ À LA RESCOUSSE

Les omnipraticiens, même les plus attentifs, sont des personnes occupées qui doivent diagnostiquer, traiter ou recommander et conseiller, et ce, généralement alors que leur salle d’attente est bondée de personnes anxieuses. Nous, ces personnes qui attendent, avons besoin d’un peu plus.


Permettez-moi donc de proposer le rôle de navigateur de la santé. N’allez pas le confondre avec celui de l’infirmière praticienne qui vient du domaine de la santé, au soutien des médecins. Il convient de noter que la santé englobe davantage que ce que font principalement les médecins, y compris la promotion de la santé (particulièrement le régime alimentaire), la prévention de plusieurs maladies et le traitement de celles que la médecine traite peu (comme le syndrome du côlon irritable et plusieurs maladies auto-immunes). D’autres services comme l’acupuncture, la naturopathie et l’homéopathie traitent certaines de ces maladies, et selon moi parfois de façon exceptionnelle, mais sont marginalisés par le corps médical qui agit de temps à autre en double aveugle.


Un navigateur de la santé, professionnellement formé, fournirait des renseignements et des conseils à vous et moi, ces personnes derrière les patients, au cœur de la collectivité, au-delà des populations des épidémiologistes. Le navigateur de la santé pourrait :

  • Apprendre à nous connaître, en tant que personne, mais également au sein de la collectivité, en commençant par un premier entretien complet couvrant tous les volets de notre santé (à l’instar de la pratique homéopathique), et garderait ces renseignements à jour.
  • Se tenir au fait des questions de santé de façon générale, ainsi que des sites fiables qui fournissent des renseignements et des services disponibles dans la collectivité.
  • Fournir à chacun de nous les renseignements nécessaires et des conseils pour tenter de rester en santé.
  • En cas de maladie, nous orienter dans le dédale des diagnostics, des traitements et surtout sur le chemin de la guérison.

Le diagramme qui suit montre les cinq volets essentiels de la santé – le maintien de la santé, le dépistage de la maladie, le diagnostic de la maladie, le traitement de la maladie et le recouvrement de la santé – autour de deux cercles concentriques. Le cercle extérieur est le Cercle professionnel alors que le cercle intérieur représente la Sphère personnelle. Le navigateur de la santé évoluerait en périphérie de ce cercle, comme l’indique le diagramme, à l’intérieur du Cercle professionnel, mais à proximité de la Sphère personnelle.


VOIR LES PARTIES AUTOUR DU TOUT
 

Devrions-nous laisser le sort de notre santé à l’anarchie du marché de l’information de même que dans les limites de la pratique médicale? Ou devrions-nous trouver comment prendre personnellement soin de notre propre santé?


© Henry Mintzberg, 2017, à partir d’extraits de Managing the Myths of Health Care.

Traduction par Nathalie Tremblay

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Le ventre mou des « données dures »

1 April 2020

De quoi parle-t-on exactement, lorsqu’il est question de données objectives, ou de « données dures »? Les roches sont dures, assurément, mais les données? L’encre sur le papier et les électrons dans un disque dur sont tout sauf durs. (En fait, on parle alors de « version électronique », ce qui est loin de la notion de dureté.)

Si vous devez employer une métaphore, essayez plutôt les nuages dans le ciel : on les voit clairement de loin, mais ils sont opaques vus de près. Ils sont insaisissables. On parle de données « dures » pour se donner l’illusion d’avoir transformé quelque chose de concret en chiffres. Cet homme, là-bas, ce n’est pas Simon : c’est un 4,7 sur l’échelle d’un psychologue. Cette compagnie n’a pas seulement connu du succès : elle a vendu 49 milliards de gadgets. N’est-ce pas limpide, ainsi?

De quoi parle-t-on exactement, lorsqu’il est question de données objectives, ou de « données dures »? Les roches sont dures, assurément, mais les données? L’encre sur le papier et les électrons dans un disque dur sont tout sauf durs. (En fait, on parle alors de « version électronique », ce qui est loin de la notion de dureté.)

Si vous devez employer une métaphore, essayez plutôt les nuages dans le ciel : on les voit clairement de loin, mais ils sont opaques vus de près. Ils sont insaisissables. On parle de données « dures » pour se donner l’illusion d’avoir transformé quelque chose de concret en chiffres. Cet homme, là-bas, ce n’est pas Simon : c’est un 4,7 sur l’échelle d’un psychologue. Cette compagnie n’a pas seulement connu du succès : elle a vendu 49 milliards de gadgets. N’est-ce pas limpide, ainsi?

Les données subjectives, aussi appelées données « molles », peuvent quant à elles être ambiguës, floues et incertaines —du moins vues de loin. Il faut généralement faire appel à notre jugement pour les interpréter; à l’instar de Simon, elles ne peuvent même pas être transmises de façon électronique. En fait, certaines données subjectives ne valent guère mieux que les rumeurs, les racontars ou les impressions (par exemple, cette rumeur qui circule à savoir que ces gadgets seraient défectueux).

Ainsi, les dés sont pipés. Les données dures gagnent à tout coup… du moins, jusqu’à ce qu’elles entrent en contact avec cette matière molle qui constitue nos cerveaux, qui existent dans notre société subjective. Il est donc avisé de réfléchir au ventre mou des données dures.

1. Les données objectives peuvent être trop générales. De façon isolée, elles peuvent être stériles, si ce n’est impuissantes. « Peu importe ce que je lui disais, s’est plainte l’une des participantes de la célèbre étude de Kinsey sur le comportement sexuel des hommes, il me regardait simplement droit dans les yeux en demandant : “combien de fois1” ». Est-ce vraiment tout ce qu’il y a à dire? (En premier lieu, qu’est-ce qui constitue exactement une « fois »? Et pour qui?)

Les données dures, ou objectives, peuvent servir de base pour une description, mais qu’en est-il des explications? D’accord, les ventes de gadgets ont augmenté. Mais pourquoi? Parce que le marché était en expansion? (On peut probablement associer un chiffre à ce phénomène.) Parce que le principal concurrent prenait des décisions idiotes? (Impossible de chiffrer cette affirmation, il ne s’agit que de rumeurs.) Parce que notre gestion était excellente? (Notre direction aime bien cette explication, aussi subjective soit-elle.) Serait-ce plutôt parce que la compagnie a rogné sur la qualité pour réduire ses prix? (Essayez d’obtenir les données qui prouveront cela.) Tout ceci laisse entendre que nous avons généralement besoin des données subjectives pour expliquer les données objectives : par exemple, les rumeurs sur les activités du principal compétiteur ou les ouï-dire sur la qualité des produits de notre propre usine.

2. Les données objectives peuvent être trop agrégées. Comment ces données objectives sont-elles présentées? On ne les reçoit pas chaque fois qu’un gadget est vendu, mais additionnées pour former un seul chiffre : les ventes totales. Il en va de même pour le proverbial résultat financier : l’ensemble de la compagnie y est décrit en un seul et unique chiffre. Pensez à toute la vie qui se perd dans ce chiffre, et à toute la réalité. Il n’y a pas de mal à voir la forêt plutôt que la somme des arbres… à moins que vous ne soyez dans l’industrie forestière. Les gestionnaires de cette industrie doivent aussi connaître les arbres. Trop de gestion se fait depuis un hélicoptère, d’où les arbres ont l’apparence d’un tapis verdoyant.

3. Une grande partie des données objectives arrive trop tard. L’information a besoin de temps pour « durcir ». Ne vous laissez pas berner par la vitesse de tous ces électrons qui filent sur Internet. Premièrement, les événements doivent être notés comme des « faits » (ce qui peut prendre du temps), avant d’être agrégés dans des rapports, qui doivent également probablement suivre un calendrier prédéterminé (comme la fin d’un trimestre). À ce moment-là, les clients qui sont déjà dégoûtés de la qualité des gadgets auront probablement déjà opté pour ceux de la compétition. La rumeur peut avoir déjà annoncé cela, de façon subjective, et le bouche-à-oreille l’a propagé, rapidement. Dans l’univers des données subjectives, cela a toutefois peu de poids.

4. Finalement, une quantité étonnante de données objectives n’est simplement pas fiable. Ils ont fière allure, tous ces petits chiffres sur leur bel écran. Mais d’où proviennent-ils? Soulevez la roche des données objectives et jetez un œil à ce qui fourmille en dessous. Les organismes publics sont très attachés à la collecte de statistiques : ils les recueillent, les additionnent, les élèvent au plus haut degré, prennent leur racine cubique et préparent de merveilleux diagrammes. Mais ce qu’il ne faut jamais oublier, c’est que chacun de ces chiffres provient au départ du [gardien du village], qui a simplement noté ce qui lui chantait2 ».

Et ce n’est pas vrai uniquement pour les organismes publics. La plupart des organisations sont obnubilées par les chiffres. Toutefois, qui se préoccupe de vérifier ce que le gardien a consigné, particulièrement en cette époque d’automatisation? Ou encore des chiffres du gestionnaire en quête d’avancement? Avez-vous déjà rencontré un chiffre qui ne pouvait pas être traficoté : le compte d’objets rejetés dans une usine, le compte de citations dans une université (vous n’avez qu’à vous citer vous-même), ou même le proverbial résultat financier d’une entreprise? Par ailleurs, même si les faits enregistrés étaient fiables en premier lieu, quelque chose se perd généralement dans le processus de quantification. Les nombres sont arrondis, des erreurs sont commises et des nuances se perdent3.  

N’allez pas croire qu’il s’agit ici d’un plaidoyer pour se départir des données objectives. Cela n’aurait pas plus de sens que de vouloir se départir des données subjectives. Il s’agit plutôt d’un plaidoyer pour que nous cessions d’être obnubilés par les mesures. Nous savons tous comment utiliser les données objectives pour vérifier des intuitions subjectives. Eh bien, pourquoi n’utiliserions-nous pas nos intuitions subjectives pour vérifier des faits objectifs (apprécier les chiffres « à l’œil »)?

Qu’en est-il en fin de compte? Une vieille plaisanterie dit que si vous croisez quelqu’un [d’un pays que je ne peux nommer], giflez-le. Il saura pourquoi. Bon, si vous croisez un chiffre, remettez-le en question. Vous comprendrez pourquoi.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. En fait, j’ai déjà ébauché ces idées bien avant la venue d’Internet (Impediments to the Use of Management Information [monographie de la National Association of Accountants [É.-U.] et de la Société des comptables en management du Canada [Canada], 1975]) LIEN, et je les ai adaptées dans de nombreux ouvrages depuis lors. TWOGS connexes : “If you can’t measure it, you had better manage it”; “How National Happiness became gross”; “Downsizing as 21st Century bloodletting”; “Productive and Destructive Productivity”; et “What could possibly be wrong with efficiency? Plenty”.

 

Traduction par Nathalie Tremblay

________________________________

Tiré de A. Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry (Chandler, 1964).

Attribué à Josiah Stamp, 1929, cité dans Michael D. Maltz, Bridging Gaps in Police Crime Data : A Discussion Paper from the BJS Fellows Program, Washington, DC, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1999.

Dans sa chronique « Statistics and planning » [Statistiques et planification], destinée au British Air Ministry durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale (Planning in Practice: Essays in Aircraft Planning in Wartime [Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1950]), Ely Devons a écrit que la collecte de telles données était extrêmement difficile et délicate, exigeant un « haut niveau d’habileté », alors qu’elle « était traitée… comme un travail inférieur, dégradant et routinier qu’on pouvait confier aux moins efficaces des employés de bureau » (p. 134). Des erreurs se sont glissées dans les données de toutes sortes de manières, ne serait-ce qu’en considérant des mois comme normaux alors qu’ils comprenaient des jours fériés, par exemple. « Les chiffres étaient souvent utilisés seulement comme une façon utile de résumer des jugements et des approximations » (p. 155). Ils étaient parfois même développés par le biais de « marchandage statistique ». Mais « une fois qu’un nombre était mis de l’avant… personne n’était capable d’utiliser des arguments rationnels pour démontrer qu’il était faussé » (p. 155). « Une fois que ces nombres étaient appelés “statistiques”, ils gagnaient l’autorité et le caractère sacré de la Sainte Écriture » (p. 155).

 

Investigating the Cause of the Coronavirus - Part I

31 March 2020

Part I. Identifying the Anomalies

Part II. EXPLAINING THE ANOMALIES

The Pump

Part I. Identifying the Anomalies

Part II. EXPLAINING THE ANOMALIES

The Pump

Now is the time to revisit the story of Dr John Snow, who was selected by a poll of British physicians as their greatest one ever. This came more than a century after he was dismissed by the British medical establishment as a maverick for having questioned the accepted wisdom that Cholera had to be transmitted through the air. During an 1854 outbreak in London, he plotted pins on a map of London where each person had died. These clustered around a well, except for two outliers. He visited the home of one of them and was told that she liked the water in that well, and sent her maid to fetch it. Her niece also drank that water; she turned out to be the other outlier. And so, while the medical establishment was frantically dealing with the outbreak, the well was disabled, and the outbreak ended. Later, sewage was found to be seeping into the well from a pipe nearby.

My field is management, not medicine, although I have investigated the myths of managing health care in a book by that title. It describes the great strength of modern medicine—its capacity to categorize—as well as its debilitating weakness, namely getting stuck in those categories.

We have a number of explanations for the nature and transmission of the Coronavirus, all presumably correct (in one way if not the other). But are they adequate? There seem to be anomalies in the widely reported data: are these just curiosities, or do they reveal blindspots? Is there something else going on in the way this disease is manifesting itself? I may be badly misinformed about some of what follows, and things are changing so quickly that some of it might be outdated in hours. But if one seemingly ridiculous idea below reaches just one person who has the capacity to make something of it, then it will all be worth it. So please suspend disbelief and see if you can find one—the idea, or that person.

  • Everywhere I turn, locally and abroad, I am being told that “It’s coming! It’s coming!” But it’s not coming everywhere, only in some places. Why these places? Infections and deaths vary markedly across countries, regions, and spaces, often surprisingly so. It did come in China, or at least in Wuhan, yet not in neighboring countries, except South Korea. It has come to Italy and Spain but not Scandinavia that way. Iran has it badly, and Israel has many cases (both countries Caucasian), but not in the Arab countries in that region (even, apparently, less in southern Iran, that is more Arab). Is there something in the air, the practices, the diets? Why has this virus spread catastrophically in some confined spaces but not in some others: cruise ships, seniors’ residences, and a few Jewish weddings, but not so much in the favelas of Brazil (these surely being more densely populated that any cruise ship). Nor in rural areas and First Nation reserves in Canada. Are some countries and spaces intrinsically more—or less—at risk, and if so, why? We have some ready but inadequate explanations for this; how about some maverick ones?
  • Why do some people get the virus with no obvious exposure? Is this just a question of tracking down that exposure, or can there be some unknown form of transmission? Or might some people be intrinsically immune, and others intrinsically susceptible?
  • Italy and Germany are almost neighbors, yet the death rates have been vastly different. There are many explanations for this. Do they account for the difference? Surely the Italian population is not that much older than the German. And large teams from China were working, not only in northern Italy, but in a number of other places that have had no comparable outbreaks. Will the world continue to split into the Italys and the Germanys? If so, might there be something in the environment, the food, the lifestyle, the culture? One family in New Jersey has been devastated by deaths in two generations. They are of Italian origin. Is this an outlier that can explain something important?
  • How is it that China and South Korea seem to have arrested the spread (so far)? Can testing and confinement explain this in a country of over a billion people, whereas one person at a cocktail party or wedding in the West can infect dozens of others? Has nobody in China had a party recently?

Dr. Snow thought outside the paradigm of the time, so to speak. Our paradigms today are no different: they focus our thinking while blinding us to other possibilities. Dr. Snow used an unusual method of research by today’s medical standards, akin to detective work—better suited to investigating cause, if not to testing cure. His probe of a sample of two outliers made his case. He began with an idea and then looked at the data. His population was a targeted community.

I have been spending two hours a day on Zoom with a number of people in Quebec, mostly emergency room physicians, some working with the government health department. It has not been easy to make this argument, for good reason: they have to cope. Finally, on one of the calls, Joanne Liu, an ER doctor who just completed two terms as president of Doctors Without Borders, recalled a refugee camp in Bangladesh where an expected Cholera outbreak never materialized. She had wondered about the clay ground. Then a nurse from British Columbia, who is heading up the staffing for the response in the First Nations reserves there, commented that there had been no outbreak so far. Indeed, one member of a reserve, who recently flew in an airplane next to someone who tested positive, didn’t get it.

We set up a smaller group on Zoom—three lateral thinkers, and three seasoned physicians—to try to explain some of these anomalies. Detective work for cause has to go up every possible avenue. So here are a few, some probably absurd. Can certain medicines, themselves, beside treating a disease, make people more, or less, susceptible to the virus? We could take some common ones—for hypertension, cholesterol, anxiety—and get data on their usage in the places of high and low incidence of the virus.  (We’re trying. Hanieh Mohammadi, a doctoral student I supervise at McGill, emailed me as I write this about a report in Italy that the virus may be hitting people with Vitamin D deficiency harder.) Or how about Israel compared with the Arab states, and those Jewish weddings. Is there something in the food, the genes, the heart conditions?  Does salt or sugar consumption have something to do with susceptibility and severity? (I had had Vitamin D in this list originally, but took it out as too far-fetched!) Or those tiny plastic particles, that may be more in the air of urban and developed places? On one hand, air pollution damages the lungs. On the other, might it affect the travel of a virus that might somehow go farther than a meter or two? (I was going to take this out too, but reconsidered.) Frank Fan Xia, a business school professor in Rennes, France, wrote to me with the following comment: “Faecal-oral transmission may explain the 2003 outbreak of SARS-CoV in Hong Kong (Cotruvo et al, 2004, and Yeo et al. (2020) suggest SARS-CoV-2, which is found in patients’ faecal (Holshue et al, 2020) and toilet bowl (Ong et al, 2020), can also transmit in a faecal-oral route. If you live in an apartment/hotel building, or a cruise ship, and if any of the neighbors are infected, please use bleach to clean your toilets and drains.” Do I smell the Dr Snow story here? (Frank also mentioned aerosols and ventilation pipes.)  Who knows?

What I do know is that we should be thinking of everything possible, because some key explanation of cause might be staring us right in the face, as it did Dr Snow. Is there another Dr Snow out there?

Click here to Part II.

© Henry Mintzberg, 2020. Our Zoom group, "Blind spot", has been organized by galvanized participants and alumni of our International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), a spinoff of our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org). Thank you Rick Fleet and Jean-Simon Létourneau, IMHL class of 2020, who pulled the group together despite their ER responsibilities in Quebec City.

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Consolidation for Reformation

7 March 2020

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

The blog on January 1st introduced The Declaration of our Interdependence, for the restoration of balance across the three sectors of society—public governments, private enterprises, and plural communities. But how to get from words on a screen to rebalancing of societies? The blog that followed, on February 1st, outlined the first step—the taking of individual and collective actions (shown in a table of of 32 possibilities). This blog discusses how to consolidate such actions into a movement for grounded reformation.

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

The blog on January 1st introduced The Declaration of our Interdependence, for the restoration of balance across the three sectors of society—public governments, private enterprises, and plural communities. But how to get from words on a screen to rebalancing of societies? The blog that followed, on February 1st, outlined the first step—the taking of individual and collective actions (shown in a table of of 32 possibilities). This blog discusses how to consolidate such actions into a movement for grounded reformation.

The Message of the 16th Century Reformation


What is known as the Reformation began with words on a door in Germany and ended with a realignment of power in Europe. In 1517, with widespread outrage over corruption in the dominating religion, an obscure monk named Martin Luther challenged its prevailing authority by nailing a list of 95 theses (really grievances) to the door of one of its churches. His words spread within weeks, carried by the new social medium of the time, the printing press. A groundswell followed, as angry people in communities confronted the corruption. Eventually, new institutions formed and some existing ones reformed. Much of the world changed.

Can our world so change? That was Europe five centuries ago, concerning the corruption of one institution. Today we face corruption in many institutions, worldwide. Is reformation on a global scale impossible? Well, the devastating effects of climate change are not only possible but existent. Income disparities are on the rise. And another great war is possible—and would be the last—with several loose cannons elected by people fed up with these income disparities. When disaster looms, the impossible can become possible, indeed necessary.

Starting on the ground, not at the “top”


Where, then, to begin? At the top? The Reformation did not begin at any top, yet today that is where the  preferred solutions focus: the established authorities are supposed to fix the establishment. Elect heroic leaders. Hold lofty conferences. Make 30-year plans. Pretend to fix capitalism. All to no avail.

The record of heroic leadership is hardly stellar. Much of it has proved to be impotent when not autocratic. Have we not had enough of the leadership fix?

The lofty conferences on global warming seem to generate more of it, thanks to all the travel, let alone the talk (not to mention the swarms of private jets that descend on Davos every year to bemoan the warming). At home, politicians with four-year mandates proclaim 30-year plans. Why do we tolerate such nonsense?

Then there are the adjectival capitalism fixes—Progressive Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, even Democratic Capitalism (democracy being the adjective). Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but that will not fix societies broken by its own power. It is these societies that need fixing, by restoring balance across their sectors.

The change we require will have to begin on the ground, as it did in the Reformation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught the spirit of this when he was asked by an activist to champion a particular change. He replied: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now go out and make me do it.” The message is clear: reforming established institutions may be the last step in reformation. The first ones have to be taken on the ground.

Pathway to Reformation


Consider these steps to reformation:


Declaration of common cause => Reframing beliefs => Reversing wrongs and Renewing rights => Consolidating this activity => Reforming institutions

The path to reformation is opened by a compelling statement of common cause that reframes what we believe, or have been made to believe, so that we can understand what is wrong and take action to make it right. If we believe that change must come from the top, then most of us will sit around waiting for it to happen. If we believe that the wealth of globalization trickles down to everyone, then we will take what we get. If we believe that democracy is about swinging between left and right, then we will not see the plural sector for the role it must play in buttressing the power of the public and private sectors. It is the reframing of beliefs that galvanizes action.

Consolidating Activities

The last blog presented a table outlining a variety of actions that can be taken to address our problems. We are, in fact, getting a great deal of it, more than ever before. One book estimated the number of social initiatives for such activities to exceed one million, on a wide variety of fronts: for social justice, sustainable environment, world peace, reformed education, and much more.

That book was published in 2007, yet consider what has been happening to the imbalance ever since. The more constructive activity we get, the worse the imbalance becomes. That is because, while the efforts for reformative change are scattered, the forces that exacerbate the imbalance work in concert, for self-interest—as when they promote conspicuous consumption. These efforts will have to consolidate, around a common cause, which I believe will have to be the restoration of balance. A clear focus of attention (such The Declaration of our Interdependence) is required to fuse a myriad of activities into a movement for regeneration. But this consolidation cannot center on any institution or plan; it has to happen as a groundswell of community activity, as in the Reformation, but this time networked worldwide.

We shall have to recognize that imbalance in society is a root cause of the major problems we face—the social injustices, income disparities, decline of democracy, even much of climate change. How, for example, are we to reverse climate change as long as private power drives so much conspicuous consumption? In other words, if you are concerned about the climate, you had better put the rebalancing of society front and center.

The corruption of established institutions is far more widespread than at the time of Luther, and the dangers we face are far more alarming. We have glorified greed and excess long enough; it is time to value balance and benevolence. Our choice comes down to this: grounded reformation or global devastation. We can continue to plunder this planet, and each other, or we can make our way to reformation.

© Henry Mintzberg 2020, adapted from a note on “Next Steps” on The Declaration of our Interdependence.   

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Next step: What can we do now?

1 February 2020

The Declaration of our Interdependence was posted here on January 1, for 2020 vision: to rebalance our societies across government, business, and community. What’s next? Action.

Since I published Rebalancing Society in 2015, one question has kept coming up:  “What can I do?” The answers are, in fact, all over the place, ranging from confronting outrageous behaviors to adopting B Corp status. So I began to make a list of them, adding a few that don’t exist but should, and now I have organized all this into a single table, as you can see below.

The Declaration of our Interdependence was posted here on January 1, for 2020 vision: to rebalance our societies across government, business, and community. What’s next? Action.

Since I published Rebalancing Society in 2015, one question has kept coming up:  “What can I do?” The answers are, in fact, all over the place, ranging from confronting outrageous behaviors to adopting B Corp status. So I began to make a list of them, adding a few that don’t exist but should, and now I have organized all this into a single table, as you can see below.

Beyond what I can do to restore balance is what we can do, in our communities, associations, businesses, governments, and all of these together. The answers are grouped in the table in this order, under three main forms of involvement: reframing our beliefs, in order to reverse what is wrong, and renew what can be made right.

Concerning our beliefs, for example if we believe that change must come from “the top”, then those of us not there will sit around waiting for it to happen. If we believe that the wealth of globalization will trickle down to everyone, then we will take what we get. If we believe that democracy is about swinging between the public controls of government on the  left and the private forces of markets on the right, then we will not see the role that communities in the plural sector must play in buttressing the power of the other two sectors. With beliefs like these reframed, we can see our way to constructive action, ranging from creating social enterprises not tethered to the stock market all the way to establishing a Peace Council to renew global government.

You can click on any dot in the table to see some of the possibilities, bearing in mind the following:

  • These answers focus on rebalancing society, with the ones I consider most important in bold face type. We must address climate change urgently, but my belief is that real headway on this will be made only when we bring our societies back toward balance. The disproportionate power of private sector interests is not only driving climate change—with its imperative of more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming—but also impeding efforts by ourselves and our governments to deal with it.
  • This table is not complete: it is a work-in-progress, meant to suggest possibilities for action. Accordingly, please think beyond what you find in these boxes. It is not spectacular creativity that changes the world so much as ordinary creativity, of which we are all capable. (Thus, please share your ideas here or on #ourinterdependence.)
  • All of the entries in the table are brief, and some may seem rather general. Bear with me: I just wanted to get down what I could, as a starting point. Many of the entries are linked to sites that explain them (a number in my earlier blogs).

Action is only the first step. We are getting more of it while the problems of imbalance get steadily worse. We can no longer afford to have action all over the place; it must be consolidated into a movement for global reformation. In other words, we shall have to get our collective act together. This will be the subject of the next blog.

Here is the table, to use and augment. Click on any dot to see these possibilities. You may have to expand the table to do so, and close one entry when you wish to see another.


© Henry Mintzberg 2020, adapted from Next Steps on The Declaration of our Interdependence.

 

The Declaration of our Interdependence

1 January 2020

How to restore balance in this lopsided world?

Encouraging is that so many concerned people are engaged in so many constructive activities—whether to restore social justice, reverse the change in climate and the decline in democracy, or build the social economy—and that so many more people are ready to go.

Missing, however, has been a guiding vision, a statement of purpose as a way forward—toward a consolidated movement for global reformation.

This is why a group of us developed this Declaration of our Interdependence. Please read it, and if you agree with it, sign it, and share it widely.

Let this be a happy new year—for 2020 vision.

The Declaration of our Interdependence

How to restore balance in this lopsided world?

Encouraging is that so many concerned people are engaged in so many constructive activities—whether to restore social justice, reverse the change in climate and the decline in democracy, or build the social economy—and that so many more people are ready to go.

Missing, however, has been a guiding vision, a statement of purpose as a way forward—toward a consolidated movement for global reformation.

This is why a group of us developed this Declaration of our Interdependence. Please read it, and if you agree with it, sign it, and share it widely.

Let this be a happy new year—for 2020 vision.

The Declaration of our Interdependence

Making Progress on our Puzzle

20 December 2019

After decades of addressing the issues of managing in organization—by taking a good look at the accepted wisdom, comparing it with the reality, and considering how best to go forward—I turned my attention to doing much the same thing in the wider world. A TWOG on 21 December 2017, entitled “Going Public with my Puzzle”, described my puzzle of how to restore balance in a lopsided world. In the two years since, we have been making considerable progress. The next TWOG will present one aspect of this, called “The Declaration of our Interdependence”. This TWOG adapts the earlier one as a lead-in to the next one.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and playing other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain, Monopolize my attention. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including that box called “thinking outside the box.”

After decades of addressing the issues of managing in organization—by taking a good look at the accepted wisdom, comparing it with the reality, and considering how best to go forward—I turned my attention to doing much the same thing in the wider world. A TWOG on 21 December 2017, entitled “Going Public with my Puzzle”, described my puzzle of how to restore balance in a lopsided world. In the two years since, we have been making considerable progress. The next TWOG will present one aspect of this, called “The Declaration of our Interdependence”. This TWOG adapts the earlier one as a lead-in to the next one.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and playing other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain, Monopolize my attention. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including that box called “thinking outside the box.”

A couple of years ago, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was supposed to love as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. I’m a word guy who hates word games in a box (although I love inventing words out of books, like TWOG).

On a table beside this game of ours sat a jig-saw puzzle, its pieces strewn about near the box that showed the picture to make. There and then it hit me. These games are too pat for me, too closed ended. Choose the proper words or move the proper pieces while respecting the proper rules to make the proper picture. I want to fly with ideas, not be grounded by rules.

(I took this photo of that table in Toronto.)

Compare these pat puzzles with puzzling puzzles. They are not about breaking the rules so much as creating new rules to get around old ones that don’t work. To do this, we have to be playful rather than pat, so that we can concoct solutions that seem to be outrageous until they become obvious.

In a Puzzling Puzzle:
1. The pieces are not supplied; some of them have to be found, others invented.
2. These pieces usually appear obscure, not clean-cut—more like fragments.
3. These fragments rarely connect neatly.
4. With no box in sight, the fragments have to create the picture.

(I took this photo of my worktable at home, exactly as I left it to puzzle over the original of this TWOG. Notice the fragments, loosely connected.)

Our profound puzzle    Pat solutions can no more resolve puzzling puzzles than can Monopoly develop entrepreneurs or chess train guerrilla fighters.

As I have discussed in various TWOGs and in a book, at the root of our most foreboding problems—climate change, income disparities, declining democracy, nuclear weapons in the hands of loose cannons—lies the imbalance that plagues our societies. Narrow economic forces, manifested in rampant individualism and unrestrained globalization, have been overwhelming our collective and communal needs. This is our profound puzzle, for which pat solutions, such as fixing capitalism, will not work.

This puzzle has been engaging my attention for many years. (And I thought that the managing of organizations is puzzling!) Recently I have come to the conclusion that what we need is global reformation—mass, non-violent change in our social behaviors. But how to get there?

As I have been probing around—by reading, meeting, testing, and tweeting—many fragments of a possible solution have come at me, left and right, in no particular order. A year ago, I felt it was time to connect these fragments. And so, in February, nine of us gathered at a workshop near Montreal, from which came (a) the draft of a map to see balance in society, (b) the outline of a table to help order the many ideas for action, and (c) the intention to write a declaration of interdependence, as a guide to reframe our thinking, for reformation..

Driving back to Montreal from the retreat, Jeremiah Lee, a consultant in Boston, and I read through the clauses of the American Declaration of Independence and began to draft other ones, sometimes using the wording of the original. A great many drafts later, the nine of us agreed that “The Declaration of our Interdependence” was ready to be posted, which will be done here, and on its own site, on the first of January—for 2020 vision.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. The map and the table will be posted on the site of the declaration, and may be the subjects of later TWOGs.

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The sins of a president

7 December 2019

On the Day of Atonement, practicing Jews ask forgiveness for their sins. The president of the United States may not be Jewish, but looking over this list of sins from a Jewish prayer book1—nothing has been added, deleted, or shifted, I swear—for how many of these sins would he not ask forgiveness?

On the Day of Atonement, practicing Jews ask forgiveness for their sins. The president of the United States may not be Jewish, but looking over this list of sins from a Jewish prayer book1—nothing has been added, deleted, or shifted, I swear—for how many of these sins would he not ask forgiveness?

For the sins of our failures of truth
For pretending to emotions we do not feel;
for using the sins of others to excuse our own;
for denying our responsibility for our own misfortunes;
for refusing to admit our share in the troubles of others;
for condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves;
for condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves;
for passing judgement without knowledge of the facts;
for remembering the price of things but forgetting their value;
for teaching our children everything but the meaning of life;
for loving our egos better than the truth.
 
For the sins of our failures of love
For using people as stepping stones to advancement;
for confusing love and lust;
for withholding love to control those we claim to love;
for hiding from others behind an armor of mistrust;
for treating with arrogance people weaker than ourselves;
for condescending towards those whom we regard as inferiors;
for shunting aside those whose age is an embarrassment to us;
for giving ourselves the fleeting pleasure of inflicting lasting hurts;
for cynicism which eats away our faith in the possibility of love.
 
For the sins of our failures of justice
For the sin of false and deceptive advertising;
for the sin of keeping the poor in the chains of poverty;
for the sin of withholding justice from the world;
for the sin of racial hatred and prejudice;
for the sin of denying its existence;
for the sin of using violence to maintain our powers;
for the sin of using violence to bring about change;
for the sin of separating ends from means;
for the sin of threatening the survival of life on this planet;
for the sin of filling the common air with poisons;
for the sin of making our waters unfit to drink and unsafe for fish;
for the sin of pouring noxious chemicals upon trees and soil;
for the sin of war;
for the sin of aggressive war;
for the sin of appeasing aggressors;
for the sin of building weapons of mass destruction;
for the sin of obeying criminal orders;
for the sin of lacking civic courage;
for the sin of silence and indifference;
for running to do evil but limping to do good.

Is it really possible for any human being, let alone a president of the United States, to exhibit so many of these sins?

(Disclosure: Please forgive me the sin of using the sins of another to excuse my own.)

© Henry Mintzberg 2019.

1Renew Our Days, prayer book for Reconstructionist Judaism (2001, pages 504-505), edited and translated by Rabbi Ronald Aigen.
 

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Round and Round goes the Business Roundtable

16 November 2019

Recently, with much fanfare, the Business Roundtable—the association of CEOs of major American companies—discovered stakeholders beyond shareholders. Or, at least, rediscovered them, again. For this roundtable, what goes around really does come around. Here is an excerpt from each of its four proclamations over the years. Together, they are telling.

This year, The Purpose of a Corporation avowed that “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.”  

In 2012, the Principles of Corporate Governance avowed that “it is the responsibility of the corporation to deal with its employees, customers, suppliers, and other constituencies in a fair and equitable manner…”1

Recently, with much fanfare, the Business Roundtable—the association of CEOs of major American companies—discovered stakeholders beyond shareholders. Or, at least, rediscovered them, again. For this roundtable, what goes around really does come around. Here is an excerpt from each of its four proclamations over the years. Together, they are telling.

This year, The Purpose of a Corporation avowed that “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.”  

In 2012, the Principles of Corporate Governance avowed that “it is the responsibility of the corporation to deal with its employees, customers, suppliers, and other constituencies in a fair and equitable manner…”1

In contrast, the 1997 Statement of Corporate Governance declared: “The notion that the board must somehow balance the interests of stockholders against the interests of other stakeholders fundamentally misconstrues the role of directors. It is, moreover, an unworkable notion because it would leave the board with no criterion for resolving conflicts between interests of stockholders and of other stakeholders or among different groups of stakeholders.”

Coming back around to 1981, the Statement on Corporate Responsibility avowed that “Balancing the shareholder’s expectations of maximum return against other priorities is one of the fundamental problems confronting corporate management. …giving enlightened consideration to balancing the legitimate claims of all its constituents, a corporation will best serve the interest of the shareholders.”

If the CEOs were right in 1981, why did they go wrong in 1997? And if they reversed that wrong in 2012, why do they have to repeat that reversal now? The abuses of Shareholder Value did not exactly diminish in the last seven years, so why should we take the latest proclamation any more seriously?

Most telling is the claim in 1997 about having no criterion for resolving conflicts among different stakeholders. How about judgment? Did the CEOs of America lose their judgment in 1997? Jack Welch apparently did. I have been told that this renowned CEO of GE—no longer quite so renowned with his company’s subsequent performance—championed that 1997 statement. Then in 2009, he came around, declaring Shareholder Value to be the “the dumbest idea in the world.” Whoops, looks like he made a little mistake in 1997. Sorry about that!

Will the CEOs of America regain that judgment now, so that their stakeholders will get a fair shake this time around? We had the words in 2012; will we get the actions now?

Here’s an idea for action: Reserve half the seats on the board of American corporations for elected representatives of the workers. No, I have not lost my mind. I am simply stating what Germany did in 1976:  By law, employee representatives have been filing 10 of the 20 board memberships in companies of more than 2000 people. The German economy has hardly been suffering ever since.

If the CEOs of corporate America don’t like this idea, here’s another: Get rid of executive compensation schemes and quarterly reports that drive their attention toward short-run gains in the stock price, so often at the expense of worker security. And another:  Stop lobbying for tax changes that favor corporate shareholders over other people in society. And, while you are at it, support a living minimum wage for workers. How about ending the lobbying that has being doing so much damage to American democracy? The possibilities are endless…for leaders who deserve that label.

These days, words go round and round while behaviors carry on. Being bombarded with proclamations and so much else, we lose memory, alongside judgment. The CEOs of corporate America now have the opportunity to come around finally: put their actions where their mouthpiece is.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. For my own record on this, please see "Who should control the corporation?” (1984: 517-645; book out of print but available as a pdf free download)

Quoted in “Why Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t a piece of cake”, but removed from the Business Roundtable site.

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Not noble: the fake fact of economics

22 October 2019

Six Nobel Prizes for 2019 have just been widely reported, five of them real.

In his will of 1896, Alfred Nobel created prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Why, then, does nobelprize.org list a sixth one, in “economic sciences”, and then bury deep in its site the heading “Not a Nobel Prize”? And why do so many of its recipients, presumably selected for the integrity of their scholarship, claim to have won a Nobel Prize? Is this just another fake fact, too good to pass up? No, this one has serious consequences, that’s why I harp on it.

Six Nobel Prizes for 2019 have just been widely reported, five of them real.

In his will of 1896, Alfred Nobel created prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. Why, then, does nobelprize.org list a sixth one, in “economic sciences”, and then bury deep in its site the heading “Not a Nobel Prize”? And why do so many of its recipients, presumably selected for the integrity of their scholarship, claim to have won a Nobel Prize? Is this just another fake fact, too good to pass up? No, this one has serious consequences, that’s why I harp on it.

In 1968, the Bank of Sweden created a prize in its own name for the “economic sciences“ and added “in memory of Alfred Nobel.” With these superfluous words, the prize that economists created for themselves has come to be called “Nobel”, or sometimes “The Nobel Memorial Prize” (see even Wikipedia), as if the extra word is any less of a violation of Alfred Nobel’s will. Imagine if political scientists or anthropologists tried to get away with this.

Each of the social sciences has its central concept, for example power in political science, culture in anthropology, and markets in economics. Considered together, in balance, they provide a range of perspectives on human behavior. Considered alone, each narrows our perspective, at the limit into a dogma. Should we see our behavior primarily through the lens of power, or of culture?

Well, mainstream economics has convinced too many of us to see our behavior primarily through the lens of markets, in the form of a dogma that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect. As one view of the human condition, this makes some sense. As the view, it is nonsense. Yet this nonsense, in an unholy alliance with the private forces of greed, has been throwing much of the world dangerously out of balance. (When John Maynard Keynes declared famously that “In the long run we are all dead”, he meant each of us, not all of us. There is no collective “we” in economics, no sense of community. Thanks to the state of the world today, we could all be dead in the short run.)

A healthy society sustains balance across its three sectors: respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in what should be called the plural sector. Thanks to this alliance, many ostensibly democratic societies have become unhealthy, not least the U.S. and U.K. Their private sectors dominate, coopting their governments, diminishing their communities, and undermining their democracy. On the international stage, economic globalization has become the new hegemony. Facing no countervailing power, it plays governments off against each other, driving down taxes at the expense of public services. 

The consequences of this imbalance are all too evident, for example in the income disparities that are driving many frustrated people to vote for the likes of Trump and Brexit; in levels of production and consumption that exacerbate climate change; even in our everyday vocabulary that regards human beings as “human resources“ and citizens as “customers“ of governments. These days, every organization is supposed to act like a business, with every chief a CEO.

Where to begin the restoration of balance? We can hardly expect corporations to cede the power that they have amassed. And fixing capitalism, however necessary, will not fix democracies that are broken, any more than fixing communism would have fixed the broken societies of Eastern Europe (which were out of balance on the side of their public sectors). And how can we expect balance to be restored by governments that have been coopted by private interests.

This leaves the plural sector, were culture matters more than markets. If we are to stop our descent into self-destruction, a form of reformation will have to begin here. Some of us may work in the private sector and many of us may vote in the public sector but all of us live our social lives in the plural sector—for example, when volunteering for a cause, donating to an NGO, joining a protest, or just plain working out at the Y.

Our economically developed world is in dire need of social redevelopment. The restoration of balance will take a lot more than putting this economics prize in its place, namely as The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences. But doing so could be a good place to start—even better if it’s name was changed to the Bank of Sweden Prize in the Social Sciences—by sending a message that private sector interests have to refocus their attention back in their place, namely the marketplace, so that our public sector governments and plural sector communities can get on with serving our collective and social needs.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center

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Donald Trump is not the problem - Part V

4 October 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

We can maintain the course we are on—do nothing much different, continue to ride the current, with a few adjustments—which may lead to devastation, and possibly annihilation, whether from a climate that has had enough of us or a world war that will be the last. Or else we can wake up and address a situation that is no longer tenable. There are signs of that too.

In one significant sense, the prevailing trend today resembles that of Germany in 1933, when a third of the electorate, angered by the treaty that ended World War I, sought their revenge by voting for the Nazi party. Fascism, and World War II followed. Many people today, angered by the imbalance that marginalizes them, have also been seeking their revenge by voting for tyrants.

Five centuries earlier, also in what is now Germany, many people were angry too, with the established ecclesiastic, political, and economic powers, but they did something quite different: engaged in a ground-up reformation that rearranged power in their world. Today, many people have similar feelings about the greediness and lack of compassion of the established powers, and have been expressing a readiness to act for constructive change. Give them a compelling way forward and watch them go.

The States of the World Today   Democracy is now deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in a growing number of illiberal democracies (such as in Hungary and the Philippines), that are sliding in the direction of the many established autocratic regimes. This leaves a few countries clinging to a flawed model of liberal democracy (notably the UK and US) and some that do maintain a semblance of balanced democracy (such as Germany, Canada, the Nordic states, and several other small countries). Meanwhile, the same old superpowers continue with their antics, one undemocratic (China), another illiberal (Russia), the third headed that way under the leadership of a loose cannon (US).

The real danger is the slide toward autocracy, because, at the rate it is going, this planet could soon end up with global fascism. The recent experience of Venezuela, in the lead, so to speak, shows how easily tyranny can sweep aside constitutional protections—as if we needed more evidence of this. And it makes no difference if the autocracy is called communism, capitalism, or populism (whether Muslim, anti-Muslim, Jewish, anti-Semitic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or secular). Dogma is dogma, and demagogues are demagogues. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Fearing decency, the autocrats of the world unite. Angela Merkel was denounced for caring about refugees, while Saudi Arabia punished Canada for a single tweet about its arrest of two journalists. They united in the 1930s too, although eventually America came to the rescue. Imagine World War II without this and you may be seeing World War III.

Reformation from the Ground Up   What if we come to our collective senses? Early in the Sixteenth Century, with so many people angered at the corruption of their church, the Reformation followed after a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the door of a church in a town called Wittenberg. This sparked a movement from the ground up, eventually engaging certain established officials, that spread fast, far, and wide—thanks to a new communications technology of the time, the printing press. Does this sound familiar? With our new social media, and so many people now prepared to act, another reformation—meaning massive but largely nonviolent change in social behavior—could well be coming.

Does this sound utopian? Maybe, but the current reality is hardy utopian.  A reformation on such a scale may be unprecedented, but the problems we face are unprecedented.

Let me offer another example, indicative of how quickly a people can reframe and shift behavior from the ground up. I refer to what is known here in Quebec as The Quiet Revolution, although it was really a quiet reformation. By 1960, many of the women of Quebec had had it with a dominating church in cahoots with autocratic politics. The death of a long-entrenched Premier was the spark that set off the change. Just about every Quebecoise I know from that time has many siblings; their mothers driven by the clergy to procreate non-stop. Just about none has more than a child or two. One wrote to me recently about this “effervescent period”: “The Church that consumed my youth fell apart like a house of cards.” Other places in the world have experienced similar shifts, but perhaps none so profoundly as Quebec. At that point, there were no marches, no protests, no election of other autocrats, just a sweeping shift in mindset that profoundly changed the society. Quebec became, and with lapses remains, probably the most progressive place in North America.

Answering the Irene Question   Irene is a finance manager in Canada, who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She read a draft of my book Rebalancing Society and responded with: “I’d like to do something. I just don’t know where to start.” You cannot imagine how often I have been asked the Irene question ever since!

Add up all the Irenes and Ivans of the world, and we have the makings of a massive global movement for constructive reformation. We just need to coalesce our energies around some shared sense of direction—some compelling narrative that suggests a way forward. The idea of a reformation to rebalance society could be that: to attain a dynamic equilibrium across the public, private, and plural sectors of society.

What can we do in our own lives? What can we do in our communities and associations? What can our enterprises do, small and large, entrepreneurial and corporate, national and international? What can our governments do, at the municipal, national, and global levels? And what can all of us and all of this do together? In other words, the levels of change can be Personal, Plural, Private, Public, and Planet, shown in the table below in terms of Reframing our Beliefs, Reforming our Wrongs, and Renewing our Rights (in both senses of the term).

Find your place in the table: the possibilities are endless. I have my own collection, all over the table. For example, at the top left, I have “ditch the economic dogma”2 (personal level reframing); in the middle, “fix or abandon the stock market” (private level reforming) and “grow the social economy” (plural level renewing); and on the bottom right, “create a Peace Council to replace the (in)Security Council of the United Nations” (planet level renewing).

A Pathway to Reformation    In an earlier blog, I wrote about the puzzling puzzle of rebalancing society. Unlike a pat puzzle (such as a jigsaw one):

  1. The pieces have to be discovered, or created.
  2. Each appears obscure, like a fragment.
  3. They need to connect, although never neatly.
  4. With no box in sight, the picture has to be constructed from these fragments and connections.

The table above can help to identify many of these fragments. But how to fit them together to create the compelling image? Perhaps an answer can lie in what I am currently working on, labelled a Pathway to Reformation, in four phases.

A. Reformation begins in a long-simmering place, about to combust spontaneously. The women of Quebec, like the Eastern Europeans under communism, were all ready to go. Now, perhaps as never before, a great many people are ready to go, all around the globe. 

B.  A spark ignites, in the form of an event (the death of a politician), or the action of a group (opening up the Berlin Wall), a community or even a major part of a society (the women of Quebec).

C. This spreads, in the form of a massive but non-violent shift in social behavior, as a groundswell of social initiatives to reframe and renew. These days, with the help of the social media, it can spread from community to community to go global, becoming a worldwide social movement.

D. Reforms mostly follow, in institutions—governments in the public sector, businesses in the private sector, associations in the plural sector. Most institutions need to be overwhelmed by social forces before they will accept major reforms.

Is such a reformation possible? With the decline of democracy, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the warming of the planet, it had better be possible. This world will simply not fix itself. People who care about it will have to do that. There is wealth in the world as never before, enough for decent living far and wide—so long as we can relinquish our superfluous entitlements. Some of us might just discover what decent living is all about.

For the sake of survival, we need to shift the initiative from our private interests to our common interest. Like the women of Quebec, we shall have to get our collective act together—to reframe our thinking so that we can reform our wrongs and renew our rights. Hence, ask not what your leadership has been doing to you. Ask what you can be doing for our communityship—not as conservatives or liberals, from the left or the right, but as decent folk who care about our planet and our progeny.

What’s your choice??

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Apparently first said in the Danish parliament in the 1930s.

that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part IV

5 September 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

Fixing Private Sector Capitalism?  The popular solution in the United States is to fix capitalism. Proposals abound for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Progressive Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, and best of all, Democratic Capitalism (capitalism being the noun, democracy the adjective). Methinks that capitalism doth propose too much. How in the world did this word capitalism, essentially about the funding of private enterprises, become the be all and end all of human existence? (Ask an economist.)

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, not least in its stock markets, with their relentless drive for MORE—more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming, the consequences be damned. There are better ways to grow healthy enterprises, for example with patient, responsible capital. Likewise, while we need as much corporate social responsibility (CSR) as we can get, can anyone seriously believe that more CSR could compensate for all the CSI (irresponsibility) we now see around us? Moreover, will private sector interests voluntarily cede the immense power that they have amassed? 

It is societies that need fixing, and fixing capitalism will no more do that than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Capitalism will have to be put in its place, namely the marketplace, out of the public space.

Public Sector Government to the Rescue?  Then there are those who expect government to fix the problem—it is, after all, the paramount authority in democratic society. But look what’s been happening to that authority, and to democracy itself. What can the many governments already coopted by private interests really do? Furthermore, government is hardly the most nuanced institution for a problem that requires nuanced solutions, nor is it especially venturesome for a problem that requires bold action. Whether they come from the left or the right, widely elected governments are drawn toward the center, so as not to upset any major interests.

If not the private or public sectors, then what? The answer will have to begin with an appreciation that there are three fundamental sectors in society, not two.

The Plural Sector for Balance   Just as a stool cannot balance itself on one leg, so a society cannot balance itself on one sector, be that capitalism in the private sector any more than communism in the public sector. And trying to do so on the two more moderate legs of social liberalism on the left and traditional conservatism on the right has driven many countries to swing back and forth between them, fruitlessly, while private interests advance unchecked. A third leg is required for balance.

I call it the plural sector (rather that “civil society”) because it requires a label to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private. A society can stand tall when it is supported by the solid legs of respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in the plural sector.

What is this plural sector? It is all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some are owned by their members, as in cooperatives; others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, clubs, foundations, charities, religious orders, and not-for-profit hospitals, many of these community-based. Alexis de Tocqueville referred to them as associations in his 1830s volumes on Democracy in America, and recognized the key role they were playing in sustaining the new democracy.

We too are the plural sector, each of us and all of us, in our social lives. Many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. (How many of its associations figured in your life last week—say, shopping in a co-op, working out at the Y, attending a “private” university, maybe even marching in a protest?)

Thus, the plural sector is huge, far larger than most people recognize. (In the U.S., for example, there are more cooperative memberships than people.) Yet it is obscure, long lost in the great battles over left versus right, public controls versus private interests. This will have to change if we are to get out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. Here, then, is the fundamental point: if we are to stop our descent into self-destruction, the sector that should be called plural will have to take its place alongside the ones called public and private.

Starting in the Plural Sector    With so much dysfunction in the other two sectors, rebalancing will have to begin in the plural sector. We shall have to assert our concerns in our communities, and connect them into an international movement for reformation. The new globalization begins here, in the plural sector—socially and politically as well as economically.

Bear in mind that local community is where major social change—namely reformation—has often begun, whether the collapse of a wall in Berlin, a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, or a list of 95 theses nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The established institutions of society—governments, businesses, even some associations—usually need  to be pushed into reform of this kind. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a group of activists: “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”  Many a business CEO, facing the constraints of the financial world, could well be telling the activists of today the same thing.

The time for such action is right, now. Perhaps never before have so many people around the world been prepared to vote with their feet and their wallets as well as their ballots. This energy just has to be channeled constructively, toward tangible changes across all three sectors, rather than just being used to lash out in frustration.

Each of the Sectors and all of the Sectors   The plural sector, as noted, has to take the lead, but with clout. Recent protests have brought massive numbers of people into streets around the world, yet the problems continue to intensify. Effective protest requires targeted action: for example, not just occupying Wall Street, but challenging objectionable activities taking place behind its closed doors. In Paraguay, recently, women fed up with the acquittal of a corrupt politician pelted his house with eggs. He resigned. The potential of caring people—especially women and youth—has hardly been tapped.

The associations of the plural sector can also be a potent force for rebalancing, especially working together. Now more than ever, we need full recognition of de Tocqueville’s point about the role that these associations can play in sustaining democracy. This sector may indeed be plural—it includes the National Rifle Association, and so on. But for every NRA, the sector encompasses NGOs concerned with the consequences of imbalance. Amnesty International deals with the problems of social justice, Greenpeace with threats to the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the injures of war.  Beyond each of these specific causes, however, lies their common cause, namely to correct the imbalance that helps to create these problems. What if an alliance of prominent NGOs championed a mobilizing manifesto for balance? As David Brooks put it in a New York Times comment, “…people in the exhausted majority have no narrative…no coherent philosophic worldview to organize their thinking and compel action” (17 October 2018). 

In the private sector, corporations can likewise be addressing the causes of social and environmental problems, beyond relieving their conditions. For example, recycling is good, but reducing waste is better. And best of all would be CSR to promote balance in society, in place of corporate activities that exacerbate the imbalance. But for serious consideration of this, publicly-traded corporations will have to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the stock markets---that short-term obsession with MORE. A utopian thought? Maybe. But businesspeople need only look to Venezuela to appreciate what they have to lose when imbalance runs its full course.

Turning to the public sector, to deal with income disparities, governments will have to liberate themselves from the monied interests of society, domestic and global. This can start with a frontal attack on the legal bribery of political donations.

Some countries, notably in Scandinavia, function well because they have retained their balance. Others, especially some of the most “advanced”, need to recover it before they too cede their democracy to narrow populism. And internationally, few countries can stand up to the divide-and-rule tactics of economic globalization. But acting together, however, they could—as the European Union has demonstrated in confronting companies such as Google. Moreover, acting together, smaller democratic countries need to challenge the assumption that three superpowers must vie with each other for global superiority. Enough of this dangerous nonsense. Is some sort of balanced global governance possible? It had better be so long as nuclear holocaust is possible.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. The gangs would take over, carving up the place for themselves, or else battling until they destroy each other, and perhaps the city as well. This is the state of our global village today. Imagine, instead, if an assembly of balanced democracies took on the common cause of global sanity. Who knows, maybe one day this could metamorphose into a Peace Council, to replace the Security Council of the United Nations, whose five permanent members account for about three-quarters of the world’s exports of arms. This is an insecurity council.

Does this idea sound impossible? Only in the context of the lunacy that we take for granted. Such a council in waiting could certainly be possible, indeed may be exactly what we shall need when a real catastrophe is imminent. And please understand that with the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world ruled increasingly by loose-cannon thugs, this is a question of when, not if. Thus, we need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

Above all there must be a consolidation of effort across all the sectors. We have heard much about PPPs—public-private-partnerships. We need to hear more about PPPPs—again with the plural sector taking its rightful place alongside the other two. Our downward spiral will continue as long as the sectors work at cross-purposes, with the powerful private sector lobbying a weakened public sector that accedes to it or else colludes with it, while both sectors ignore the plural sector, which, in turn, lash out at the excesses of both.

An ascending spiral of renewal can combine what each of the sectors can contribute for balance. Grounded engagement in the plural sector can prompt orchestrated planning in the public sector to encourage autonomous venturing in the private sector. We need to act personally and plurally, privately and publicly.

Each of us and All of us    All of the above is not about whoever “ought to be doing something about this.”  It is about each of us and all of us, who need to create a groundswell for a world of decency. We vote knowing that our one ballot hardly counts but that all our ballots together do. We shall have to adopt the same attitude as we vote in other ways, for the sake of balance: socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.

Click to PART V. YOU CHOOSE: GROUNDED REFORMATION OR GLOBAL DEVASTATION?

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part III

16 August 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

Economic Globalization Unconstrained   The imbalance in favor of the “monied corporations” that concerned Thomas Jefferson has gone global, replacing American hegemony. This is an economic form of globalization that amalgamates the power of multinational corporations, free of any countervailing power. There is no substantial global government to speak of; indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all of them ardently economic—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD—are cheerleaders for this globalization.

In effect, an unholy alliance of economic dogma with private greed has been overwhelming our collective needs and common interests, thereby destabilizing much of the globe. United this alliance stands, so that divided, many nations yield (excepting the three superpowers, which are able to cheerlead for their own multinationals). On the “level playing field” of our global village, the New York Giants take on some high school team from Timbuktu, with the WTO as the referee. All this in the name of “liberal democracy”.

How Liberal Democracy has become an Oxymoron   Good luck trying to sort out the different meanings of the word “liberal”. My Oxford dictionary lists “favoring individual liberty and limited government involvement in economic affairs” alongside “favoring…a significant role for the state in matters of economics and social justice” together with “open-minded, not prejudiced.” Why not have it all: open markets, open societies. open minds? Many eminent liberals and conservatives alike, on both side of the Atlantic (even though Europeans tend to use the word in the first sense, Americans in the second), do believe that we can have it all, under the label “liberal democracy”.

This worked, more or less, when democracy was overcoming the rule of monarchs, aristocrats, and autocrats. But with the rise of the great imbalance, in favor of private sector interests, the term liberal democracy has become an oxymoron, as the wealthy nations that most subscribe to it have become less democratic and less socially liberal.

How has this happened? Quite simply, in fact. (1) Economic globalization, facing no countervailing power, has been able to play many governments off against each other, especially to have taxes cut on wealth and profits. (2) Denied these traditional sources of income, the governments have reduced services, especially for the disadvantaged, and raised regressive taxes, namely on the sale of goods and services. (3)  And this has further squeezed the very people marginalized by this globalization, namely those who have endured cuts in their wages, benefits, and protections. There is an economic tide all right, but rather than raising all boats, the buoyant yachts have been swamping the anchored dinghies.

Those people still enamored with liberal democracy—usually its prime beneficiaries—don’t get this, or at least don’t care to get it, even though many of the less educated people who have been suffering the consequences do. They sense that free enterprises in free markets have become antithetical to their own freedoms. But not knowing what to do about it, they have been lashing out in the place most open to them, the ballot box. After all, you can con all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot con many of the people most of the time.

The effect of this has become all too evident, with strongmen (so far, no women) elected in countries such as Venezuela, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and the United States, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Donald Trump has become a model of sorts, having empowered the bullies of the world, in the high offices as well as on the high streets.

Anything but the establishment, say many of these voters, who certainly know what they are against. So vote they do, far left or far right—who can tell the difference anyway?  (Was the Brexit majority left or right?)  Unfortunately for them, populist leaders often become tyrants, turning against the very democracy that put them into office. (The prime minister of Hungary proudly calls his country an “illiberal democracy”. At least he has the adjective right.) Some wreck their economies in the process, with Venezuela leading the pack. How many others will follow? And if you think that only the marginalized suffer, check out the fortunes of the privileged in Venezuela.

France recently appeared to go another way. Its electorate rejected the far right and the far left, to get the established center—liberal democracy. Then, with an increase in diesel fuel taxes—the regressive straw on that camel’s back—came massive protests in the streets. When up to 77% of the people support a protests, you know that something is up. Or at least down, namely liberal democracy. Where to go next?

 

Click to Part IV:  Regaining Balance

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. 

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part II

19 July 2019

   
I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Hillary Clinton used the word “deplorables” to dismiss those people who supported her opponent in the last presidential election. This claim was itself deplorable, a callous disregard for the understandable concerns of at least some Americans. Who is more deplorable: these who voted for Donald Trump, or those who drove so many of them to do so? Count people like many of us among the latter, the fortunate 10% or so--lawyers, consultants, accountants, academics, managers and analysts—who live the good life off the fortunes of the 1%, while taking Uber to drive more working people toward the minimum wage. If we wish to see a deplorable, we might try looking in the mirror.

Fake Facts from and for all   Fake facts are deplorable too, no question. But they have been inundating society long before Donald Trump came along—even if he does take political theater to a new level. Recall the fake facts of past elections; count the advertisements today that lie by omission if not commission, including those that sell politicians the way they sell detergents; consider what Fox News and the tabloids have been doing for years, now joined by more brazen blogs.

Who these days doesn’t play loose and easy with the facts, from celebrities who endorse products they don’t use and physicians who dismiss “alternate” forms of treatment they don’t understand, to economists who claim to have won a Nobel Prize that doesn’t exist? (Economists at the National Bank of Sweden created that prize for other economists. Check out “Not a Nobel Prize” buried in nobelprize.org.) The American economy is doing well, we are told—just look at the rate of employment. How about looking at the state of employment: stagnating incomes, shameful minimum wages, the elimination of benefits, the proliferation of contract work, and all that “downsizing”—21st century bloodletting—at the drop of a share price. And don’t forget the “leaders” who give us 30-year plans to fix the environment, just before they leave office. This has to be the ultimate joke—except nobody laughs.

The real winner of the fake facts sweepstakes has to be, not Donald Trump, but Vladimir Putin. He saw a huge opening in the fragmentation of American society and used the country’s own social media to ram fake facts straight through it. This is telling: united America could have stood; rampantly individualistic, it stumbles.

Reflecting in America   America is the land of action more than reflection. This is its great strength as well as its debilitating weakness. I was once at a party in rural Virginia in which a group of retired military guys went on and on about government and taxes without ever realizing where all their income and pensions come from.

“Individualism” can mean acting for oneself or thinking for oneself. Rampant in the country is the former. “The Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives” (attributed to Winston Churchill, among others). America is running out of alternatives.

I get the International New York Times regularly. These days it reads like the New York Rant: article after article, comment after comment about Donald Trump’s latest transgression, with rarely an insightful probe into what is truly troubling America. Much the same can be said about CNN, in panel after panel, ad nauseum.

In his Times column of 8 February 2018, Thomas Friedman described the United States as “the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms.” Friedman is hardly alone, even among liberal commentators (such as, Madeleine Albright and George Soros), in promoting this image of noble America, as if there has never also been a nasty America. No Vietnam, no Bay of Pigs, no Iraq, no Pinochet’s Chile, no incursions into the countries of Latin America and elsewhere, never an agenda on behalf of the monied corporations. Just selective memory. Friedman again, on 15 November 2018: “…we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights…” How can smart people be so dumb?

What has been dumbing down so much of America?   This is a serious question. I have American friends who are among the most thoughtful people I know. Theirs have become voices in the country’s wilderness.

Can the answer lie in the sheer pace and pressure of American life, intensified by the relentless distractions of the new electronic technologies? Or has being on top globally obscured sight of the ground locally? Who knows, maybe it’s all those chemicals in the food, fertilizers in the crops. What I do know is that somebody had better find out what is driving America crazy.

The 19th century comment attributed to P.T. Barnum, that “There’s a sucker born every minute”, suggests that this dumbing down is not new, and while hardly just American, takes on a special character in America. (Recall snake oil remedies and the like.) Perhaps, then, the answer does lie in this pace and pressure: the relentlessness of change in a mass and mobile society, exacerbated by economic forces that foster anxiety. Will the United States be the first country in peacetime history to succumb to incessant change?

In such a society, fitting in can be the safest course: go with the flow, impress. Don’t stand out, except to lead the flow, by taking it to some new extreme. If greed is good, be the greediest (maybe you can become president). If you have something to sell, outshout the competitors. If it’s stardom you crave, be the brashest. Just don’t buck the prevailing worldview, no matter how questionable it has become, unless you can find identity in some club with its own worldview—Saunders, Trump, anti-globalization, pro-choice, pro-life, whatever. And once you are there, don’t work it out, let alone think it through. Fight it out.

David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column (17 October 2018) about the “cult conformity” that has displaced “individual thought” in America. This reluctance to reflect can be found from “Make America great again” for the excluded, and “Fix capitalism to fix society” for the entitled, to “If freedom is to prevail…American leadership is urgently required” for the established (Madeleine Albright in the New York Times, 6 April 2018). All this while America, capitalism, and leadership spin out of control. This is not the wisdom of crowds; this is groupthink.

I have reflected on America in the hope that there can be more reflection in America. We need noble America, not to save us, but to join all other noble peoples in saving ourselves.

Click to Part III: Globalization in the name of “Liberal Democracy”

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced in whole or in part, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. (Order at Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Download as PDF)

 

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part I

4 July 2019

This is the first of a five-part series.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION  

 

Summary of the Series  A healthy society balances the collective responsibilities of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector. Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson warned of the problem that now pervades and corrupts America: imbalance in favor of private sector interests—of which Donald Trump is a dramatized version. Fixing capitalism will no more fix this problem than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Please understand that the real deplorables are those of us who have allowed rampant self-interest (under the guise of Liberal Democracy) to drive so many “deplorables” to vote for deplorable leadership. Shall we ride this tide to global devastation, or engage ourselves in grounded reformation? This will require that business be restored to its proper place, namely the marketplace, so that government can get on with serving in the public place, while the sector better called plural (rather than “civil society”) can reclaim its fundamental place of sustaining democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville described, also two centuries ago.

In a letter of 1816, Thomas Jefferson expressed the “hope [that] we…shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of their country.”

This, the founding fathers did not do. Instead, they exacerbated the problem by addressing another, which had provoked their revolution, namely the excessive power of government. To constrain it, they introduced checks and balances across its legislative, executive, and judicial branches. But the introduction of no similar checks and balances on those monied corporations has proved to be the flaw in America’s venerated model of democracy.

The Battle for Control of America   The battle between the private interests of wealth and public efforts to contain it continued throughout American history, for example with the rise of the monopolistic trusts late in the nineteenth century, countered eventually by the anti-trust legislation. But union-busting continued into the twentieth century, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s restored some semblance of balance for the people most disadvantaged by the Depression.

This balance sustained itself for several decades after World War Two, when tax rates were substantial and welfare programs generous while the economy grew robustly. In 1980, the election of Ronald Reagan, to fix America with market solutions, poured oil on the fire that had been smoldering since Jefferson’s time. Union-busting and its consequences returned with a vengeance, sanctioned by a misunderstanding since 1989 of what brought down the Berlin Wall—that capitalism had triumphed. American democracy has been burning ever since.

Three Sectors in Check for Balance   A healthy society balances the collective responsibilities of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector—so labelled, instead of “civil society”, to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private.

The plural sector is huge, comprising associations that are neither publicly owned by government nor privately owned by investors. Some, often called cooperatives, are owned by their members. The United States has more cooperative memberships than people. Others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, foundations, religious orders, trusts, and clubs, as well as certain universities and hospitals. Many of these operate in “the commons”, meaning that their services are widely accessible, as are those of Wikipedia. Its size notwithstanding, the plural sector itself is obscure, despite Alexis de Tocqueville’s identification in the 1830s of its “associations” as key to the new Democracy in America.

In a healthy society, the three sectors hold each other in check while cooperating for constructive change. In this regard, the United States today is not a healthy society, with a dominant private sector that has significantly coopted the power of the public sector and marginalized the influence of the plural sector.

The Coup of the Corporate “Person”  How did this 200-year-old battle for control of America end this way? Thank its Supreme Court. In 1886, its justices acknowledged—although never discussed—the status of corporations, monied and otherwise, as “persons” in the eyes of the law. This status, once established and never challenged, led to other Court decisions that further empowered these artificial persons, finally to the one that has taken balance over the edge. In 2010, “Citizens United” opened the floodgates to private power, by extending the rights of persons, artificial and real, to fund political campaigns to their hearts’ content. In effect, the Supreme Court legalized bribery in the United States. Today, the monied corporations of America no longer need to bid defiance to the laws of their country; they can twist those laws to their own advantage.

Arguably, however, the turning point came a bit earlier, in 1989, with a misunderstanding of what brought down the Berlin Wall. Pundits in the West enamored of the prevailing dogma of economics—that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect—proffered a ready explanation for the fall of that wall: that capitalism had triumphed. They were dead wrong. Balance had triumphed. While the successful countries of the West were in relative balance, the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, on the side of their public sectors. These regimes collapsed largely under their own dead weight.

The failure to understand this has been upsetting balance in many of the democratic countries ever since, especially the United States, where the regulations on “free enterprise” have been steadily removed. Capitalism has indeed been triumphing since 1989, with the consequence that America, leading many other countries, is now dangerously skewed to the private sector. How ironic that the very problem that brought down communism in Eastern Europe—a fundamental imbalance across the three sectors of society—is now bringing down democracy in America, and beyond.

Shareholder Value   Most large corporations today march to the tune of Shareholder Value, which has nothing to do with moral values. In keeping with the prevailing dogma of economics, this is about the stock markets’ relentless drive for MORE: more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming. This serves the investors, with all else, when convenient, be damned: workers, communities, the environment, and democracy itself. Grabbing MORE trumps getting better.

Robust businesses grow by offering better products, services, and prices. They are explorers. But what happens when the explorers run out of old markets and new ideas, while, having gone “public”, the wolves of Wall Street are baying at the door? Look around: many become exploiters. They trash their brands, con their customers, cut unseen costs (maintenance, research), bust the unions and then squeeze the workers by putting them on contract at lower pay with fewer protections. Anything to up the price of the stock, quickly. Some buy competitors, in the name of competition, or lobby governments to reduce taxes, in the name of free enterprise. This is not aberrant behavior: the unprincipled pursuit of Shareholder Value has rendered it mainstream—corporate business as usual—albeit with responsible exceptions.

Many of the “owners” of today’s corporations are day traders, while the “human resources” that have devoted decades to these corporations can be discarded like any other resource. In cahoots with these day traders, include me, and perhaps you too, because stock markets are masters at turning ordinary investors into mercenaries. We lift our heads out of the sand only long enough to check our gains, while we too let the consequences be damned. In the United States, these consequences now include alarming disparities of income, distressing levels of incarceration, and most surprising in the U.S. of all places, a conspicuous decline in social mobility.

Into this swamp waded Donald Trump, ostensibly to drain it. Instead, he has been wallowing in it, providing the country with more of the same business as usual, not least his own.

Ubiquitous Corruption, legal and criminal    The degrading of enterprise is serious enough. Worse is the outright corruption, and the worst of this is the legal corruption, because it is difficult to challenge and thus ubiquitous. Think back to the subprime mortgages and now to other schemes emanating from some of the blue-chip banks; have a look at the tricks being used by the sugar-drink makers to block efforts to reduce obesity; and don’t forget all that bribing in Congress. (The real criminals of today are the lawmakers who refuse or reverse efforts to curb global warming.) And read this comment in the New York Times (23 September 2017) about the city of London’s challenge to Uber: “There is a feeling in the air that regulators should stand up to businesses that simply ignore any regulations they don’t like.” No kidding! The flaunting of regulations by pit bull corporations has apparently become normal. Call this the age of abomination.

Not that there is any shortage of criminal corruption, for example Volkswagen’s cheating on diesel emission tests and the officials of General Motors who delayed repairing an ignition switch that was killing drivers. But don’t look for white-collar criminals among the throngs in prison, thanks to a third kind of corruption, namely politicians in cahoots with corporations. This allows pharmaceutical companies to exploit government-granted monopolies (called patents) so that people die for want of medicines that could be affordable as well as considerably profitable. What kind of a society tolerates this? The gun lobby gets away with its own form of murder, while on a larger scale, a “military-industrial complex” sustains levels of American defense spending greater than the next half dozen countries combined. This includes a nuclear arsenal that leaves one finger on the proverbial button, presumably to “get them before they get us”, even if that could get everybody. What kind of madness is driving America? Look beyond those “deplorables”.

Click to Part II:  Reflecting on and in America

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced in whole or in part, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing Society… radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for the forerunner to this series (Order at Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Download as PDF)

 

Saving community from technology


20 June 2019

I bring you this TWOG (TWeet 2 blOG—no human intervention) dictating into my iPhobe1 with my head down, so that you can read it on a sidewalk with your head down, bumping into strangers.

Individualism runs rampant in society while community runs down: we isolate ourselves to the detriment of our social relationships. Blame the technologies that were developed to serve us: they have been driving us away from each other. The consequences could be dire.



Let’s start with the wheel, which, quite literally, made it easier to drive away from each other. Just throw our belongings into a wagon and roll off to some private place.

I bring you this TWOG (TWeet 2 blOG—no human intervention) dictating into my iPhobe1 with my head down, so that you can read it on a sidewalk with your head down, bumping into strangers.

Individualism runs rampant in society while community runs down: we isolate ourselves to the detriment of our social relationships. Blame the technologies that were developed to serve us: they have been driving us away from each other. The consequences could be dire.



Let’s start with the wheel, which, quite literally, made it easier to drive away from each other. Just throw our belongings into a wagon and roll off to some private place.

When the printing press came along, we no longer had to go to some monastery to read a book. We could buy it, take it home in our wagon, and read it in isolation. (When the flashlight was invented, we could even do that under the covers.) 

Eventually we developed various motorized uses of the wheel. The railroad took us further and faster away from our communities, albeit riding together. But the automobile took care of that: we could speed away from the masses all alone, albeit en mass.

Of all the technologies, the automobile is perhaps the epitome of our individuality. We wrap ourselves in this hunk of metal and tear along some highway, bearing down on the car in front that is passing at the speed limit.  Some nerve. “Get off my highway!“

This is called “tailgating.” Have you ever been tailgated on a sidewalk? Of course not. This is community: you can turn around and say “Hey buddy, this is our sidewalk.” Actually, of course yes. Now we are tailgated constantly on sidewalks, and worse, by all those people texting, head down (making use of a newer technology—see what I mean). “Hey buddy, get up: you’re in my way!”

In fact, we no longer need so many sidewalks. Thanks to the automobile, we can live in the suburbs, where we can drive from our driveway straight to the local mall, to shop. But not in a market. The word used to designate the place where we congregated on Saturday morning to talk and shop—this was the heart and soul of community. Today the word market designates a heartless cyberspace where we buy and sell electrons.



The radio brought entertainment into our homes, as voice. Television added image, so that we no longer had need to go to a theater, let alone to a drive-in. We sit on a couch like a potato as it all comes to us.



The telephone was maybe more of a game changer. When we first moved to France (in an airplane—another get-away technology), phones were hard to get. So there came these unexpected knocks on the door: a colleague dropping by to chat, someone else wanting to ask a question. How quaint! Then the telephones arrived, and took care of that. My French friends stayed home and phoned.



Now we have the social media, which should be called the anti-social media. Why call? Who needs voice? Find a sidewalk, put that head down, and text, text, text. Just be careful to step around that guy we knocked over.

All the new electronic devices— laptops, pads, phobes, whatever—have certainly put us in touch. I refer to our fingers, with a keyboard, while the rest of us sits there, for hours, working at home and shopping from home or else playing videos at home, all of this all alone. No need for those malls, let alone those sidewalks. “Ah,” you tweet back, “but can we ever network now!” Sure, so long as you understand that a network is not a community. (If you don’t, try getting your Facebook “friends” to help paint your house, let alone rebuild your barn.2)

These technologies may be extending our social networks in amazing ways, but they are doing so at the expense of our community relationships. We are so busy texting and tweeting that we barely have time for meeting and greeting. Where is the technology for meaning?3

Of course, there remain places where we can still connect with real people. Elevators, for example, even at home, with the family. But to do that, we would have to lift our heads, however momentarily. Why bother? Just to greet a neighbour we never met? Or talk with a colleague to whom we are texting anyway? Or connect with the kids? (Good luck: try getting them to raise their heads.)

Guess what? Community matters. We are social animals, dependent on our relationships to live full lives, even to survive intact. Collaboration is necessary to get things done, but don’t expect it from the binary bits of an electronic device. In his New York Times column in 2012, Thomas Friedman reported asking an Egyptian friend about the protest movement there that failed: “Facebook really helped people to communicate, but not to collaborate,” he replied. Friedman added that “at their worst, [social media] can become addictive substitutes for real action.” That’s a serious problem.

Face it: our cherished technologies cage our social relationships. We need to restore community—at work, at home, and on the sidewalks of society.

______________________________________________

1 I made this typographical error recently, when hitting one of the tiny keys on my iphobe.
2 In fact, the word community has become fashionable to describe what are really networks, as in the “business community” or the “medical community”—“people with common interests [but] not common values, history, or memory.” A century or two earlier, the word “seemed to connote a specific group of people, from a particular patch of earth, who knew and judged and kept an eye on one another, who shared habits and history and memories, and could at times be persuaded to act as a whole on behalf of a part” (Giridharadas, 2013).
3 In an article entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”, Marche claimed that, thanks largely to ourselves, “we suffer from unprecedented alienation…. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.”

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. Extended from a passage in Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Concerned but confused? Time to coalesce and correct

18 May 2019

I had a dream recently. I was going up and down an elevator, to find some event, not sure what. There was nothing doing at the top, but I found people congregating at the bottom, only to hear an announcement that the event was canceled.

So a few of us, milling around--a motley crew of fifteen or so, most of the others young, all of us concerned but confused about the state of the world—made our way to an open field, to do something about it. We kicked around a few ideas, not much of consequence. When another thirty or so people joined, we had a critical mass, all ready to go—but where? Since it was my dream, I took charge, suggesting that, wherever we go, whatever we do, it has to be...

I had a dream recently. I was going up and down an elevator, to find some event, not sure what. There was nothing doing at the top, but I found people congregating at the bottom, only to hear an announcement that the event was canceled.

So a few of us, milling around--a motley crew of fifteen or so, most of the others young, all of us concerned but confused about the state of the world—made our way to an open field, to do something about it. We kicked around a few ideas, not much of consequence. When another thirty or so people joined, we had a critical mass, all ready to go—but where? Since it was my dream, I took charge, suggesting that, wherever we go, whatever we do, it has to be...

targeted. We should be going after some low-hanging outrage, directly, decisively. Not sitting on Wall Street so much as standing up to some obscenity behind one of its doors. Not the women of America marching on the streets to protest the election of an appalling president so much as the women of Paraguay pelting the house of a corrupt politician with eggs. (He resigned.) Whatever it is, we need to coalesce, to correct some behavior that is truly…

intolerable. We have to fix what can no longer be tolerated (if it ever should have been)—like all the sugar in our diets, or the offensive pricing of pharmaceuticals that allows people to die for want of medicines that could be affordable and adequately profitable. Some outrage that even well-intentioned governments are not fixing, like climate change. (Read about Greta in Sweden.) With this kind of inaction so common, some motley crews at some non-events in some obscure fields will have to act. But let’s be sure it is…

legal, at least morally so, like Mahatma Gandhi’s salt march in India, or Rosa Parks holding her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Both set off groundswells that restored some decency to an indecent world. But, especially, these actions will have to be…

clever, unexpected.   Once upon a time, a big bully was toppled with a slingshot. More recently, in San Antonio, Texas, a big phone company was brought down by a penny. People fed up with it paid their bills plus 1¢. This drove the company crazy and its resistance toppled. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as president of the United States, was asked to act on a social issue, he had a great answer: “I agree with you…make me go out and do it.” This requires what can be called communityship. (If you want to see what it looks like, watch the groundswell that develops from some nut dancing in an open field, thanks to a leadership that follows.)

I dreamt these points, but not their details. These have been on my mind for some time; it was the points that came together that night. But we need no Freud to interpret this dream. The message is clear enough: if you are concerned but confused about the state of the world, forget about finding the answer at some top—nothing doing there these days—and skip the staged events. Find some motley crew in some open field and coalesce to create your own event, on the ground. Target some morally intolerable outrage—there is no shortage of them these days—and correct it: cleverly, decisively, morally, almost legally. Stop dreaming and start acting.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 18 May 2019. For my daydreaming beyond these night dreams, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

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From Ebola to Imbalance

30 April 2019

Co-authored with Joanne Liu

Ebola

When Joanne was an emergency room physician in the Ste. Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, and a frequent volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (MSF, as it is known by its French initials), she enrolled in McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), founded by Henry. During the program, she decided to run for the international presidency of MSF. Several members of the class formed her campaign committee, and Joanne was elected in 2013.

Co-authored with Joanne Liu

Ebola

When Joanne was an emergency room physician in the Ste. Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, and a frequent volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (MSF, as it is known by its French initials), she enrolled in McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), founded by Henry. During the program, she decided to run for the international presidency of MSF. Several members of the class formed her campaign committee, and Joanne was elected in 2013.

Soon after, MSF was facing a looming crisis: an Ebola outbreak was spreading in villages in West Africa. MSF was on the ground there, and realized the potential severity: cases confirmed from locations kilometers apart, at the junction of three countries—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—where the populations were mobile.

MSF shared its concerns with the U.N. agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), but to no avail. Meanwhile, MSF teams in the field were warning that the number of cases was growing, and that its own facilities were over capacity. By June of 2014, when one of its epidemiologists claimed that “the epidemic is out of control”, MSF realized that it has to pull the alarm, imperatively. The only tool it had was to speak up—issue an urgent wake-up call. Joanne arranged a meeting with Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, to convince her to declare this a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)  With overwhelming evidence of the epidemic in West Africa, and growing hysteria from the Global North, mostly related to the evacuation of infected care-givers outside the region, Dr. Chan did so, on 8 August 2014.

Joanne was invited to brief the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 2 September 2014.  The Under General Secretary stated that only MSF could brief on the situation, not the usual UN agency, because MSF was one of the rare organizations deployed to care for Ebola patients.

Imbalance

For some years, Henry had been struggling with another concern, the imbalance that he believes is pervading much of today’s world, in favor of private sector forces over public sector needs and plural sector concerns. In 2015, he published a book about this, entitled Rebalancing Society:…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. Since then, he has been pursuing possible solutions for redressing the balance.

Many people expect government to do so. After all, it is the ultimate authority, representing “the will of the people” in democratic societies. Unfortunately, many  governments are failing in some of their basic responsibilities. Thus, an increasing number of concerned people now expect business to fix society’s problem of imbalance.  But Henry questions this: can private sector forces fix a problem significantly of their own making? He looks, instead, to the plural sector to begin the process of radical renewal.

What is this plural sector? It comprises those associations, many of them rooted in communities, that are owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some, such as cooperatives, are owned by members, while others are owned by no one. Think of all the foundations, clubs, religions, charities, many of the world’s renowned universities, and non-government organizations (NGOs), including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and, of course, MSF.

Enter the NGOs

Why not carry the message of the MSF experience to this concern? From Ebola to imbalance. Acting together, prominent NGOs could draw attention to this crisis of imbalance, by issuing a wake-up call, to get plural sector communities and public sector authorities as well as responsible businesses in the private sector working together for balance. For example, what if a group of prominent NGOs published a compelling manifesto about what needs to be done to restore balance in society?

Who better than the NGOs on the ground, beyond the formal conferences in the fancy facilities—as was MSF, experiencing the consequences of Ebola firsthand? Do not the characteristics of many NGOs make them suitable for doing this, especially those not dependent on government or corporate funding? (MSF, for example, gets 94% of its funding from private donors.) Moreover, many NGOs have the capacity, and the legitimacy, to carry their messages far and wide. Their voices are global, yet they are organized locally, in communities that are networked around the world. And being committed to a cause, they can generate the altruism, the energy, the courage, and the flexibility necessary to act decisively.

Common Cause

But why would any NGO want to do this? Because while each has its own cause, together they have common cause: the imbalance that creates, or at least exacerbates, the very problems with which they have to deal. This imbalance is causing the degradation of our environments, which is the concern of Greenpeace, the demise of our democracies, which is addressed by Amnesty International , and the degradation of ourselves, which MSF faces most literally in war zones. Imbalance is the meta-issue behind many of the NGO’s own issues.

To do this, however, the NGOs will have to get their collective act together, which they can be reluctant to do.  Well, private sector businesses do this quite effectively—it is a major factor behind their power. (Compare the conferences of the World Economic Forum with those of the World Social Forum: one super-organized and highly-reported, the other disorderly and  obscure.)  Businesses may compete with each other in the marketplace, but when they want something broader, such as reduced taxes, they know how to work together, for example by using their chambers of commerce. Why not the NGOs?

Back to Balance

The centuries-old divide between right and left, namely private sector interests versus public sector controls, has obscured the pivotal role that the plural sector can play in dealing with major social problems. A stable society, like a stable stool, has to sit on three legs—public. private, and plural sectors—not two (public and private), let alone one (public communism, private capitalism, or community populism). This will happen only when the plural sector takes its place alongside those called private and public (hence this label plural sector, instead of “civil society” or “not-for-profits, etc.).

Nobody can expect any NGO to forgo its specific cause for common cause.  But the future of our progeny and our planet surely merits greater attention to common cause—from the NGOs and the rest of us. Together we face challenges from warming, weapons, and the skewed distribution of wealth. This is our looming crisis, vast and multi-faceted. Thanks to the vast and multi-faceted efforts that were eventually mobilized, Ebola was contained. Our imbalance needs to be.

© Henry Mintzberg and Joanne Liu 2019. Joanne is completing her second term as International President of Doctors Without Borders.

Imagine an “emba” that engages managers beyond administration

5 April 2019

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. As a manager who is performing well, but wishing to perform better, should you do an EMBA? Not if it is about the administration of business rather than the practice of managing. Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action, or formulating strategies for companies you know nothing about while your own first-hand experience is being ignored? How about an emba that engages you as a manager, beyond administration.

Three Wrongs

For years, I went around giving talks at business schools about what is wrong with regular MBA education for management, namely that it trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.

The people are wrong, because they lack the necessary experience. You have to live management to learn management. A manager cannot be created in a classroom.

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. As a manager who is performing well, but wishing to perform better, should you do an EMBA? Not if it is about the administration of business rather than the practice of managing. Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action, or formulating strategies for companies you know nothing about while your own first-hand experience is being ignored? How about an emba that engages you as a manager, beyond administration.

Three Wrongs

For years, I went around giving talks at business schools about what is wrong with regular MBA education for management, namely that it trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.

The people are wrong, because they lack the necessary experience. You have to live management to learn management. A manager cannot be created in a classroom.

The ways are wrong because they focus on what management is not. Management is a practice, where the art of vision, the craft of experience, and the science of analysis meet. Since the art cannot be taught and the craft can only be learned from experience, MBA programs rely on the science, by teaching analysis and technique, or else they use the disconnected experience of case studies.  One gives the impression that managing is about modeling and measuring, the other that it is about posturing and pronouncing (see Jack’s turn).

And this produces the wrong consequences, by distorting how too many MBAs practice management: as disconnected leadership. (For what happens when these managers become CEOs, see some troubling evidence.) Upon graduation, MBAs should be stamped with a skull and crossbones on their foreheads: Warning! Not prepared to manage.

EMBA programs take many of the right people—with managerial experience—and then train them in the same ways with the same consequences. Indeed, for years promotion for the top-rated Wharton EMBA boasted that it gives the students the same as they get in the regular MBA. Imagine that: nothing more for people with managerial experience!

Don’t get me wrong: Many MBA programs do a fine job of developing people for certain specialized jobs in business, such as financial analysis and marketing research. They just need to stop confusing this with the practice of managing.

Educating for Management

As I gave those talks, people started asking me the question that should never be asked of an academic: “What are you doing about it?” (We academics are supposed to criticize, not do anything about anything.) Duly embarrassed, in 1996 I teamed up with colleagues at prominent business schools around the world to change how management is taught, and practiced. We created the International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org), followed later by the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), and CoachingOurselves.com.

I remain personally involved in parts of the design and delivery of all these programs, and, frankly, they are wonderful, even if I have to say so myself. (I don’t. For example, a senior manager in banking said: “Now, four and a half years later, I am left with the distinct desire to do it all over again.” Other comments can be found on impm and imhl.)

While a manager cannot be created in a classroom, it is quite remarkable what a classroom of experienced managers can do when they are given the chance to reflect on their own experience and share their insights with each other. T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems that “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Management education should be about getting the meaning.

The managers—average age in the 40s, which can amount to half a millennium of experience—stay on the job, and attend five modules of 10 days each over 16 months, held in England, Canada, India, Japan, and Brazil. Other activities on the job are designed to use work rather than make work. These modules focus, not on the functions of business, but on the mindsets of managing:

  • The Reflective Mindset—managing self
  • The Analytic Mindset—managing organizations
  • The Worldly Mindset—managing context
  • The Collaborative Mindset—managing relationships
  • The Action Mindset—managing change

At the end of the very first module, in 1996, on the reflective mindset, while everyone else was going around saying “It was great meeting you!”, Alan Whelan, a sales manager at BT, was saying: “It was great meeting myself!” And in the worldly mindset, the managers meet their own world. We decided to call it “worldly” rather than “global” because the IMPM is not about becoming cookie-cutter global, it’s about getting into other people’s worlds to better understand their own world. This module is held in India, where the Indian managers in the program help their colleagues understand this other world.

We have a fifty-fifty rule in our classrooms: half the class time is turned over to the managers on their agendas. Hence they sit at round tables in a flat room so that they can go in and out of workshops at a moment’s notice. No need to “break out”. A variety of novel seating arrangements has resulted, including the use of keynote listeners at the tables and of inner circle discussions where people tap each other in and out of the conversations (see Don’t just sit there…).

Communityship beyond leadership

The managers in the IMPM are not lone wolves, parachuted into selfie-silos, as shown below. As indicated in the figure that follows, they are colleagues in a community of social learning, connected back to their home organizations. It has been said never to send a changed person back to an unchanged organization. But almost all management education and development programs do just that. We seek to do differently by asking the managers to form IMPact teams at work, to carry their learning back into their organizations for change. The manager in a small company who had to pick up the pieces after it had run into a serious problem reported that the IMPact team he created saved the company.

As suggested above, we favor communityship beyond leadership, in our programs and beyond. A number of innovations support this. For example, the concerns of each manager become the focus of friendly consulting by a small group of colleagues. One participant’s own manager had suddenly quit, and she was trying to decide whether to apply for the position. The hour of friendly consulting was so helpful that it continued over lunch.

In the managerial exchange, the IMPM managers pair up and spend the better part of a week at each other’s workplaces. The first time this happened, Mayur Vora travelled from his jam-and-jelly company in Pune, India to visit Françoise LeGoff, number two on the Africa desk at the International Federation of the Red Cross in Geneva. On the first day, Mayur saw Françoise typing and asked, “Can’t a secretary do that?” Welcome to the worldly mindset: Geneva is not Pune! On the last day, Mayur told Françoise he would be happy to meet with any of her staff. All of them lined up to convey various messages through him. Françoise reported that Mayur “was like a mirror for me.”

The MBA is fine so long as it is recognized for what it does well, namely train people for certain specialized jobs in business. But it must also be recognized for what it does badly, namely develop people to manage. Managing is too important to be left to the consequences of the MBA. it’s time for management education.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. The next impm.org cohort begins in September.
This TWOG is adapted from a story in Bedtime Stories for Managers, which was adapted from one of 7 February 2017. For more on these programs, see Chapters 1-6 of my book Managers not MBAs; also the articles Looking Forward to Development, From Management Development to Organization Development with IMPact, and The five minds of a manager

The next step Greta…

23 March 2019

Dear Greta

Good for you. Thanks to your spirit, over a million youth have just marched for the sake of our future. What’s the next step?

You are 16, and concerned about climate change. I am 79, and concerned about it too, as well as the imbalance that fuels it. You sit in and give speeches about the problem. I write books and give speeches about the imbalance. You spoke bluntly at Davos, to “tepid” applause. No kidding! Years ago I spoke in the same forum and concluded that Davos is the place where many of the people who spend 51 weeks a year creating the problem spend the 52nd pretending to solve it. You are fed up with the inaction of your elders. I am fed up with the inaction of my youngers, who are the same people. For decades I have watched the problem growing steadily worse.

Dear Greta

Good for you. Thanks to your spirit, over a million youth have just marched for the sake of our future. What’s the next step?

You are 16, and concerned about climate change. I am 79, and concerned about it too, as well as the imbalance that fuels it. You sit in and give speeches about the problem. I write books and give speeches about the imbalance. You spoke bluntly at Davos, to “tepid” applause. No kidding! Years ago I spoke in the same forum and concluded that Davos is the place where many of the people who spend 51 weeks a year creating the problem spend the 52nd pretending to solve it. You are fed up with the inaction of your elders. I am fed up with the inaction of my youngers, who are the same people. For decades I have watched the problem growing steadily worse.

Our world is dangerously out of balance in favor of private sector interests that dominate our governments and our communities. These interests feed on the prevailing dogma of economics—that greed is good, markets are sacred, and governments are suspect—to bring us more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming.

Sit-ins and marches wake up people who are concerned but have not been active. But do they wake up the people most responsible for the problem? Was Donald Trump woken up by the massive marches after his election? If anything, he was amused. Were the financial sharks of Wall Street woken up by the occupation of their street? Mostly, I imagine, they were inconvenienced. In the white houses and behind the front streets are the backrooms where greed continues to reign supreme. And the problem goes well beyond this. The beneficiaries of this globalized world are doing very well the way things are, thank you, and that includes most of the people I know, and probably many that you know too. The icecaps may be melting, but the homes on the hills are safe from flooding—for now, at least.

What, then, has to happen—what’s the next step? You have been blunt; let me be likewise in my answer, quoting two lines from a song by Tom Lehrer about the Spanish civil war: “Though [Franco] may have won all the battles, we had all the good songs!” I like good songs too, but we had better start winning some battles.

We will have to do so by challenging specific behaviors that can no longer be tolerated—let’s call them the low-hanging outrages. They have to be targeted with clever campaigns that have teeth. Here’s a simple illustration. Some years ago, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bills by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied this bureaucracy in knots. It backed off. From the local schoolyard to the global marketplace, it is amazing how an unexpected tactic can bring down a big bully. Just as David brought down Goliath.

There is no shortage of low-hanging outrages from which to pick. They just have to be picked carefully, to avoid, not only what could become violent, but also what can be seen as self-serving (such as university students protesting university fees).  The campaigns have to be lawful, altruistic, and, above all, clever—like that 1¢ one. There is as much imagination in the world as there are indecencies that need to be confronted by it.

Saul Alinsky wrote remarkable books about how, while liberals talk, radicals act: they rally around common cause. You sat down in front of the Swedish parliament. Good. Now surround it with thousands of you and don’t leave until you get action on those emissions. The people who pitched their tents on Wall Street can go after specific shenanigans taking place inside the buildings on that street; these are a veritable goldmine of outrages, not least, the appropriation of so much of wealth. In my own country, Canada, we can stop coddling the producers of some of the dirtiest oil on earth. And how about those of us on the consumption side of this problem, who do things like turn up the heat instead of putting on a sweater? We, too, are the exploiters, by appropriating too much of the world’s energy.

Does this mean civil disobedience? Not at all: it is civil and it is obedient.  Today’s civil disobedience comes from the people who violate human decency, those responsible for the legal corruption that has become so rampant.

So: you want people to “feel the power”? That you have already demonstrated. You claim “that the people will rise to the challenge.” This is the next step that needs to be demonstrated—by you youngers and we elders together.

Sköt om dig

Henry
(mintzberg.org)

Fake Facts from and for all

9 March 2019

Fake facts are deplorable, no question. But they have been inundating societies, and not only American, long before Donald Trump came along—even if he does take political theatre to a new level. Recall the fake facts of past elections; count the advertisements today that lie by omission if not commission, including those that sell politicians like detergents; consider what some of the TV networks and tabloids have been doing for years, now joined by more brazen blogs.

Who these days doesn’t play loose and easy with the facts, from celebrities who endorse products they don’t use, and physicians who dismiss “alternate” forms of treatment they don’t understand, to economists who claim to have won a Nobel Prize that doesn’t exist? (Economists at the National Bank of Sweden created that prize for other economists. Check out “Not a Nobel Prize” buried in nobelprize.org.)

Fake facts are deplorable, no question. But they have been inundating societies, and not only American, long before Donald Trump came along—even if he does take political theatre to a new level. Recall the fake facts of past elections; count the advertisements today that lie by omission if not commission, including those that sell politicians like detergents; consider what some of the TV networks and tabloids have been doing for years, now joined by more brazen blogs.

Who these days doesn’t play loose and easy with the facts, from celebrities who endorse products they don’t use, and physicians who dismiss “alternate” forms of treatment they don’t understand, to economists who claim to have won a Nobel Prize that doesn’t exist? (Economists at the National Bank of Sweden created that prize for other economists. Check out “Not a Nobel Prize” buried in nobelprize.org.)

In his New York Times column of 8 February 2018, Thomas Friedman described the United States as “the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms.” Excuse me Mr. Friedman, did you not notice Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Iraq, Pinochet’s Chile, incursions into so many countries of Latin America and elsewhere, etc. Talk about selective memory. Friedman is hardly alone, even among liberal American commentators (Madeline Albright, George Soros), in continuing to promote this image of noble America, as if there has never also been a nasty America.

In actual fact—so to speak—the real winner of the fake facts sweepstakes has to be, not Donald Trump of America, but Vladimir Putin of Russia. He saw a huge opening in the fragmentation of American society and used the country’s own social media to ram fake facts straight through it.

How could such a thing have happened? Might the answer lie in America’s great strength as well as its debilitating weakness: an inclination to favor personal action over mutual reflection? Too often, reflection gets lost in the sheer pace and pressure of American life, the relentlessness of change in this mass and mobile society. David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column of 15 October 2018 about the “cult conformity” that has displaced “individual thought” in America. Join the kindred club that promotes the facts you prefer—Trump, Sanders, anti-globalization, pro-life, whatever—and once there, don’t work it out, let alone think it through: fight it out.

This reluctance to reflect can be found from “Make America great again” for the excluded, and “Fix capitalism to fix society” for the entitled, to “If freedom is to prevail…American leadership is urgently required” for the establishment (Madeleine Albright in the New York Times, 6 April 2018). All this while freedom falters, capitalism breaks, and leadership crumbles. Here we have, not the wisdom of crowds, but the clamor of groupthink—or, we can say, fakethink. Let’s drown it in that swamp.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. For his desperate effort to help reverse this, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center (free download). The book can also be ordered online here.

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Organizing like a Cow

16 February 2019

This is one of the stories from my new book, a collection of my TWOGs, entitled Bedtime Stories for Managers

                                                          (diagram from Socket Software)

This bedtime story may seem to be over the moon. It is not! To pick up on an ad that appeared some years ago for a major software company, the drawing above is not a cow. It’s a chart of a cow—its parts. In a healthy cow, these parts don’t even know that they are parts; they just work together harmoniously. So, would you like your organization to work like a chart? Or like a cow?

This is one of the stories from my new book, a collection of my TWOGs, entitled Bedtime Stories for Managers

                                                          (diagram from Socket Software)

This bedtime story may seem to be over the moon. It is not! To pick up on an ad that appeared some years ago for a major software company, the drawing above is not a cow. It’s a chart of a cow—its parts. In a healthy cow, these parts don’t even know that they are parts; they just work together harmoniously. So, would you like your organization to work like a chart? Or like a cow?

This is a serious question. Ponder it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor, for that matter, does each of us, physiologically at least. So why do we have so much trouble working together socially? Are we that confused about organizing, for example, all this obsession with charts?

I discuss this cow in our International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM.org). One time, in the module we hold in India, while crossing the bustling streets of Bangalore, the managers experienced another story about cows. As recounted to me by Dora Koop, a colleague at McGill: “The first day we were told that when we crossed the street in India we had to ‘walk like a cow.’ The whole group had to stay together, and we were warned not to do anything unexpected. So we just moved slowly across the street and the traffic went around us. Throughout the whole program, people used this cow metaphor [recalling the other one, about working like a cow].”

Picture this: a mass of people, all as one, advancing steadily and cooperatively through what looks like chaos. Now imagine the people of your organization advancing steadily and cooperatively through what looks like its own chaos.

In walking like a cow, we have an answer to working like a cow: it’s about walking and working together. Beyond the sacred cow of leadership lies the idea of communityship, a word I made up to put leadership in its place.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. For more metaphors, and sweeter dreams, please order your own copy of Bedtime Stories for ManagersThis particular story first appeared on 15 December 2015, as “Working like a cow by walking like a cow.” 

 

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Sweet dreams can be made of this

5 February 2019

Today’s the day: my new book is officially out!!  Bedtime Stories for Managers, created from these blogs. Here, exclusive to you (aside from the millions of enthralled readers-to-be), is the introduction to the book:

Good evening…

Offline? Excellent. Welcome to Bedtime Stories for Managers, a playful book with a serious message: management has to come down from lofty leadership, to grounded engagement. How so? By organizing like a cow instead of a chart…so that strategies can grow like weeds in a garden…as extraordinary ideas come from ordinary people…who are distinctively worldly instead of cookie-cutter global.

Today’s the day: my new book is officially out!!  Bedtime Stories for Managers, created from these blogs. Here, exclusive to you (aside from the millions of enthralled readers-to-be), is the introduction to the book:

Good evening…

Offline? Excellent. Welcome to Bedtime Stories for Managers, a playful book with a serious message: management has to come down from lofty leadership, to grounded engagement. How so? By organizing like a cow instead of a chart…so that strategies can grow like weeds in a garden…as extraordinary ideas come from ordinary people…who are distinctively worldly instead of cookie-cutter global.

The first story sets the tone, telling how the CEO of a failing airline sat in First Class while his customers in back had to eat what was called scrambled eggs. In a world as scrambled as ours, managers have to eat those eggs.

A few years ago, I began a blog (mintzberg.org/blog) to capture a lifetime of ideas buried in obscure publications. Then I came across a book of stories for the fans of the Montreal hockey team, 101 in all. Perfect bedtime reading!—a little story or two before dozing off. Why not a book of blogs for managers? What better time than now, by which I mean bedtime, after the managing has stopped—if it ever does.

Consider the organizations that you know and admire most:

  • Do they function as collections of human resources or as communities of human beings?
  • Does thinking always come first, or do they see first, and do first, in order to think better?
  • Do they measure like mad or serve with soul?
  • Must they be the best, or do their best?

If you opted for the first set of answers, read this book to discover the second. If you opted for the second set of answers, read this book to cope with those who opted for the first.

From more than 101 blogs, I selected 42 that seem to speak most meaningfully to managers. Books, I am told, need chapters, so I organized these under headings like managing, organizing, analyzing, and so on. I am also told that chapters need introductions, to tell you what the writer is going to tell you. Here I drew the line: no introductions. I prefer that you discover these stories for yourself in whatever order you prefer. I do ask that you read the first story first and the last story last, but otherwise feel free to peruse at random—as good managers sometimes do.

As you turn the pages, I’d like you to wonder what in the world is coming next. I’ll give you a hint: a medley of metaphors. Beside cows and gardens, cutting cookies and scrambling eggs, get ready for the maestro myth of managing, the soft underbelly of hard data, the board as bee, and downsizing as bloodletting. Just try not to be outraged by anything you read because some of my most outrageous ideas turn out to be my best. They just take time to become obvious.

This may be a book about managing, but don’t expect any magic bullets. I leave those to the books that compound the problem. Instead expect unexpected insights to sleep on so that you can rise and shine and, after eating some properly scrambled eggs, charge out to unscramble the messes of managing. You, your colleagues, even your family might just live a little more happily ever after.

Sweet dreams!

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. If you insist on ordering the book, so that you can finally have a good night’s sleep, please click here…quietly.

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The Maestro Myth of Managing

28 January 2019

This TWOG is from my new book, Bedtime Stories for Managers, modified from the original posting on 28 April 2016.

Picture the managerial maestro on the podium: a flick of the baton and marketing opens; a wave of the wand and sales chimes in; a grand sweep of the arms and HR, PR, and IT harmonize. It’s a manager’s dream—you can even attend leadership workshops orchestrated by conductors.

Here are three quotes about this metaphor. As you read them, we’ll play a little game. Please vote for which quote best captures your understanding of managing. But there’s a trick: you must vote after you read each, before you have read any other. There is, however, a compensating trick: you can vote up to three times!

From Peter Drucker, the guru’s guru:

This TWOG is from my new book, Bedtime Stories for Managers, modified from the original posting on 28 April 2016.

Picture the managerial maestro on the podium: a flick of the baton and marketing opens; a wave of the wand and sales chimes in; a grand sweep of the arms and HR, PR, and IT harmonize. It’s a manager’s dream—you can even attend leadership workshops orchestrated by conductors.

Here are three quotes about this metaphor. As you read them, we’ll play a little game. Please vote for which quote best captures your understanding of managing. But there’s a trick: you must vote after you read each, before you have read any other. There is, however, a compensating trick: you can vote up to three times!

From Peter Drucker, the guru’s guru:

One analogy [for the manager] is the conductor of a symphony orchestra, through whose effort, vision and leadership, individual instrumental parts that are so much noise by themselves, become the living whole of music. But the conductor has the composer’s score: he is only interpreter. The manager is both composer and conductor.   

Your vote for the manager as composer and conductor?

From Sune Carlson, a Swedish economist who carried out the first serious study of managerial work, of Swedish CEOs:

Before we made the study, I always thought of a chief executive as the conductor of an orchestra, standing aloof on his platform. Now I am in some respects inclined to see him as the puppet in the puppet-show with hundreds of people pulling the strings and forcing him to act in one way or another.

Your vote for the manager as puppet?

From Leonard Sayles, who studied middle managers in the United States:

The manager is like a symphony orchestra conductor, endeavoring to maintain a melodious performance… while the orchestra members are having various personal difficulties, stage hands are moving music stands, alternating excessive heat and cold are creating audience and instrumental problems, and the sponsor of the concert is insisting on irrational changes in the program.

Your vote for the manager in rehearsal?

Which did you choose? I have used this game with many groups of managers. The results are always the same. A few hands might go up for the first and a few more for the second, but when I read the third, all the hands go up! Managers are like orchestra conductors, all right, but away from performance, to the everyday grind. Beware of metaphors that glorify.

As for orchestra conductors, are they managers at all, even leaders? Outside of performance, certainly both, together. They select the musicians and the music and, during rehearsals, blend them into a coherent whole. But watch a conductor in performance: it is mostly that—performance. Better still, watch the musicians during performance: they barely look at the conductor—who, by the way, may be a guest conductor. Can you imagine a guest manager anywhere else? 

Who is pulling the strings: Toscanini or Tchaikovsky? Actually, the musicians do that, but each plays the notes written for his or her instrument by the composer, all together. So it is the composer who is both composer and conductor. But since the composers are dead, the conductors get the acclaim.

Maybe all the world really is a stage, with all the composers, conductors, managers, and players merely players. If so, no one manager belongs on the podium of lofty leadership.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016, 2019. For more on Bedtime Stories for Managers, or to order it, click here.

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What can be next for France…and the world

15 January 2019

This comment was published in Le Monde on 7 January.

What is France to do now? Unlike Hungary, Brazil, and the United States, its voters rejected the far right. Unlike Russia and Venezuela, they rejected the far left. They went straight down the center, or so it seemed, with Liberal Democracy. And now look what has happened.

This comment was published in Le Monde on 7 January.

What is France to do now? Unlike Hungary, Brazil, and the United States, its voters rejected the far right. Unlike Russia and Venezuela, they rejected the far left. They went straight down the center, or so it seemed, with Liberal Democracy. And now look what has happened.

The promise of Liberal Democracy is that liberating markets liberates societies. Compared with what came before, it delivered on that promise, more or less. The rising tide did raise many boats. Now the yachts on top are swamping the dinghies below. Supported by the dogma of economics—that greed is good, markets are sacred, and governments are suspect—the winners have managed to displace human values with Shareholder Value. Many have been using the corporate press and the social media, as well as election financing schemes (especially in the United States, where the Supreme Court has legalized bribery), to distort election campaigns and corrupt governments.  Liberal Democracy has become an oxymoron: it is no longer socially liberal, instead a threat to democracy.

The recent events in France have brought the globalization scenario into sharp relief. Liberated markets empower global corporations above all, which face no countervailing power. This enables them to ride roughshod over national governments and local communities. Divide-and-rule is the globalization game: get one country to cut taxes on wealth, and other countries have to follow suit. This starves their governments, which are thus forced to cut support for the rest of the population, while turning to regressive forms of taxation—for example, on those diesel fuels in France. In turn, this squeezes many of the people already brought to their knees by the very practices of globalization, namely weakening job security to hold down wages.

In America, where business remains sovereign, the people have tolerated this. Indeed, many blame the government for it and so elected a businessman to drain the swamp created by businesses in cahoots with politicians. In France, where the people who have lived better know better, there is less tolerance for this. So out on the streets many have gone, provoked by a fuel tax that broke the proverbial camel’s back. When a protest reaches 77% public support, you have to believe that the people are on to something—and it’s not populism.

That something is imbalance. Many of the countries we call democratic are now out of balance in much the way that the communist regimes of Eastern European were out of balance, just on the other side of the political spectrum. There the public sector dominated; here the private sector dominates. A healthy society balances the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector with the collective powers of governments in the public sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector: liberté, égalité, and fraternité, to quote the French motto. There are not many healthy societies left.

Like a barstool, no society can balance itself on one leg—be that socialism, capitalism, or populism. And trying to do so on two legs leaves many societies swinging back and forth between left and right, while the power of government dissipates as that of business escalates. A third leg is necessary for balance. I call it the plural sector, rather than the more usual “civil society”, so that it can be seen to take its place alongside the sectors called public and. private. It is largely community-based, comprising those associations that are owned by members (such as cooperatives) or by no-one (trusts, etc.). Here, in fact, is where we spend much of our personal lives, whether playing in a club, praying in a church, supporting an NGO, volunteering for a charity, or shopping in a co-op, not to mention marching in a protest.

Large as this sector is, there is no place for it in a world fixated on left and right, public and private.  But here is where major social change has usually started—on the ground, in communities, these days networked through the social media. If this sounds like France of late, then let’s hope it has started something.

What form is this something to take? What can be next, after so much else has failed?  Look around: there are still countries that have managed to maintain a semblance of balance across the sectors, most notably the Nordic ones, and my own country Canada, among some others. These places are not utopian, but they do offer a decent life for all. Not long ago, France was one of them. To this Canadian who has spent years of my life in France, this is what made it so liveable, so delightful—and now so dispirited.

Will Monsieur Macron get the message from the streets of France and become the statesman he fashions himself to be, instead of just another politician? Will France join with other countries to challenge the hegemony of globalization?  Will the businesses of France and other countries get the message that in a democratic society, their place is in the marketplace, not the public space? Will they have the courage to shake off the mercenary stock markets, by finding more decent ways to fund and govern themselves (for example, by using patient capital and vesting control in trusts, as do most of the major corporations of Denmark)? Will more citizens get the message that it is they, in their communities, who will have to drive their governments and their businesses to behave in such responsible ways?

Two hundred years ago, an astute Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville described the “associations” of this plural sector as a key component of the new “Democracy in America”. Imagine if his compatriots today recognized that insight, to lead a new wave for the restoration of democracy worldwide.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for elaboration of some of these points.

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Happy Anniversary fellow prostitutes

3 January 2019

It’s 2019, which seems innocuous enough—not a prime number, not even a leap year (i.e., divisible by 3 but not 4). In actual fact, however, 2019 is a banner year: the 25th anniversary of the declaration that we are all prostitutes. I refer to the publication in 1994 of the pivotal article “The Nature of Man”, by Michael Jensen and William Meckling, in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance. Here is a story they told:

George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright and social thinker, reportedly once claimed that while on an ocean voyage he asked a celebrated actress on deck one evening whether she would be willing to sleep with him for a million dollars. She was agreeable. He followed with a counterproposal: “What about ten dollars?” “What do you think I am?” she responded indignantly. He replied, “We’ve already established that—now we’re just haggling over price.”

It’s 2019, which seems innocuous enough—not a prime number, not even a leap year (i.e., divisible by 3 but not 4). In actual fact, however, 2019 is a banner year: the 25th anniversary of the declaration that we are all prostitutes. I refer to the publication in 1994 of the pivotal article “The Nature of Man”, by Michael Jensen and William Meckling, in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance. Here is a story they told:

George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright and social thinker, reportedly once claimed that while on an ocean voyage he asked a celebrated actress on deck one evening whether she would be willing to sleep with him for a million dollars. She was agreeable. He followed with a counterproposal: “What about ten dollars?” “What do you think I am?” she responded indignantly. He replied, “We’ve already established that—now we’re just haggling over price.”

Cute. Not so cute is the declaration that follows: “Like it or not, individuals are willing to sacrifice a little of almost anything we care to name, even reputation or morality, for a sufficiently large quantity of other desired things…” In other words, deep in our souls, or in the absence of them, we are all prostitutes.

Jensen and Meckling used the term “Shareholder Value” in the article, which has everything to do with maximizing personal wealth and nothing to do with enhancing human values. (Notice their use of the term “large quantity”. These two professors were trained in economics, a field that teaches a lot more about quantities than qualities. Oscar Wilde wrote about a cynic as ''a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.'')

Shareholder Value went on to become a celebrated orthodoxy, at least in stock markets, executive suites, and business schools. Jensen himself went on to the Harvard Business School, to teach his value of Value to many of the future captains of business, in what became the most popular elective course in the place. Many of these captains, however, went on to fail. Excessive Value and inadequate values?

A prostitute can be defined as anyone who sells a cherished resource indiscriminately. Thus, a poor woman who sells her body to feed a starving child is not a prostitute, whereas a rich celebrity who sells his reputation by endorsing a product he cares nothing about is a prostitute. And so too are the beneficiaries of Shareholder Value who have enabled pharmaceutical companies to set prices so that sick people die for want of medicines that could be affordable, and suitably profitable, likewise the university professors who take research grants from such companies to do their bidding. Prostitution is running rampant in this world of Sodom and Gomorrah.

There are many decent professors at the Harvard Business School now singing the praises of corporate social responsibility (CSR), just as there are many decent executives in corporations pursuing it. Even Jensen has since offered his share of mea culpa, much as Jack Welch, the exalted CEO of General Electric who championed Shareholder Value, later called it “the dumbest idea in the world.” (What does that make you Jack?) Too late, the damage was done, and continues: corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) runs rampant too. As Tom Lehrer sang in his off-color song about the republicans in the Spanish Civil War: “Though [Franco] may have won all the battles, we had all the good songs.”

Enough of the songs; it’s time for action. How about making 2019 the year that we throw off the yoke of Shareholder Value, for the sake of human values?

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. A few days ago, Federica Mancinelli (@Mancinelli2020) tweeted: “Will 2019 be the year of #communityship?'' Sounds good to me!

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PPPPs for Climate Change

8 December 2018

Co-authored with Dror Etzion and Saku Mantere; adapted from “Wordly Strategy for the Global Climate” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Fall 2018).

Much has been written about PPPs: public private partnerships. But for vital issues such as climate change, a third partner has been missing: the plural sector.

Co-authored with Dror Etzion and Saku Mantere; adapted from “Wordly Strategy for the Global Climate” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Fall 2018).

Much has been written about PPPs: public private partnerships. But for vital issues such as climate change, a third partner has been missing: the plural sector.

Otherwise known as “civil society”, and other labels, this is the sector of NGOs, foundations, cooperatives, many of the world’s renowned universities, and more, including social initiatives and social movements—much of all this community-based. In other words, included here are all the associations that are neither public nor private, that is, owned not by the state or by private investors, but by members (as in cooperatives), or else, like trusts, by no-one.

This sector is huge–think of all such activities you have associated with in the past week. Yet it has been obscured by the centuries-old divide between left and right, government controls and market forces. Now we are discovering, with a vengeance, that no healthy society, like no stable stool, can balance itself on two legs. A third is required–the plural sector—alongside those called private and public.

Three Sectors: Three Approaches 
To understand more about the potential role of each of the sectors for climate change, we identified twelve initiatives, four in each, all somewhat typical although some more prominent than others.

In the Public Sector: COP21 and subsequent efforts sponsored by the United Nations. Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade initiatives. Preservation of its forests by the government of Bhutan. And fuel economy standards for automobiles established in many countries.

In the Plural Sector:  The Green Building Council that certifies sustainability in U.S. structures. The Beyond Coal Campaign of the Sierra Club. The Girl Scouts training project to educate members to bring energy-savings attitudes into their homes. And the wind meetings held In Danish communities to promote the country’s conversion to this form of energy.

In the Private Sector:  The Tesla enterprise to produce and promote electric automobiles. The electronics company Phillips’ program that sells lighting as a service to reduce the use of energy. The Pulled Oats initiative in Finland to reduce the use of meat products. And Communauto, a car-sharing company in Montreal.

As we considered these three sets of initiates, we found that each of the sectors tends to favor a different approach to address the problem of climate change.

Orchestrated Planning in the Public Sector   In the public sector, we found an inclination to favor orchestrated planning: climate change initiatives in government tend to be centrally directed, analytically driven, and strategically deliberate. This is usually enacted in top-down fashion: to pledge, plan, and police, from the political leadership to the civil service, and then out to the broader population. Orchestrated planning can use central controls, such as regulations and decrees, or rely on incentives to encourage desired behaviors.

Grounded Engagement in the Plural Sector   Plural sector associations tend to favor grounded engagement. Here the initiatives develop from the tangible experiences of learning in action—bottom-up. Think of this as thousands of flowers blooming, many planted in the soils of local communities, usually in response to local concerns.

Autonomous Venturing in the Private Sector  Businesses, as independent organizations in the marketplace, are most inclined to favor autonomous venturing, much of this championed by creative entrepreneurs who develop new products, services, infrastructures, and technologies that provide the means to reduce global warming.

Collision or Consolidation?

Striking about all these initiatives is that they add up to a collection of separate strategic positions more than a consolidated strategic perspective. Each may contribute in its own right, but the synergy that could be had by working together is lost. So the planet continues to warm.

Worse is when the sectors themselves work at cross-purposes. As shown in Figure 1, a downward spiral of collision can occur when businesses are inclined to lobby governments while governments make empty promises as they police the citizens, groups of whom in turn protest the activities of businesses.

Figure 1: Collision between the sectors

Contrast this with the ascending spiral of consolidation shown in Figure 2, with the three sectors working together. Activism by community groups in the plural sector pushes governments in the public sector to enact legislation that regulates and incentivizes businesses in the private sector, which in turn provide the citizens with the means to combat climate change. Communities engage, governments legitimize, businesses provide.

Figure 2: Consolidating across the sectors

Does this consolidation scenario sound utopian? Not when seen in the cooperative activities across the three sectors in Denmark, which has become an exemplary model of shifting to alternate forms of energy. Other examples of such consolidation can be found in B Labs for B corporations, also in the Brazilian City of Curitiba (all of this written up in our full paper).

When organizations and sectors compete with each other for local or global power, they are disinclined to see, let alone solve, their common problems. We have certainly experienced enough of this. Climate change has no invisible hand to reconcile differing perspectives; instead it faces the visible claw of a creeping warming that threatens our planet. A collaborative mind-set can prepare actors to appreciate their differences, and thereby work toward consolidated ascension, from group to globe. To deal with climate change, and much more, the time has come for PPPPs.

© Henry Mintzberg, Dror Etzion, and Saku Mantere 2018.

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Communityship beyond Leadership

18 November 2018

A story from my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers

Say organization and we see leadership. That’s why those charts are so ubiquitous. They show us who sits on top of whom, but not who talks with whom, when, and about what. Why are we so fixated on formal authority? Is there no more to organizing than bossing? Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.

Figure 1: This is an Organization

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization

A story from my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers

Say organization and we see leadership. That’s why those charts are so ubiquitous. They show us who sits on top of whom, but not who talks with whom, when, and about what. Why are we so fixated on formal authority? Is there no more to organizing than bossing? Have a look at Figure 1 to see an Organization. Then look at Figure 2 to see a Re-organization.

Figure 1: This is an Organization

Figure 2: This is a Re-organization

Did you notice the difference? A few names were changed in a few boxes, but the chart—the very perception of organization—remained the same. Do you know why re-organizing is so popular? Because it’s so easy. Shuffle people on paper and the world is transformed—at least on that paper. Imagine, instead, if people were shuffled around offices, to make new connections?

Say leadership and we see an individual—even if that individual is determined to "empower" everyone else. (Must people who are hired to do a job have to be empowered to do that job?) Too often, however, it’s about something else: a great white knight riding in on a great white horse to save everybody else (even when headed straight into a black hole). If one individual is the leader, then everyone else must be a follower. Do we really want a world of followers?

Think of the established organizations that you admire most. I’ll bet that beyond leadership is a profound sense of communityship. (Never heard that word? I made it up1, to put leadership in its place, namely to support communityship.) Effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.

How can you recognize communityship in an organization? That’s easy. You feel the energy in the place, the commitment of its people, their collective interest in what they do. They don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. They respect the organization because the organization respects them. No fear of being fired because some “leader” hasn’t made the anticipated numbers on some bottom line. Imagine a whole world of such organizations!

Sure we need leadership, especially to establish communityship in new organizations and help sustain it in established organiations. What we don’t need is an obsession with leadership—of some individual singled out from the rest, as if he or she is the be-all and end-all of organizing (and is paid accordingly). So here’s to just enough leadership, embedded in communityship.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. Modified from “Organizing beyond Leadership”, to appear in Bedtime Stories for Managers (Berrett-Koehler, February 2019). A similar TWOG appeared on 15 February 2015.

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Photos from the author’s collection of beaver sculptures.

________________________________

1 I first wrote about this in 2006 and again in 2009: “Community-ship is the answer” Financial Times, 23 Oct 2006, page 8, and “Rebuilding Companies as Communities” Harvard Business Review, July/August 2009, pages 140-143.

I am for and against globalization

31 October 2018

How can any reasonable, thinking person be against globalization? After all, it promotes economic development, particularly in disadvantaged countries, lowers costs to consumers, and by connecting people around the world, helps to avert conflicts.

How can any reasonable, thinking person be for globalization? After all, it exacerbates income disparities, particularly in developed countries, threatens communities with cultural assimilation, and weakens national sovereignties.

How can any reasonable, thinking person be against globalization? After all, it promotes economic development, particularly in disadvantaged countries, lowers costs to consumers, and by connecting people around the world, helps to avert conflicts.

How can any reasonable, thinking person be for globalization? After all, it exacerbates income disparities, particularly in developed countries, threatens communities with cultural assimilation, and weakens national sovereignties.

It is remarkable how many people line up either for or against globalization and then dismiss the other side. Who’s right? Neither. Those who embrace globalization are no more thoughtful than those who dismiss it. We should all be lining up for and against globalization, to retain what is constructive about it while challenging what has become destructive.  We need globalization in its place, namely the marketplace, and out of the public space.

Unfortunately, the prevailing, cosmopolitan powers of the world— investors, executives, economists, and consultants — mostly line up for globalization, leaving those against it to protest locally, on their streets and in their ballot boxes.1  But their marches and occupations have hardly made a dent in the armor of globalization, while voting for the likes of Brexit and Trump—against what is wrong rather than for what could be right—has not solved anything.

What we call globalization is really economic globalization, because it enables economic forces to prevail over social concerns and democratic precepts. Multinational companies play governments off against each other in their quest for reduced taxes and suspended regulations, while local communities have to compete for jobs that can be no more reliable than the next offer. Globalization may be connected everywhere, but it is rooted nowhere, while sustainable employment takes root in local soil, not on the “globe”.

Hence this force for economic development is fast becoming one for abandoning decades of social and political development. Trade pacts now allow companies to sue sovereign governments over legislation that reduces their profits, while companies such as Uber ride roughshod over local regulations. How about this from an article in the New York Times (23 September 2017), about the city of London’s challenge to Uber: “There is a feeling in the air that regulators should stand up to businesses that simply ignore any rules they don’t like.” No kidding!

John Kenneth Galbraith’s forgotten concept of “countervailing power” can help to understand what has been happening.2 Countervailing forces arise in democratic societies to offset concentrated centers of power, as did the unions in America with the rise of the large corporations. But where are the unions in today’s so-called global village, and what other force has arisen to offset that of the global corporations?

The most obvious candidate is global government, but the United Nations is hardly up to that. The globe may be amalgamating economically, but it remains fragmented politically as well as socially. Indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all ardently economic—the WTO, IMF, World Bank, and OECD—have been the cheerleaders for globalization.

How, then, to face this corporate hegemony? The challenge will have to begin from the ground up. Perhaps never before have so many people been prepared to vote with their feet, their ballots, and their pocketbooks. Thoughtful, concerned citizens, acting in local communities that are connected globally through the social media, can bring direct pressure to bear on objectionable behaviors, while prodding their governments to act more concertedly on their behalf. Communities, after all, have been the places where major social change has often begun—for example, with a tea party in the Boston harbor or a woman boarding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. From such sparks have come significant groundswells that have transformed societies.

True, the most powerful countries have also been cheerleaders for globalization, or at least for their own global corporations. But other countries, especially on the receiving end of the globalization demands, could act together to push back, instead of being further divided and ruled. Is this not what the European Union has been doing with its challenges to Google and other companies? Here, then, lies one potentially countervailing power to economic globalization. (For other suggestions on dealing with such imbalances in society, see my TWOG “Going Public with my Puzzle.”)

Without restraining the power of economic globalization, we shall be facing greater social disruption, the election of more tyrants, and the further deterioration of our democratic institutions. We certainly need strong enterprises. But not free enterprises. Not if we are to be free people.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. A similar version of this bog appeared on September 18 in the Sloan Management Review blog, under the title “We must keep globalization in its place: The Marketplace.” For further discussion of balance across markets, governments, and communities, see my book Rebalancing Society. For management education that is worldly beyond global, see impm.org.

Photo by Lisa Mintzberg is of a soap bubble, about 10 centimeter in diameter.

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1See the classic article by A.W.Gouldner, “Cosmopolitans and Locals: Toward an Analysis of Latent Social Roles”, Administrative Science Quarterly (Vol. 2, No. 3, Dec., 1957: pp. 281-306). In a similar vein, David Goodhart has distinguished “anywhere” people from “somewhere” people” (in the Financial Times, 17 March 2017). About the latter, he wrote: “…more than 60% of British people still live within 20 miles of where we lived when we were 14.”

2J.K. Galbraith, American Capitalism, The Concept of Countervailing Power (originally published 1952).

Managing Scrambled Eggs

17 October 2018

This is the opening story, that sets the tone, for my new book Bedtime Stories for Managers, a collection of my TWOGs, coming out in February. It’s time to unscramble the messes of managing.

One morning, years ago, I flew Eastern Airlines from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, but soon to go belly up.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called “scrambled eggs.” I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” “I know”, she replied, “we keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

This is the opening story, that sets the tone, for my new book Bedtime Stories for Managers, a collection of my TWOGs, coming out in February. It’s time to unscramble the messes of managing.

One morning, years ago, I flew Eastern Airlines from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, but soon to go belly up.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called “scrambled eggs.” I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” “I know”, she replied, “we keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how could this be? If they were running a cemetery, I could understand the difficulties of communicating with their customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder if the management is running the business, or reading the financial statements?

The financial analysts were certainly reading those statements, and probably explaining the airline’s problems in terms of load factors and the like. Don’t believe a number of it. Eastern Airlines went belly up because of those scrambled eggs.

Some years later, after telling this story to a group of managers, one of them, from IBM, came up to tell me another story. The CEO of Eastern Airlines came rushing in at the last minute for a flight, he said. First class was full, so they bumped a paying customer to put him where I guess he had become accustomed. Apparently feeling guilty, he reportedly made his way to Economy Class (no mention was made of him having to ask where it was). There he apologized to the customer, introducing himself as the CEO of the airline. The customer replied: “Well, I’m the CEO of IBM.”

Now, don’t get this wrong. The problem was not about who was bumped. Quite the contrary, status was the problem: higher class counted for more than common sense. Managing is not about sitting where you have become accustomed. It’s about eating the scrambled eggs.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018 (was on this site 7 April 2016 with small differences). Bedtime Stories for Managers can be preordered on Amazon.

Nailing Corporate Reformation to the Door

2 October 2018

Co-authored with Frederick Bird

In the sixteenth century, there were calls for reforms of the Christian Church, which was then the largest, wealthiest, and most global institution in the world. Some critics engaged in protests, others offered advice or called for a gathering of leaders. But what eventually sparked action was a poster nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Wittenberg, in the fall of 1517, by Martin Luther, a monk and professor. He posted 95 theses about fundamental issues to be addressed. Thus began the Reformation.

Photo credit: Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Co-authored with Frederick Bird

In the sixteenth century, there were calls for reforms of the Christian Church, which was then the largest, wealthiest, and most global institution in the world. Some critics engaged in protests, others offered advice or called for a gathering of leaders. But what eventually sparked action was a poster nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Wittenberg, in the fall of 1517, by Martin Luther, a monk and professor. He posted 95 theses about fundamental issues to be addressed. Thus began the Reformation.

Photo credit: Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At a meeting last November at the Drucker Forum in Vienna, Charles Handy called for a reformation of our time, concerning the business corporation.  David Hurst and Nick Hixson, both Drucker Associates, responded by asking a number of management thinkers to reflect, in the manner of Luther’s 95 theses, on ills and remedies concerning the corporation today.

As management professors, one of us trained in religious studies, we have taken up this call, rather literally. We propose 9.5. theses (Luther’s were highly repetitive!), directed at fostering reform of an institution whose influence today is arguably comparable to that of the Christian Church at the time of Luther.

These 9.5  theses are not meant to be comprehensive, only, like those of Luther, a possible starting point for reformation. One thesis is taken straight from Luther, and all but one of the others have been modified from, and inspired by, Luther’s own words. (An # designates the number of Luther’s original thesis, with our modifications of his original in italic.) Like Luther, we state these theses without comment: they should speak for themselves.

1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. (#27)

2. Those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have achieved higher share value will be eternally damned, together with their consultants. (#32)

3. Why do so many corporations, whose combined wealth is today greater than the wealth of most nations, build their one basilica of globalization for their own benefit rather than for everyone? (#86)

4. Away with all those economists who say to the people “more, more, more” when the people need better, better, better. (#92)

5. … for the souls in purgatory, fear by downsizing should necessarily decrease and distribution of wealth increase. (#17)

6. Leadership indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to the good works of communityship. (#41)

7. The true treasure of business is to add value to society. (#62)

8. Because love grows by works of love, businesses become better when they engage in love of the people and the planet. (#44)

9. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the corporations and their CEOs to the ridicule of their enemies and to make citizens unhappy. (#90)

9.5. Blasphemous is the dogma that greed is godly and markets are sacred.

We believe that this dogma has taken our world out of balance, in favor of self-interest over collective needs and the common good. As a consequence, tyrants are being elected, only to undermine further the very democracies that put them into office. With no countervailing power to stop them—no serious global government, no reliable superpower—these tyrants threaten peace on earth. Faith will have to be restored in our institutions, including a reframing of corporate social responsibility, to favor balance in society.

© Frederick Bird and Henry Mintzberg 2018. For more on balance, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

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Strategic Thinking as “Seeing”

14 September 2018

Maybe we think too much and see too little. What, then, does strategic seeing mean?

Let’s begin with what strategic thinking is not. It’s not following an industry recipe or copying a competitor’s strategy or continuing to do what was always done—at least not unless these have been carefully considered. In other words, strategic thinking is not mindlessness, not imitation, not thoughtless persistence. Nor is it purely cerebral: separating self from the subject of strategy and working it out cleverly in a meeting.

Most people would agree that strategic thinking means seeing ahead.

But we can’t see ahead unless we see behind, because any good vision of the future has to be rooted in an understanding of the past. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, life may be lived forward, but it is understood backward.

Maybe we think too much and see too little. What, then, does strategic seeing mean?

Let’s begin with what strategic thinking is not. It’s not following an industry recipe or copying a competitor’s strategy or continuing to do what was always done—at least not unless these have been carefully considered. In other words, strategic thinking is not mindlessness, not imitation, not thoughtless persistence. Nor is it purely cerebral: separating self from the subject of strategy and working it out cleverly in a meeting.

Most people would agree that strategic thinking means seeing ahead.

But we can’t see ahead unless we see behind, because any good vision of the future has to be rooted in an understanding of the past. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, life may be lived forward, but it is understood backward.

Of course, even the best knowledge of the past may not help to see the future. We need to foresee discontinuities rather than extrapolating trends. And for this, there are no techniques, not much more than informed, creative intuition.

Some people think that strategic thinking is about “distinguish the forest from the trees”. The only way to do this is to hover above those trees. To them, therefore, strategic thinking is seeing above.

But can anyone get the “big picture” just by seeing above. The forest looks like a carpet from a helicopter, yet anyone who has taken a walk in a forest knows that it doesn’t look like that on the ground. Strategists can’t understand much about forests if they stay in helicopters, nor much about organizations if they stay in head offices.

I prefer the metaphor of finding the diamond in the rough: see the gem of an idea that changes an organization. And that does not come from the big picture at all, but from a lot of hard and messy digging. Indeed, there is no big picture (let alone precious gem) readily available to strategists. It must be constructed from the details that they dig up—or the brushstrokes painted one-by-one. Thus, strategic thinking is also inductive thinking: seeing above must be inferred from seeing below.

Yet you can see ahead by seeing behind and see above by seeing below and still not be a strategic thinker. That takes creativity, even ordinary creativity. Strategic thinkers see differently from other people; they pick out the precious gems that others miss, paint their own pictures, challenge conventional wisdom—and thereby differentiate their organizations. Such thinking has been referred to as lateral thinking, and so we can call it seeing beside.

There are many creative ideas in this world, far more than we can handle—just visit any art gallery. And so, to think strategically requires more than just seeing beside. Those creative ideas have to be placed into context, to be seen to work in a world that is to unfold. Strategic thinkers, in other words, also see beyond.

Seeing beyond is different from seeing ahead. The latter foresees an expected future by constructing a framework out of the past. The former constructs the future—it invents a world that would not otherwise exist.

But strategic thinking is not finished yet, because there remains one last necessary ingredient. What is the use of doing all this seeing—ahead and behind, above and below, beside and beyond—if nothing gets done? In other words, to deserve the label strategic, thinkers and organizations must also see it through.

Put this all together and you get the following: strategic thinking as seeing.

©Henry Mintzberg 2018. An early vision of this appeared in J. Nasi, ed., Arenas of Strategic Thinking, Foundation for Economic Education, Helsinki Finland, 1991.

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How National Happiness became gross

29 August 2018

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between Tibet and India, became famous for coming up with Gross National Happiness (GNH), thanks to its king. This was not your usual king (see the photo). Before voluntarily ceding power to democratic elections, he decreed an increase in the country’s forest cover, had every child in the country learn English, and introduced Gross National Happiness.

The retired king of Bhutan with his four wives, all sisters. (Photo of a Bhutanese placemat.)

GNH resonated with people around the world who were fed up with Gross National Product (GNP). As Robert Kennedy commented:

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between Tibet and India, became famous for coming up with Gross National Happiness (GNH), thanks to its king. This was not your usual king (see the photo). Before voluntarily ceding power to democratic elections, he decreed an increase in the country’s forest cover, had every child in the country learn English, and introduced Gross National Happiness.

The retired king of Bhutan with his four wives, all sisters. (Photo of a Bhutanese placemat.)

GNH resonated with people around the world who were fed up with Gross National Product (GNP). As Robert Kennedy commented:

Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising.…It counts the destruction of the redwood…and the television programs which glorify violence.…Yet [it] does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.…It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.1

GNH was based on four “pillars”: good governance, sustainable development, preservation and promotion of culture, and environmental conservation. These were elaborated in nine “domains,” which included health, education, psychological well-being, and community vitality. Simple enough.

Curious about this GNH and loving mountains, I visited Bhutan in 2006. Two things struck me in discussions with a number of the country’s knowledgeable people. First, they had no idea how to measure much of GNH; second, this didn’t much matter because the country seemed to be behaving true to its precepts. As a BBC reporter put it, GNH had become “a way of life” in Bhutan—a poor country where life seemed to be rather pleasant.

Not long after this, economists descended on Bhutan to fix GNH, even though it wasn’t broken. After all, if the Bhutanese didn’t measure GNH, how could they possibly manage it? Soon each of the nine domains had “its own weighted and unweighted GNH index…analyzed using…72 indicators.…Mathematical formulas have even been developed to reduce happiness to its tiniest component parts.”2 One survey, which took five to six hours to complete, “included about 750 variables.”3 These technocrats attended to the gross all right, but how about the happiness?

Critics of GNH have challenged its subjective judgments. “Economics professor Deirdre McCloskey criticizes such measurements as unscientific…making the analogy that society could not ‘base physics on asking people whether today was “hot, nice, or cold.”’4 If only education, culture, and happiness were as measurable as the temperature. I wonder if the greater threat to GNH has come from the enemies who want to eradicate it or the friends who want to measure it.

In 2013, not long after all this measuring, Tshering Tobgay, who had studied with economist Michael Porter at Harvard Business School, became prime minister. Soon he was claiming that GNH “distracted [some people] from the real business at hand,”5 namely “the bottom line…that we have to work harder.”6 This he could understand, in contrast to GNH, which he found “very difficult,” in fact, “complicating stuff for me.”7

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”8 To any economist or prime minister who cannot handle measurement and happiness at the same time, let me suggest that you drop the measurement and celebrate the happiness.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. To appear in “Bedtime Stories for Managers” (Berrett-Koehler, forthcoming in February 2019); a similar version appeared in this blog on 25 September 2015.  Our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org) is for those managers who can function holding two opposed ideas in mind at the same time.

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1 Robert F. Kennedy, “Remarks at the University of Kansas” (speech, Lawrence, KS, March 18, 1968).

2 Seth Mydans, “Recalculating Happiness in a Himalayan Kingdom,” New York Times, May 6, 2009.

32010 Survey Results: Results of the Second Nationwide 2010 Survey on Gross National Happiness,” accessed August 4, 2018.

4 “ACM: Cultural Marxism: The Highest Stage of RW Brakin’ 2 Eclecpapertic Bugaboo,” Daily Kos, March 22, 2015.

5Bhutan’s ‘Gross National Happiness’ Masks Problems, Says New Prime Minister,” Telegraph, August 2, 2013.

6 Gardiner Harris, “Index of Happiness? Bhutan’s New Leader Prefers More Concrete Goals,” New York Times, October 4, 2013.

7 “Bhutan’s ‘Gross National Happiness’ Masks Problems.”

8 F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Part I: The Crack-Up,” Esquire, February 1936 (reprinted March 7, 2017).

“Marketing Myopia” Myopia

15 August 2018

Years ago, Theodore Levitt, a marketing professor at the Harvard Business School,  published a popular article entitled "Marketing Myopia." Many people in business today, despite not having read the article, subscribe to the idea. It is that companies should define themselves in terms of broad industry perspective rather than narrow product position. To take Levitt's favorite examples, railroad companies were to see themselves in the transportation business, oil companies in the energy business.

The idea was a good one—like all good ideas, within reason. Why not open up perspectives, beyond existing positions: fast food beyond hamburgers (McDonald’s), delivering packages beyond selling books (Amazon), offering unassembled kitchens beyond unassembled tables (IKEA). Just so long as the competencies of the company are respected.

Years ago, Theodore Levitt, a marketing professor at the Harvard Business School,  published a popular article entitled "Marketing Myopia." Many people in business today, despite not having read the article, subscribe to the idea. It is that companies should define themselves in terms of broad industry perspective rather than narrow product position. To take Levitt's favorite examples, railroad companies were to see themselves in the transportation business, oil companies in the energy business.

The idea was a good one—like all good ideas, within reason. Why not open up perspectives, beyond existing positions: fast food beyond hamburgers (McDonald’s), delivering packages beyond selling books (Amazon), offering unassembled kitchens beyond unassembled tables (IKEA). Just so long as the competencies of the company are respected.

Many firms had a field day with Levitt’s idea, rushing to redefine themselves in all kinds of fancy ways—for example, the mission of a ball bearing company became "reducing friction." It was even better for the business schools. What better way to stimulate the students than to get them musing about how the chicken factory could be in the business of providing protein, or garbage collection could become beautification? Unfortunately, it was all too easy, a cerebral exercise that, while opening vistas, could detach people from the mundane work of plucking and compacting.

Often the problem came down to extravagant assumptions about the intrinsic capabilities of a company—namely that these are almost limitless, or at least highly adaptable. A prominent writer on strategic planning suggested, in apparent seriousness, that "buggy whip manufacturers might still be around if they had said their business was not making buggy whips but self-starters for carriages".1 But what in the world would have enabled them to do that? These two products shared nothing in common—no material supply, no technology, no production process, no distribution channel—save a thought in somebody's head about making vehicles move. Why should starters have been any more of a logical product diversification for them than, say, fan belts? "Instead of being in transportation accessories or guidance systems," why could the buggy whip manufacturers not have defined their business as "flagellation"?2

How can a few clever words on a piece of paper enable a railroad to fly airplanes? Levitt wrote that "once it genuinely thinks of its business as taking care of people's transportation needs, nothing can stop it from creating its own extravagantly profitable growth"3 Nothing except the limitations of its own distinctive competences.

Levitt's intention was to broaden the vision of managers. At that he may have succeeded—all too well. By elevating strategy from past position, to new perspective—from place on the ground to that in some stratosphere—he may have reduced its depth. Market opportunities got elevated past internal strengths. Products ceased to count (railroad executives defined their industry "wrong" because "they were product-oriented instead of consumer-oriented"), as did production ("the particular form of manufacturing, processing, or what-have-you cannot be considered as a vital aspect of the industry"). But what makes marketing intrinsically more important than product or production, or, for that matter, Ludvig in the laboratory? Companies have to build on whatever capabilities they can make use of, without being overwhelmed by weaknesses that they never considered, marketing ones included.

Critics of Levitt's article have had their own field day with the terminology, pointing out the dangers of "marketing hyperopia," where "vision is better for distant than for near objects"4, or of "marketing macropia," which escalates previously narrow market segments "beyond experience or prudence".5 I prefer to conclude that “marketing myopia” has often turned out to be myopic.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. An earlier version of this appeared in my book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, which Tom Peters called “my favorite management book of the last 25 years…no contest.”

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G.A. Steiner, Strategic Planning; What Every Manager Must Know (New York: Free Press, 1979).

Heller, quoted R. Norman (1977) Management for Growth, New York: Wiley (p. 34)

T. Levitt ,“Marketing Myopia.” Harvard Business Review  (July/August 1960, p. 53)

P. Kotler and R. Singh, “Marketing Warfare in the 1980s.” Journal of Business Strategy (Winter, 1981:30-41).

5 J.P. Baughman, Problems and Performance of the Role of the Chief Executive in the General Electric Company, 1882-1974 (working paper Graduate School of Business Administration Harvard University, 1974).

Manageable and Unmanageable Managing

28 July 2018

Imagine managing cheese products in India for a global food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal under the Quebec Medicare system. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you have sold so much cheese in India that the company asks you to manage cheese for all of Asia. Or in Montreal, you did so well in the hospital that the government asks you to manage a community clinic too—to go back and forth between the two, or stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails.

Imagine managing cheese products in India for a global food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal under the Quebec Medicare system. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you have sold so much cheese in India that the company asks you to manage cheese for all of Asia. Or in Montreal, you did so well in the hospital that the government asks you to manage a community clinic too—to go back and forth between the two, or stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails.

When reorganizing health care services in Quebec, in one region the government actually went nine times worse: it designated one managerial position for nine different institutions: a hospital, community clinic, rehabilitation center, palliative care unit, and various social services. Gone were the nine managers who headed up each of these institutions, replaced by a single individual to manage the whole works. Think of the money this saved! Think of the chaos that ensued!

Unmanageable Managing   Some managerial jobs are rather natural and others are not. Cheese in India sounds OK, but cheese in Asia? One health care institution sure, but two together (actually apart), let alone nine?

Why do we tolerate unmanageable managerial jobs? Years ago, conglomerates were all the rage among corporations. If you knew management, you could manage all kinds of businesses together—say a filmmaking studio with a nuclear reactor and a chain of toenail salons. That era passed, thankfully, only to be replaced by internal conglomeration. Now it’s fashionable for managers to manage perplexing mixtures of activities within the same business.

This happens because drawing charts is so much easier than managing organizations. All you need is The Great Organizer sitting in an office somewhere (a) clustering various activities together on a chart, (b) drawing a box around each cluster, (c) designating a lucid label for every box (“Cheese in Asia”, “Health and Social Services Centers” in Quebec), (d) drawing a line from every box to the boss, and (e) emailing the tidy result to all concerned—and condemned. What could be simpler than this? Or more complicated?

That Box Called Asia   They eat a lot of cheese in India, but hardly any in Japan. What in the world is “Asia” anyway? Any continent that contains both India and Japan can’t be serious. No two countries are more different.

Have a look at a map of the world. Geographically at least, most of the continents look coherent, all surrounded by seas: Africa, North and South America, and especially Antarctica, even Australia. But how did Asia get in there—no sea to the east—and Europe—no sea to the west? That’s because the Europeans designated the continents in the first place, and how could they leave themselves out, let alone be lumped into Eurasia (Japan? India?), even if that is what the maps indicated? So they drew a line between Europe and Asia, with no sea in sight. Not quite in the sand, mind you: along a range of mountains. (By this logic, Chile should be a continent.) These mapmakers simply sliced Russia in two, to fabricate where Europe ends and Asia begins.

People who used to make such maps now draw organization charts.

The most dangerous manager   Let’s get back to business. You are managing cheese in Asia, except that people in some parts of Asia eat lots of cheese and others don’t. How can you manage that, especially when the person who took your old job is already managing cheese in India perfectly well, thank you, where you have most of your sales?

If you’re smart, you won’t even try. But that won’t get you a promotion—say to become the Big Cheese for all of Asia: kimchi, harissa, and poutine, alongsde cheese without the fries. So manage cheese in Asia you must.  

And that is when the problems begin: Please understand that there is nothing more dangerous than a manager with nothing to do. Managers are energetic people—that‘s one reason they got to be managers. Put one into an unnatural position and he or she will find something to do. Like organizing retreats where the cheese managers from India, Japan, Outer Mongolia, and inner Indonesia can search for “synergies”—ways to help each other sell product that people don’t eat.

Meanwhile, it’s boring to sit in the regional head office in Singapore (the center of the Asian non-continent), so into an airplane goes our energetic manager. Not to meddle, mind you: micro-managing is out of fashion. Just to have a look. “I’m the boss, in charge of cheese for Asia,” you say, hovering over the manager in charge of cheese for Japan. “Thought I would drop by, you know, just to say hello. But while I’m here, let me ask you a few innocent questions: How come cheese is not moving in Japan? Isn’t the job of a business to create a customer? They eat Korean kimchi here, don’t they, just like they eat Indian chutneys in London? So why not Gorgonzola in the Ginza?”

Organizing beyond the Boxes    A hospital all in one place is manageable—at least as manageable as a hospital can be. (To find out why not, read my book “Managing the Myths of Health Care”.) So is selling cheese in India. But beyond that, expecting someone somewhere to manage something because someone elsewhere drew a box on a chart isn’t necessarily manageable at all. Surely we can organize ourselves outside the boxes.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. An earlier version of this appeared in my TWOG of 28 January 2016. This one will be part of my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers (Berrett-Koehler, January 2019).

Porterian and Peterian Performance

13 July 2018

What makes an organization effective? After Peter Drucker, Michael Porter and Tom Peters became the most prominent writers about the performance of organizations, but with quite different perspectives. For Michael Porter, in his book Competitive Strategy, an effective organization positions itself in the marketplace for competitive advantage. For Tom Peters, in his book In Search of Excellence (with Robert Waterman), an effective organization executes excellently whatever position it has. One of these guys might eat in a restaurant that is different, the other in a restaurant that is solid (although I suspect that, personally, they might opt for the opposite).

What makes an organization effective? After Peter Drucker, Michael Porter and Tom Peters became the most prominent writers about the performance of organizations, but with quite different perspectives. For Michael Porter, in his book Competitive Strategy, an effective organization positions itself in the marketplace for competitive advantage. For Tom Peters, in his book In Search of Excellence (with Robert Waterman), an effective organization executes excellently whatever position it has. One of these guys might eat in a restaurant that is different, the other in a restaurant that is solid (although I suspect that, personally, they might opt for the opposite).

Porter described competitive advantage as either cost leadership or differentiation, namely providing lower prices or unique offerings—say, fast food fusion or high-end poutine. And both strategies can be pursued with a wide or narrow focus—for example, through a single outlet or a whole chain. Accordingly, in his writings on health care, Porter is a fan of specialized hospitals (as in cardiac surgery), not general ones. In his terms, general hospitals hardly have strategy: they tend to be neither differentiated nor cost leaders.

But might Porter be looking for strategy in the wrong place? General hospitals have a focus that must be the most common strategy on earth. I call it “local producer.”1  From the corner shoemaker to the national post office, they provide some undifferentiated service at regular prices in a geographic niche (a community, a country). In fact, I recall Peters being a great fan of just such an organization: a garbage collection firm in San Francisco. The CEO had a little garbage truck on his desk, and explained his success as being “…because I love garbage!”

Would you rather go to a hospital that does unique things, or ordinary things correctly? That, of course, depends on whether you have an ordinary problem, like appendicitis, or a complicated one, like a special heart ailment. Given the time and the money, I imagine that both Porter and Peters would not hesitate to fly to a specialized hospital for the latter treatment, whereas both might go to a local general hospital for the former, especially if it is urgent. Their choice would be made, in one case, on the basis of strategy, in the other, on the basis of location. But not only that: the quality of the service would also be uppermost in their minds.

Accordingly, to be truly effective, a Porterian organization has to be Peterian: it has to have a great strategy with wonderful execution. True, some organizations can get away with being more Porterian than Peterian—if their market position is really good. When I shopped at IKEA years ago, they were notorious for running out of stock. (Someone in the company once told me that it was because the founder hated planning!) But in other respects—design, layout, meatballs and more—IKEA executed brilliantly. So I went back.2  The problem with this, however, is that enticed customers can tire of going home disappointed.

A truly effective Peterian organization, however, need not be Porterian. Excellent execution can be enough. I imagine that both these guys might eschew a differentiated garbage collection company in their community, maybe even a cost leader, for one that is clean and reliable. Thus, in this battle that I have concocted of these two titans, while together both win, apart I believe that Peterian effectiveness usually wins. Who needs an effective strategy effected ineffectively? I used to seek out restaurants that were truly novel, until I realized that many of them failed to blend their fancy ingredients. (That is called synthesis, beyond analysis.) Now I celebrate restaurants that do classic dishes, and not just novel ones, splendidly.

Porter does include customer service as a form of differentiation. Isn’t this Peterian? Not quite. For Porter, this is a strategic choice—calculated—perhaps to offer more extensive service, aside from  more attentive service. For Peters, service is not so much a calculated choice as a driven imperative: a philosophy of doing business, a way of life, done with soul. A management fixated on strategy—the grand and the glorious, from the top—can lose sight of what is happening on the ground. Don’t we all know companies with great strategies to which we shall never return?

Too much calculation can get in the way of managing with soul.  On the desks of people who manage like this, you are more likely to find a financial report than a garbage truck. What they love is Shareholder Value. But surely we have enough cold love in our economies. So please: a little more attention to Peterianism, with or without Porterianism.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. Coming in the new year, a collection of my TWOGs entitled Bedtime Stories for Managers (Berrett-Koehler).

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

_______________

1See my book Managing the Myths of Health Care (2015) on strategy with regard to hospitals (pages 173-179).

2One such IKEA experience of mine is described in “Opening up Decision Making: The View from the Black Stool” (with Ann Langley, Pat Pitcher, Elizabeth Posada, and Jan Saint-Macary) Organization Science (May-June 1995).

Need a strategy? Let them grow like weeds in the garden

29 June 2018

Hothouse Dick sitting among the weeds, photo by HM


Searching for a strategy? Here’s how to get one, according to just about every book and article on the subject. I have stylized this a wee bit, in what I call the “Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation.”


The Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation

1. There is one prime strategist, and that person is the chief executive officer—the planter of all strategies. Other managers may fertilize, while consultants can offer advice (sometimes even the strategy itself—but don’t tell anybody).

2. The planners analyze the appropriate data so that the CEO can formulate the strategy through a carefully controlled process of conscious thought, much as tomatoes are cultivated in a hothouse.

Hothouse Dick sitting among the weeds, photo by HM


Searching for a strategy? Here’s how to get one, according to just about every book and article on the subject. I have stylized this a wee bit, in what I call the “Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation.”


The Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation

1. There is one prime strategist, and that person is the chief executive officer—the planter of all strategies. Other managers may fertilize, while consultants can offer advice (sometimes even the strategy itself—but don’t tell anybody).

2. The planners analyze the appropriate data so that the CEO can formulate the strategy through a carefully controlled process of conscious thought, much as tomatoes are cultivated in a hothouse.

3. The strategy comes out of this process immaculately conceived, then to be made formally explicit, much as ripe tomatoes are picked and sent to market.

4. This explicit strategy is then implemented, which includes developing necessary budgets as well as designing the appropriate structure. (If the strategy fails, ''Implementation'' must be blamed, namely those dumbbells who were not smart enough to implement the CEO’s brilliant strategy. But if these dumbbells are smart, they will ask: “Why, if you are so smart, didn’t you formulate a strategy that we dumbbells were capable of implementing?” You see, every failure of implementation is also a failure of formulation.) 

5. Hence, to manage this process is to plant the strategy carefully and watch over it as it grows on schedule, so that the market can beat a path to the produce.1


Wait, don’t go off and start formulating your strategy quite yet. Read the next model first.

A grassroots model of strategy formation

1. Strategies grow initially like weeds in a garden; they don’t need to be cultivated like tomatoes in a hothouse. They can form, rather than having to be formulated, as decisions and actions taken one-by-one amalgamate into a consistent pattern. In other words, strategies can emerge, gradually, through a process of learning. The hothouse, if needed, can come later.  

2. These strategies can take root in all kinds of strange places, wherever people have the capacity to learn and the resources to support that capacity. Anybody in touch with an opportunity can come up with an idea that can evolve into a strategy. An engineer meets a customer and imagines a new product. No discussion, no planning: she just builds it. The seeds of a possible new strategy are planted. The point is that organizations cannot always plan where a strategy will begin, let alone plan the strategy itself. Accordingly, productive strategists build gardens in fertile ground, where all kinds of ideas can take root and the best of them can grow.

3. Individual ideas become organizational strategies when they pervade the organization. Other engineers see what she has done and follow suit. Then the salespeople get the idea. Next thing you know, the whole organization has a new strategy—a new pattern in its activities—which might even come as a surprise in the C suite. After all, weeds can proliferate and encompass a whole garden; then the conventional plants can look out of place. But what’s a weed but a plant that wasn’t expected. With a change of perspective, the emerging strategy can become what’s valued, much as Europeans enjoy salads of the leaves of dandelions, America’s most notorious weed.

4. This process of proliferation can sometimes be consciously managed. Once an emerging strategy is recognized as valuable, its proliferation can be managed the way plants are selectively propagated. This may be the time to build that hothouse: turn that emergent strategy into a deliberate strategy going forward.

5. There is a time to sow strategies and a time to reap them. Blurring the distinction between sowing and reaping can damage a garden—and an organization too. Managers have to appreciate when to exploit an established crop of strategies, and when to encourage new strains to replace them.

6. Hence, to manage this process is not to plan strategies, but to recognize their emergence and intervene when appropriate. A truly destructive weed, once noticed, is best uprooted immediately. But one that seems capable of bearing fruit is worth watching, in fact sometimes worth pretending not to notice, until it bears fruit or else withers. Then hothouses can be built around those that offer the hanging fruit, low or high.

OK, now you are all set for strategy, by forgetting the word, getting involved in the details, and doing a lot more learning than planning.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. First posted, with some different text, on 23 October 2016. This version will appear in my forthcoming book Bedtime Stories for Managers. For considerably more on this, see the books Strategy Safari and Tracking Strategies.

1Aside from the work of Michael Porter, see Dick Rumelt’s book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Neither author would, of course, quite subscribe to this characterization of their work, but both offer the best of the hothouse approach.

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Opportunity for the G6

7 June 2018

 Elaine MartinLa Malbaie: scene of the G7 meeting. Photo credit: Elaine Martin

Will the G7 collapse in Quebec?  Then what, in a world has had it with an American President who is out of control—personally and politically—as well as with a Congress that lacks the decency to stop him. Shall we all just wait, heads in sand, for this to pass, so that noble America can once again replace nasty America?

We would do better to face the reality. A great many Americans not only voted for Donald Trump, but continue to support him. When he goes, how can trust in America be restored when we know full well that next time, or the time after, back could come the likes of him, or worse?

 Elaine MartinLa Malbaie: scene of the G7 meeting. Photo credit: Elaine Martin

Will the G7 collapse in Quebec?  Then what, in a world has had it with an American President who is out of control—personally and politically—as well as with a Congress that lacks the decency to stop him. Shall we all just wait, heads in sand, for this to pass, so that noble America can once again replace nasty America?

We would do better to face the reality. A great many Americans not only voted for Donald Trump, but continue to support him. When he goes, how can trust in America be restored when we know full well that next time, or the time after, back could come the likes of him, or worse?

This tells us that the problem goes deeper than Donald Trump, far deeper: American society is dangerously out of balance, ironically in much the same way that the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were out of balance, just on the other side of the political spectrum. The public sector dominated those regimes; the private sector dominates America.

This problem has been festering since Thomas Jefferson expressed the “hope [that] we…shall crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength...”(sic). Unfortunately, the founding fathers addressed another problem, the one that provoked their revolution: excessive power in government. Hence, they imposed checks and balances on the public sector, with no comparable checks that might have limited the power of any other sector in society.

Half a century later, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized corporations as “persons” in the eyes of the law, and took that over the edge with a decision in 2010 that extended the rights of these and real persons to fund political campaigns to their hearts’ content. In effect, the Supreme Court of America legalized bribery in the United States, and the country has not been the same since.

Who is to blame? Hillary Clinton blamed the “deplorables” who supported Donald Trump. Were they more deplorable than the established people who drove so many of them to support him: not only Hillary Clinton and the people of Goldman Sacks, but everyone else who benefits from tax advantages, union busting, meagre wages for workers, and the rest. If I want to see this kind of deplorable, even here in Canada, I look in the mirror.

Into this swamp came Donald Trump, ostensibly to drain it. Instead, he has been wallowing in it, providing the U.S. with more of the same business as usual, not least his own. Thank you Donald Trump for putting the handwriting on the wall.

A healthy society balances the collective power of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector (or “civil society,” if you prefer). In such a society, the three sectors hold each other in check while cooperating for constructive change. Canada maintains a better balance than does the U.S., as does Germany, France, and Japan, all members of the G7, as well as the Scandinavia countries, New Zealand, Uruguay, Costa Rica, perhaps South Korea, and maybe Brazil when it gets its act together again. The G8 lost Russia; this G7 will likely lose America, in one way or another. That’s not crisis; it’s opportunity.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. Gangs would roam the streets and battle with each other, or else carve up the place for their own convenience. This is our “global village”, dominated by three superpowers. A G6 has the opportunity to begin countering this, perhaps joined later by other democratic nations that have no aspirations for superpower status or recent histories of belligerence. Is this impossible? Hardly: we see the budding of it in the Trans-Pacific [Trade] Partnership that proceeds without the United States. We need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

2 June 2018

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of a group with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on the tools of the trade, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

  1. For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.
  2. All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.
  3. Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.
  4. Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.
  5. Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen to study a factory, nobody would be laughing, least of all the people in that factory. In other words, this is no laughing matter. (For a more serious take on why he got it wrong, see Species of Organizations. See also a TWOG on that dirty word efficiency.)

No ©  This was published more or less as above in the mid-1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts. This TWOG appeared here on 21 April 2016.

Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark

17 May 2018

I am sorry to correct Shakespeare, but nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark. I should know—I just spent a few days there. True, I didn’t get into any of the deep, dark Danish secrets, the way Shakespeare did. But I did have enough exposure to be charmed by the Danish differences.

Denmark has its act together. In today’s world, that’s different!

The first thing you see, as you line up at border control, is a sign that says “Find your passport”, then another that adds “Open passport on photograph page”, followed by a third that states “Hand over passport like this.” Charming… and telling. You’re not even in the country yet, and the stage is set: do your bit of personal effort for the collective good.

I am sorry to correct Shakespeare, but nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark. I should know—I just spent a few days there. True, I didn’t get into any of the deep, dark Danish secrets, the way Shakespeare did. But I did have enough exposure to be charmed by the Danish differences.

Denmark has its act together. In today’s world, that’s different!

The first thing you see, as you line up at border control, is a sign that says “Find your passport”, then another that adds “Open passport on photograph page”, followed by a third that states “Hand over passport like this.” Charming… and telling. You’re not even in the country yet, and the stage is set: do your bit of personal effort for the collective good.

Into Copenhagen you go, to find out that the prices are outrageous. That’s because the income disparities are not outrageous. I read somewhere that McDonald workers here earn about $25 an hour (they are unionized, like 70% of the Danish workforce), so they live middle class lives. Hence a Big Mac costs about a buck more than in the U.S. Is this too much to pay for inclusive democracy, let alone social harmony?

You take a taxi and hand your credit card to the driver, who declares “no tip” as he enters the amount on the meter. No subordination here. No Uber either. Instead, bicycles, galore. The Danes discovered the obvious—that what is destroying almost every city on earth is more roads to accommodate more cars that attract more cars which require more roads. Instead of going with this flow, the Danes reversed it and brought back the bikes, favoring them in the city as well as installing paths for them in the countryside. In the capital, bikes can ride on some subway cars and buses, and parking for them is plentiful in the center. Hence 60% of Copenhagen commuters now go by bike, 46,000 of them daily across one bike bridge alone. The guy who designed that bridge says that Copenhagen has the most beautiful rush hour in the world!

If you rent a kayak in the harbor for an hour, you pay nothing if you bring back a bucket of trash. Imagine that: imagination! In the hotel where I stayed, the carpet in the elevator tells you which way to go to your room. (Don’t we all stare down anyway?) More imagination. And then, in your room, you find a basket balanced across the three sectors of recycling.

More soul too. We visit a war memorial for fallen Danish soldiers. It’s a subtle, simple place.  The names of just over 100 soldiers are inscribed, and so are the 47 countries where they fell. Turns out this is to commemorate peacekeepers. How many countries have a memorial dedicated to the soldiers who fell for peace?

Had I stayed a few more days, I’m sure I would have found something rotten in the state of Denmark. (Good thing I didn’t, for the sake of this title.) Maybe I would have found garbage that was rotten in the state of Denmark, or at least rotting. But then again, in Copenhagen they built a big incinerator to burn it—and, being Danish, they designed it with a long slopping roof, using some of the energy generated from it to make snow for the skiers of this flat country. Charming, so charming.

In polls, the Danes come out as the happiest people on earth. Is this why they get their act together? Or is it because they have their act together? Yes.

Helping all this along, the Danes keep the financial sharks at bay, so to speak: most of the major Danish corporations, such as Carlsberg, LEGO, and Novo Nordisk, are controlled by foundations. One figure put the number of such Danish companies at over 1300, with the publicly-traded ones comprising about two-thirds of the total market capitalization of the Copenhagen Stock Exchange.1 This can help them to do better for all, instead of grabbing more for the few. In 2015, the Harvard Business Review named the CEO of Novo Nordisk the best-performing CEO in the world… and he was one of the lowest paid among the top candidates! Does he suffer? Maybe he hides a Maserati in his garage while cycling to work, thus helping to keep the country in balance.

I have written much in these TWOGs about balance across the public, private, and plural sectors of society. On the roads of Denmark, you have this balance exemplified: the community pluralism of the bikes, the private individualism of the cars, and the public infrastructure of the state, all working together. A true PPPP—public, private, plural partnership. These little islands are leading the world, just as they have been in the use of renewable energy.2

Something is rotten in the state of the world. If the Danes can get their act together, how about the rest of us?

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. My book Rebalancing Society was unintentionally written about the state of Denmark.

1Steen Thomsen “Industrial Foundations in the Danish Economy”, (Center for Corporate Governance, Copenhagen Business School, 19 February 2013)

2See our article “Worldly Strategy for the Global Climate”,  forthcoming in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in September.

Can a loose cannon have a strategy?

30 April 2018

So…can a loose cannon have a strategy? Sure, once we realize that we use the word strategy in a way that we never define it.

Strategy may be defined by intention, but it has to be realized in action.  An intended strategy looks forward, as some sort of plan or vision into the future—whether or not it will be realized. A realized strategy looks back, to some existing pattern in action, namely consistency in behavior—whether or not it was intended.

So…can a loose cannon have a strategy? Sure, once we realize that we use the word strategy in a way that we never define it.

Strategy may be defined by intention, but it has to be realized in action.  An intended strategy looks forward, as some sort of plan or vision into the future—whether or not it will be realized. A realized strategy looks back, to some existing pattern in action, namely consistency in behavior—whether or not it was intended.

How about Donald Trump? With regard to migrants and refugees, Muslim and Mexican, he has certainly had strategy, intended as well as partly realized: keep them out and get them out. In other words, his actions have been consistent with his stated intentions: With regard to much else, however, by the dictionary definition of strategy, Trump has been a loose cannon, shooting off his mouth in all directions, frequently contradicting, not only reason, but also himself. Where’s the strategy in that?

As for realized strategy, a host of Trump’s actions speak louder than his words, and differently, in fact rather consistently. Consider the following ones: picking fights with established allies while cozying up to autocrats; challenging existing trade agreements and long-standing alliances; repeatedly attacking the FBI, the Justice Department, and the intelligence agencies; emasculating the Department of State by leaving so many posts unfilled while proposing drastic reductions in its budget, alongside that of other major departments; and championing tax cuts that could paralyze the government and wreak havoc in the society.

Pattern may be in the eyes of the beholder, but it is tough not to behold this one, however outrageous it may seem: Donald Trump appears to be taking down the government of the United States of America. This is not your usual neo-con agenda of less government; it looks to be a concerted attack on the American state itself. 



Why would the president of the United States do such a thing? In his own terms, what’s in it for Donald Trump? Maybe more to the point, what’s in store for Donald Trump if he does not do this? To answer these questions, please understand that realized strategy need not be driven by an actor’s own intentions; it can be driven by the force of circumstance, even by the intentions of some other person able to exercise power over that actor.

Who might be able to do that? The answer seems evident enough. Were Vladimir Putin president of the United States, could he be doing any better for Russia? “Trade wars are good” said Donald Trump. Sure, for Putin’s Russia. It looks like Donald Trump’s realized strategy is executing Vladimir Putin’s intended strategy.

On the other side of this coin, the Mueller Inquiry has indicated that the Russians were determined to see Donald Trump elected. But why would they want a loose cannon in the White House, such an obvious threat to their security? Because, in Putin’s pocket, Trump has not been a loose cannon at all, but a straight shooter—consistently in the direction of Russian interests. (Has his recent rash of actions in the Ukraine, Syria, and the sending home of Russian diplomates changed that? Coming suddenly and all together, they look suspicious: a smokescreen to obscure his real agenda?)

What might Putin have on Trump? Some video shot in a hotel room? Undisclosed evidence of Russian collusion in the Trump election? More likely, the capacity to call in loans that would bankrupt Trump’s businesses. Regardless of the reason, what matters is Trump’s behavior. What matters more is the threat this poses to the security of all of us.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. Following on this, I am preparing an article entitled “Donald Trump is not the problem.”

The Great Strength and Debilitating Weakness of Modern Medicine… and Management

30 March 2018

Medicine has made profound advances in treating many diseases, but in its great strength lies its debilitating weakness.

Organizing for Professional Work 

To understand this, consider how professional work tends to be organized. Much of it is rather standardized, carried out by highly-trained people with a good deal of individual autonomy—at least from their colleagues, if not from the professional associations that set their standards. Just as the musicians of a symphony orchestra play in harmony while each plays to the notes written for his or her instrument, so too can a surgeon and anesthetist spend hours in an operating room without exchanging a single word. By virtue of their training, each knows exactly what to expect of the other.

Medicine has made profound advances in treating many diseases, but in its great strength lies its debilitating weakness.

Organizing for Professional Work 

To understand this, consider how professional work tends to be organized. Much of it is rather standardized, carried out by highly-trained people with a good deal of individual autonomy—at least from their colleagues, if not from the professional associations that set their standards. Just as the musicians of a symphony orchestra play in harmony while each plays to the notes written for his or her instrument, so too can a surgeon and anesthetist spend hours in an operating room without exchanging a single word. By virtue of their training, each knows exactly what to expect of the other.

Accordingly, much of modern medicine does not solve problems in an open-ended way so much as categorize patients’ conditions in a restricted way. Each is slotted into an established category of disease—a process known as diagnosis—to which an established, ideally evidence-based treatment—referred to as a set of protocols—can be applied.

This standardization is not, however, absolute: it takes the form of tailored customization. (See our article Customizing Customization.) The predetermined standards—those protocols—are tailored to the condition in question. The patient presents with a pain in the chest; the diagnosis indicates a blocked artery; a particular stent is installed in a particular place; and an administrative box is ticked so that a standard payment can be made.

Misfits 

The great strength of modern medicine lies in the fits that work. The patient enters the hospital with a diseased heart and leaves soon after with a repaired one. But where the fit fails can be found modern medicine’s debilitating weakness. Fits fail, more often than generally realized, beyond the categories, across the categories, and beneath the categories.

Beyond the categories lie those illnesses that fit into no predetermined category of disease. The patient may not be treated at all—indeed, sometimes dismissed as a hypochondriac—or forced into an inadequate, if convenient, category. Think about IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a label for ignorance, or some auto-immune conditions.

Across the categories fall those patients with multiple conditions that fit several disease categories concurrently. If these can be treated sequentially, the professional model of organizing is preserved. He or she is sent from one specialist to another. But where the conditions interact in more complex ways, as in many geriatric cases, more open-ended, collaborative problem-solving can be required. (The chief of geriatrics in a Montreal hospital, big on teamwork, used to say that a physiotherapist was their best diagnostician.) While geriatric departments may be encouraged to engage in such collaboration, much of the rest of medicine, where multiple diseases implicate different departments, each grinding in its own mill, does not. How often do we hear from frustrated patients: “Why can’t they just speak with each other, instead of passing around these little notes while I am being asked to describe my condition again and again?” 

Beneath the categories lies a misfit that is no less common, or significant, than the other two. The fit is correct, but insufficient for effective treatment. Here medicine has to get past the “patient”, to the person.

Dr. Atul Gawande, in a New Yorker article entitled “The Bell Curve” (6 December 2004), reported on his observation of a renowned cystic fibrosis physician. He wrote the protocols that others used, yet had much better results. Meeting a young woman, and seeing a reduced measure of lung-function, he asked if she was taking her treatments. She said that she was. But he probed further, to discover that she had a new boyfriend and a new job that were getting in the way of taking those treatments. Together they figured out how she could alter her schedule.

Here, then, lay the good doctor’s secret: he treated the person and not just the patient, by delving beneath the medical context, to her personal situation.

Management and Medicine Alike

Of course, too much contemporary administration hardly encourages this kind of probing. If the administration of that doctor’s hospital was managing in the modern way, it may have questioned why he was spending so much time with this one patient. True she might live longer, but how to measure that in a budgeting system focussed on current expenditures?

Before any physician jumps on this point with great glee, he or she would do well to recognize that the management weakness here is not fundamentally different from that of medicine. Both suffer from an excessive tendency to categorize, commodify, and calculate—indeed, much like the rest of modern society. (See my TWOG on pat and playful puzzles.) Are managers who claim that “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” any more sensible than physicians who claim that “If it’s not evidence-based, it’s not proper medicine”? Subscribing to either canon would close down both management and medicine.

Evidence-guided medicine is fine, as is evidence-guided management. That good doctor used the evidence presented to him. But he probed beneath it, to that woman’s experience. Within and across the categories called medicine and management, physicians and administrators alike would do well to get past their common debilitating weakness, to engage collaboratively for better health care.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018, drawing from my book, Managing the Myths of Health Care

Gambling CEO Style: Always All-In

16 March 2018

Gambling is a popular metaphor among CEOs—"doubling down” and all that stuff. So let’s use it to consider the compensation of those CEOs who gamble with their bonuses.

First, CEOs gamble with other people’s money. This is nice work, if you can get it.

Second, CEO gamblers collect, not when they win, but when they appear to be winning. Since it takes time to know a winning hand, the CEO gamblers usually collect in the midst of the game. This is like taking the pot with a couple of aces on the table, while the rest of the hand remains closed. Poker players call this kind of thing a semi-bluff. No semi for these CEOs! Just make sure that the best cards shown.

Gambling is a popular metaphor among CEOs—"doubling down” and all that stuff. So let’s use it to consider the compensation of those CEOs who gamble with their bonuses.

First, CEOs gamble with other people’s money. This is nice work, if you can get it.

Second, CEO gamblers collect, not when they win, but when they appear to be winning. Since it takes time to know a winning hand, the CEO gamblers usually collect in the midst of the game. This is like taking the pot with a couple of aces on the table, while the rest of the hand remains closed. Poker players call this kind of thing a semi-bluff. No semi for these CEOs! Just make sure that the best cards shown.

Third, CEO gamblers also collect when they lose. This, I assure you, does not happen in real gambling, which has yet to adopt golden parachutes. If it did, the real gamblers would be all-in all the time—every single chip. Just like those CEOs who casually bet their companies.

Fourth, some CEO gamblers collect just for drawing cards. No need even to show those aces. CEOs who are not much good at managing the company can be brilliant at managing the compensation. For example, some get a bonus for signing a big acquisition, long before anyone can have any idea if it will work. (Most, by the way, don’t). Some risk-takers!

Fifth, CEO gamblers can also collect for staying at the table. This is the greatest boondoggle of them all. It’s called a “retention bonus.” Not only do these CEOs get paid for doing the job (so to speak); they also get paid for not leaving the job. Now that is really nice work, if you can get it.

Back at home, check the beds of these CEOs. You will find them rather crowded. Cozying up are the compensation consultants, who join the CEOs in screwing everyone else. And don’t forget the board directors—voyeurs in these beds—who explain that, after all, everyone else is doing the same kind of screwing. This kind of followership they call leadership.

I must add that, in one respect all of this is like real gambling: win or lose, the game is played now while the social consequences trickle in later. So, board directors,  how about this instead, no gambling involved, just a win-win for the society and the economy:

Dismiss out of hand all candidates for the CEO position who seek a compensation package that would set them apart from everyone else in the company. (You can say: “Didn’t you just give us a spiel about ‘teamwork’?”) Indeed, terminate the interview at the mere mention of the word “bonus”, definitive proof that the candidate has no concern for the company, indeed no business running a business of cooperating human beings. (“You just said that ‘Human resources are a company’s greatest asset.’”) Turn the tables upside down and strike a blow for responsible gamesmanship.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018, who gambles with a bit of his own money in www.CoachingOurselves.com. An earlier version of this appeared in the Globe & Mail (3 April 2009). Guess which one in the photo is the CEO.

...about listening

1 March 2018

I write a good deal about the disconnect of leaders/managers from the ongoing activities of their organizations. An organization can’t be run by remote control: people “on top” have to get on the ground to see what is going on. And, no less, to hear what is happening.

I write a good deal about the disconnect of leaders/managers from the ongoing activities of their organizations. An organization can’t be run by remote control: people “on top” have to get on the ground to see what is going on. And, no less, to hear what is happening.

Let me give you an example from the thin air. I am doing a collection of my blogs, using the title “Managing Scrambled Eggs” because the first story is about the CEO of a failing airline who sat in First Class while the passengers in the back had to eat some excuse for scrambled eggs. I was one of them, and when I asked the flight attendant why they served this stuff, she said: “I know, we keep telling them; they won’t listen.“ How can that be?  If they were running a cemetery, I might understand not listening to the customers. But an airline? Feasting in First Class is not leadership, let alone management. Among the most important qualities of managers who truly lead is a captivating capacity to listen, really listen.

In my book Managing the Myths of Health Care, I cite a study of patients who were explaining their problems to physicians: on average, they were interrupted after 23 seconds1… and rarely had a chance to continue! Modern medicine makes a thing about being evidence-based. Sure, evidence is important, as the collected experiences of many people. But how about the particular experience of the person right there? If medicine had to rely solely on evidence, without tangible experience, it would shut down. Evidence puts numbers on abstracted experience; listening to someone’s full message brings out what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called “thick description.” We need this to understand what is happening, beyond just putting people into pat categories.

How about this example of the difference between evidence and experience, from my own experience, and probably yours too in one way or another. If you go biking in the mountains, say up to a pass and back down, you will have done four times as much uphill as downhill. Everyone I tell this to is puzzled:  Haven’t I gone exactly the same distance up as down? Sure, but we don’t experience distance, we experience time. Distance is an abstract calculation in our brain; time is what we feel in our body We may boast about having done so many kilometers, but while doing them, believe me, what we are acutely aware of is the effort, across the hours, not the kilometers. When we are living an experience, it’s not the numbers that count but the feeling—what our body is telling us. Listen to it too!

How often have we heard that “Gerry just doesn’t listen” or that “Sally is such a good listener!” By listening to others, we get in touch with them, and thus with ourselves. So let’s spend more time listening to what really matters: listening to our partners, to our children, to our friends, to our patients, to our employees, to our managers, to ourselves, and especially to our bodies.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018, who can be listened to on mintzberg.org/videos.

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1Marvel, M., R. Epstein, K. Flowers, and H. Beckman. (1999). Soliciting the Patient’s Agenda: Have We Improved?  JAMA  281(3): 283-287.

CBC interview on some outrages in health care

13 February 2018

This blog is for your ears.

CBC radio recently broadcast an interview with me about my book Managing the Myths of Health Care. Michael Enright, who has been hosting the popular “Sunday Edition” for years, and I have always resonated well in earlier interviews, but never this well—at least judging by the tweets and emails that came in. Needless to say, this has many controversial comments, but I always maintain that my most outrageous ones are usually the truest.

Given the reaction in Canada, why not post the interview for people elsewhere. (It’s not especially about Canadian health care.) So here it is, not as a transcription, but as the audio version itself. Moreover, instead of putting up my own tweets, we have selected them from the reactions of the listeners—tweets and emails, to and by the CBC, and to myself.

This blog is for your ears.

CBC radio recently broadcast an interview with me about my book Managing the Myths of Health Care. Michael Enright, who has been hosting the popular “Sunday Edition” for years, and I have always resonated well in earlier interviews, but never this well—at least judging by the tweets and emails that came in. Needless to say, this has many controversial comments, but I always maintain that my most outrageous ones are usually the truest.

Given the reaction in Canada, why not post the interview for people elsewhere. (It’s not especially about Canadian health care.) So here it is, not as a transcription, but as the audio version itself. Moreover, instead of putting up my own tweets, we have selected them from the reactions of the listeners—tweets and emails, to and by the CBC, and to myself.

Here is the link to the full audio interview. Hearing the easy bantering between Michael and myself may encourage you to listen to all of it.
Otherwise, this takes you to the CBC summary of the interview, including quotes from it. But I warn you: much is lost in the transcription!

Find the book here on Amazon. 

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Welcome to Nina Hermes, who joins me in preparing and posting these TWOGs. And thank you to Tanya Sardana who has been doing so.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Effective organizations like healthy families

15 January 2018

Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina with the immortal words “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.” And so it may be with organizations: they have an unlimited variety of ways to fail, but perhaps only few by which to succeed. In the spirit of Tolstoy, I will not try to list all these ways to fail—blogs have their limits—but present a framework by which many seem to get it right.

Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina with the immortal words “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.” And so it may be with organizations: they have an unlimited variety of ways to fail, but perhaps only few by which to succeed. In the spirit of Tolstoy, I will not try to list all these ways to fail—blogs have their limits—but present a framework by which many seem to get it right.

Lewis et al., in the introduction to their book No Single Thread: Psychological Health in Family Systems¹, comment that: “There is considerable literature on the pathological family types, but a ‘scarcity of data’ on the healthy family” (1976: xvii). When I read the book, I was struck by the parallels with a framework that I had already sketched out in my book Managing. I subsequently borrowed the word “thread”, and was able to find one or more quotes from their book that matched each of the characteristics that I had identified in effective organizations. 

So here comes, not a formula, not a theory, not a set of propositions, so much as a tapestry to appreciate effectiveness in organizations.  As shown in the figure, at the center are five threads, what we call managerial mindsets in our International Masters Program for Managers.²  They range from the more personal to the more social, and are labelled reflective, analytic, worldly, collaborative, and proactive. Two additional threads are shown: at the beginning that of being personally energetic, and at the end that of being socially integrative. Each thread is discussed in turn.

The Energetic Thread

“Although [effective] families differ in the degree of energy displayed, they all demonstrated more constructive reaching out than did patently dysfunctional families” (p. 208–209). Effective organizations may likewise differ in the energy they display, but perhaps not in their inclinations for constructive “reaching out.”

The Reflective Thread

“In approaching problems within the family, [the healthy ones] explored numerous options; if one approach did not work, they backed off and tried another. This was in contrast to many dysfunctional families in which a dogged perseverance with a single approach was noted” (p. 208). In my own experience, a remarkable number of effective organizations, and their managers, are reflective: they know how to learn from their own experience; they explore numerous options; and they back off when one doesn’t work, to try another. They are inclined to know what they know while appreciating what they don’t know.

As I noted in my book Managers not MBAs,  reflecting means “wondering, probing, analyzing, synthesizing, connecting—‘to ponder carefully and persistently [the] meaning [of an experience] to the self’.”³  This goes beyond sheer intelligence, to a deeper wisdom that enables people to be insightful—to see inside issues, beyond their obvious perceptions. Many of the people in effective organizations think and see for themselves.

The Analytic Thread

Too much attention to analysis can be dysfunctional in organizations, but so too can too little, leading to disorganization. Looking for the key to effectiveness in the light of analysis may be misguided, but expecting to find it in the obscurity of intuition is no more sensible. People have to know formally and explicitly as well as informally and tacitly. Lewis et al. describe the most dysfunctional families as presenting “chaotic structures” and what they call the midrange families as presenting “rigid structures,” while the “most competent families presented flexible structures” (p. 209).

The Worldly Thread

“There is another complex family variable that involves respect for one’s own world view as well as that of others” (p. 207). We hear a great deal these days about globalization, but not much about worldliness. To be global implies a certain conformity. Is this what we want from our managers?

Thinking for ourselves requires that we be worldly, which is defined in my dictionary as “experienced in life, sophisticated, practical.” An interesting mixture of words—and perhaps as close as a set of words can get to what many of us want from our organizations. (See my earlier blog on this.)

To be worldly means to get into the worlds of other people—other cultures, other organizations, even other functions within our own organization. To paraphrase a line by T. S. Eliot that has been overused for good reason, people should be exploring ceaselessly in order to return to where they started and know the place for the first time. This is the worldly mindset.

To appreciate other people’s worlds does not mean to invade their privacy, or “mind-read” them. Lewis et al. found these to be “destructive characteristics”, seen only in “the most severely dysfunctional families” (p. 213). In the midrange families, they found pressures for conformity. But in the healthy families, these researchers found what they called “respectful negotiation…. There was no tidal pull toward a family oneness that obliterates individual distinctions” (p. 211).

The Collaborative Thread

As we move along our tapestry, the social aspects of organizing become more prominent. Collaboration is not about motivating or empowering people, but about helping them to function together. “The trend toward an egalitarian marriage was in striking contrast to both the more distant (and disappointing) marriages of the adequate families and the marital pattern of dominance and submission that so often was seen in dysfunctional families” (p. 210).

Healthy organizations exhibit a sense of respecting, trusting, caring, and inspiring, not to mention listening. To draw more from the Lewis et al. book, “Healthy families were open in the expression of affect. The prevailing mood was one of warmth, and caring. There was a well-developed capacity for empathy” (p. 214).

These days, we hear a good deal about teams and task forces, networking and learning organizations, joint ventures and alliances. Many “subordinates” have become colleagues and many suppliers have become partners. All this requires a shift in managerial styles from controlling to collaborating, leading to linking, empowering to engaging.

The Proactive Thread

“There was little that was passive about healthy families. The family as a unit demonstrated high levels of initiative in responding to input” (Lewis et al., p. 208–209).

All managerial activity is sandwiched between reflection in the abstract and action on the ground—“refl’action” is a word coined by one of our IMPM participants. Nothing gets done when there is too much reflection, while things get done thoughtlessly when there is too much action.

I have saved this for last among the five mindsets because, while reflection can be largely personal, action in organizations is fundamentally social: it cannot happen without the involvement of various people. Managers who try to go it alone typically end up over-controlling—issuing orders and deeming performance in the hope that authority will ensure compliance. Effective managing is essentially a social process.

I use the term proactive rather than active to indicate that this thread is about seizing the initiative—launching action instead of just responding to what happens. Doers grab whatever degrees of freedom they can get and run vigorously with them. To quote Isaac Bashevis Singer in what could be the motto for the effective organization: “We have to believe in free will; we’ve got no choice.”

The Integrative Thread

Lewis et al.’s most important conclusion may be: “…health at the level of family was not a single thread… competence must be considered as a tapestry” (p. 206). Effective organizing is a tapestry woven of the threads of reflection, analysis, worldliness, collaboration, and proactiveness, all of it infused with personal energy and bonded by social integration. Effective organizations harness the “collective mind.”

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. Derived from passages in my books Managing and Simply Managing.

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¹Lewis, J.M., Beavers, W.R., Gossett, J.T., & Phillips, V.A. (1976). No Single Thread: Psychological Health in Family Systems. New York: Brunner/Mazel
²Gosling, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2003). Five Minds of a Manager. Harvard Business Review, 81(11), 54-63
³Mintzberg, H. (2004). Managers, Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.  Citing Daudelin, M.W. (1996). Learning from Experience Through Reflection. Organizational Dynamics, 24(3), 41.

Going public with my puzzle

21 December 2017

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including the box called “thinking outside the box.”

Recently, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was told I would love, as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. Look, I’m a word guy who goes blank in cross-word puzzles (although I delight in inventing words, like TWOG).

On a table, beside this game of ours, sat a jig-saw puzzle, its pieces strewn about near the box that showed what picture to make. Then and there it hit me. These games are too pat for me, too circumscribed, closed-ended. Choose the proper words or move the proper pieces while respecting the proper rules to make the proper picture. I want to fly with ideas, not be grounded by some rules.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including the box called “thinking outside the box.”

Recently, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was told I would love, as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. Look, I’m a word guy who goes blank in cross-word puzzles (although I delight in inventing words, like TWOG).

On a table, beside this game of ours, sat a jig-saw puzzle, its pieces strewn about near the box that showed what picture to make. Then and there it hit me. These games are too pat for me, too circumscribed, closed-ended. Choose the proper words or move the proper pieces while respecting the proper rules to make the proper picture. I want to fly with ideas, not be grounded by some rules.

So let’s call these pat puzzles, to compare them with another kind of puzzle, defined in my dictionary as “a difficult or confusing problem.” These we can call puzzling puzzles. They are not about breaking the rules so much as creating new rules to get around old rules that are broken. To do this, we have to be playful rather than pat. Puzzling puzzles require solutions that are outrageous—until they turn out to be obvious.

In a pat puzzle (jig-saw):

1. The pieces are supplied.
2. Each is clean-cut.
3. They fit together perfectly
4.  To make the picture shown on the box.

(I took this photo of that table in Toronto.)

In a puzzling puzzle

1. The pieces have to be discovered, or created.
2. Each appears obscure, like a fragment.
3. They need to connect, although never neatly.
4. With no box in sight, the picture has to be constructed from these fragments and connections.

(I took this photo of my work table at home, exactly as I had left it earlier, while puzzling over this TWOG. Notice the fragments at the front, loosely connected.)

Pat solutions for puzzling problems?

Why are we so enamored with puzzles that are pat. Sure they can be fun, even useful for problems that are pat. But how about problems that are not? Pat solutions can no more resolve puzzling puzzles than can Monopoly develop entrepreneurs or chess model guerrilla warfare.

We used to play more open-ended puzzles at home. Remember charades—that was playful.  And how about LEGO? It used to let the kids build their own thing, instead of assembling 3-dimentional jig-saw puzzles. Here in Canada, kids used to learn hockey on some local pond. Now they are marched off to a designated arena where a designated coach teaches them the designated way to play. No wonder novelty has declined in professional hockey.

As for adults, look at how much of medicine, management, politics, and life has succumbed to pat programming. Get the patient or the problem into a category, a box where clean-cut pieces can be connected correctly. As a physician, diagnose that disease to apply the proper protocols. As a captain of industry, buy and sell businesses the way you bought and sold Monopoly hotels. In the affairs of state, treat diplomacy like a game of chess. And in life, find a partner on a dating site that lists categories of compatibility.

Some of this is fine when an existing category fits. Hail to those protocols and marriages that work. But problems fester when there is a misfit, or a forced fit, or no fit. A patient falls between the cracks of medical specialties. A merger or marriage proves incompatible beyond the categories. Diplomacy discovers that chess isn’t much of a model when faced with guerrila warfare.

Why do we have this propensity to use pat programming for puzzling problems? Sure, it’s easier. But just as surely, it’s fruitless. Has pat schooling killed our capacity for discovery? Or is it all those convenient apps we use on our phones?  Click and go—no novelty required. (Siri does the thinking.) Do we play too many games that come in e and cardboard boxes, or watch too many sitcoms on that big black box? Maybe we have simply become irrationally rational, thanks to centuries of privileging thinking over seeing and doing.

Our profound puzzle

Now we face a number of particularly difficult and confusing problems—puzzling puzzles that are foreboding, yet continue to fester. These include global warming, income disparities, and declining democracy. I see them as the fragments of a single profound puzzle, which in various TWOGs and a book I attribute to a basic imbalance in society. Narrow economic forces, encouraged by rampant individualism and unrestrained globalization, have been overwhelming our collective and communal needs as human beings. 

What can we do about this imbalance? We can start by putting seeing and doing ahead of thinking. We need a compelling image of what we are facing that can suggest concerted action, so that we can begin to think differently. This is the puzzle that engages me now: how to form that image—a comprehensive picture to see our way to a rebalanced society.

As I probe around—by meeting, reading, testing, tweeting—the fragments of ideas come at me, left and right, in no particular order. (I list some below—in a box of all things!) Imagine the image I am trying to construct as a map on which the fragments can be positioned and connected, to locate ourselves in the territory and construct possible routes to a better place.

Each new fragment contributes to the image that is forming in my mind. So please stay connected as I post the play of this profound puzzle.

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Some fragments for rebalancing society

Some of these fragments have been mentioned in TWOGs, as indicated; others are ideas in progress.

• Focusing corporate social responsibility on the causes of problems, not just their conditions (CSR 2.0)
• Liberating enterprises from the tyranny of the stock market
• Shifting production and consumption away from MORE, toward better
• Encouraging Indigenous development from the inside up
• Putting economic globalization in its place, namely the marketplace (forthcoming)
• Challenging illegitimate trade tribunals in national courts
• Building up the social economy
• Using progressive protests (1 hour longer each day) for impact
• Collaborating among prominent NGOs for common cause, beyond institutional causes
• Establishing a Peace Council (see pp. 92-93) for security instead of insecurity
• Developing a worldly strategy for the global climate (with Dror Etzion and Saku Mantere, submitted for publication)

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This last one may be the start of a map, with key roles of the three sectors located around a circle: grounded engagement in the plural sector, autonomous venturing in the private sector, and orchestrated planning in the public sector. The fragments listed above can be placed near each, but we conclude that real progress will depend, not on a collection of such efforts, but a consolidation of them around the circle.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. My thanks to Dulcie and the gang, Dulcie for the idea of the map, Gavin and Lorraine for the puzzles, and David for explaining why there may now be less novelty in professional hockey.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Please welcome CSR 2.0

7 December 2017

I address this especially to business executives, but as citizens of their societies and neighbors in their communities.

Why do we focus on the conditions of our problems instead of addressing their root causes? Medicine, for example, gives far greater attention to treating diseases than to preventing what caused them in the first place. Jonas Salk provided a telling exception: instead of treating polio, he created a vaccine to eradicate it.

0.0, 1.0, 2.0

I address this especially to business executives, but as citizens of their societies and neighbors in their communities.

Why do we focus on the conditions of our problems instead of addressing their root causes? Medicine, for example, gives far greater attention to treating diseases than to preventing what caused them in the first place. Jonas Salk provided a telling exception: instead of treating polio, he created a vaccine to eradicate it.

0.0, 1.0, 2.0

Much the same can be said about corporate social responsibility, or CSR. A corporation is considered responsible when it attends to the evident conditions of some social or environmental problem. But imagine how much more responsible it would be to address the underlying cause of that problem? Finding a new way to recycle waste may be good, but helping to reduce the generation of that waste is better. Not good, however, is Coca-Cola’s promotion of exercise programs for obese children, because its own products are a significant cause of that obesity. This, like greenwashing—pretending to be environmentally friendly—borders on what we can call Corporate Social Irresponsibility, or CSI.

We are inundated with CSI these days, some of it verging on the criminal—for example, banks that register customers for accounts they never requested or automobile companies that cheat on emission controls. And how about the massive private funding of American election campaigns This is a form of legal corruption tantamount to bribery.

Let’s label the irresponsible activities, CSI 0.0; the responsible attention to conditions, CSR 1.0; and the substantial addressing of cause, CSR 2.0. While we should be appreciating CSR 1.0 for its damage control, we should be welcoming CSR 2.0 for helping to reverse the damage. We need as much serious corporate social responsibility as we can get.

Imbalance as the root cause

I see imbalance in society as the root cause of many of our major problems, including global warming and income disparities. In my book Rebalancing Society, I trace the tipping point toward the current imbalance back to 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

Western pundits at the time declared that capitalism had triumphed, over communism. They were mistaken. Balance had triumphed, over imbalance. A healthy country balances the market forces of the private sector with the democratic needs of the public sector and the community concerns of the plural sector (“civil society”).  Those regimes of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, on the side of their public sectors, while the successful countries of the West were better balanced across their three sectors.

Since 1989, however, there has been a marked decline in the health of many countries, most notably the United States. The country now faces alarmingly high rates of incarceration, obesity, income disparities, and drug taking, accompanied by, of all things, a sharp decline in social mobility (particularly the chances of poor children moving up the social ladder). All of this reflects the escalating imbalance in American society.

The mistaken belief that capitalism triumphed in 1989 has enabled capitalism to triumph since then, tilting the country toward the private sector. Think about the lop-sided lobbying that now overwhelms Congress, as a result of that legal bribery—most of it in favor of business interests. How ironic that the very problem of imbalance that brought down communism is now bringing down democracy.

In much of this, corporate America has hardly been an innocent bystander. This is most evident in the congressional lobbying, but also in the intensification of global warming by the promotion of fossil fuels as well as by the stock markets’ relentless demand for MORE. Likewise have income disparities been widened by the shift to contract work that has diminished workers’ wages while weakening their protections. And at the root of this has been the investor obsession with Shareholder Value, as if no other stakeholders, let alone basic human values, matter.

The business fix? 

Most of our major problems reduce to a single foreboding one: how to reverse the imbalance before it’s too late? There is widespread belief In America that if the country has a problem, business will have to fix it. Proponents of this fix point to private (so called win-win) ventures for example, that bring down the cost of windmills and solar panels. No doubt ”doing well by doing good” is beneficial. Not beneficial, however, are the many companies that do well by doing bad, or else do well by doing nothing. There is no win-win wonderland out there.

Now we see a whole spate of proposals for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Democratic Capitalism (this one with democracy as the adjective and capitalism as the noun!). All of this indicates the problem more than the solution.

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, especially the frenetic stock markets and the deplorable pursuit of Shareholder Value. But that will happen, not by capitalism getting itself right so much as by society getting capitalism into its rightful place, namely the marketplace. How did a word coined to describe the funding of private enterprises become the be all and end all of human existence? It is the balance in society that we need to get right, and that will not be done by business alone, or, for that matter, by government or community action alone.

Responsible Responses

What, then, can responsible businesses do? They can start by recognizing the role they may have played in creating these problems—if not deliberately, then as a byproduct of their economic activity—so that they can address their causes. Moreover, decent businesses will have to challenge the indecencies of other businesses, not least by supporting legislation intended to correct these indecencies.  Above all is the need for responsible businesses to engage in more collaboration with government organizations and community associations. Consequential solutions, especially for the problem of imbalance itself, will have to come from consolidating the capabilities of the major institutions of all three sectors: communities engage, governments legitimize, businesses invest.

Is the private sector prepared to recognize that it has too much power? Are many of us ready to temper our self-serving individualism for the sake of our collective and communal needs in society? Will international businesses and the international agencies so beholden to economic dogma acknowledge the social, political, and environmental downsides of globalization (to be discussed in a forthcoming TWOG)? History offers scant evidence of centers of power voluntarily relinquishing power. But these are no ordinary times, with the looming threat of global warming and the prevalence of nuclear weapons in a world of so many thugs in high office.

So, please, enough of business as usual, especially in the form of CSI 0.0. Beyond CSR 1.0, it is time for CSR 2.0—time for the citizens and neighbors who work in business to get serious about corporate social responsibility.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. For more on this issue, see Part V (“Who Should Control the Corporation?”) of my book Power In and Around Organizations (out of print, but available for downloading at no cost, also in a summary article). This lays 8 positions around a horseshoe, from state control to full autonomy, with the CSR position in the middle (Chapter 20).

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Enough of MORE: Better is better

9 November 2017

Mostly I blog about managing organizations and rebalancing societies. This time I connect the two, to appreciate how both are brought down by MORE, or else lifted up by better. 

Enough of MORE: of all our excessive production and consumption, with its destructive waste and warming. MORE is ravaging our enterprises, our societies, our planet, and ourselves. We can do better.

Creating an Enterprise

You have a compelling idea and lots of energy, so you create an enterprise. You may not have much money, but with the help of an understanding banker, alongside your own sweat capital—those 15 hour days—you succeed! Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, and the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

Mostly I blog about managing organizations and rebalancing societies. This time I connect the two, to appreciate how both are brought down by MORE, or else lifted up by better. 

Enough of MORE: of all our excessive production and consumption, with its destructive waste and warming. MORE is ravaging our enterprises, our societies, our planet, and ourselves. We can do better.

Creating an Enterprise

You have a compelling idea and lots of energy, so you create an enterprise. You may not have much money, but with the help of an understanding banker, alongside your own sweat capital—those 15 hour days—you succeed! Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, and the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

OK, maybe you did this this to make a lot of money, or become celebrated, or avoid having a boss. But if you are a real entrepreneur, your incentive went further, to building something special: an engaging enterprise with its own sense of communityship, beyond your leadership.

As the enterprise grows, however, you become concerned.  What if you get hit by a truck?  Or you wish to retire in the manner to which you have become accustomed. Or you want to grow faster than your existing resources will allow. Your financial friends tell you to do an IPO, an Initial Public Offering: cash out, or get the cash in. Let new shareholders fund faster growth. It sounds good, so you agree. This becomes the turning point. 

Grabbing MORE 

The first sign of trouble is the realization that, while you wanted more, the stock market is intent on grabbing MORE. It doesn’t care about your ideas or your customers or your workers, except as a means to relentless, one-dimensional growth, for the sake of “Shareholder Value”. You discover that this has nothing to do with decent values, your own included. You are running a publicly-traded company now, so you must keep feeding the beast. ¹

As a consequence, a different feeling is enveloping your enterprise, replacing its sense of communityship. The market analysts are analyzing, the day traders are trading, the financial sharks are circling, the stock market is demanding—a performance report every three months. Every three months! How can anybody manage a company this way? Was that IPO really worth it?

But it’s too late. Anyway, you are getting greater growth, albeit accompanied by greater pressure. Eventually you find yourself running out of the usual customers, and it’s tough to get new ones with the old ideas, or new ideas with this new Value. And so comes the key question: How to get MORE when there is no more to be had, at least not in the way that you built the enterprise?

Ravaging the Enterprise

The answers are all too easy: just look at other IPOs. (1) Exploit the existing customers. Bamboozle pricing is a good idea—customers can’t figure it out. Or how about reducing quality, to get MORE by giving less? You can also charge excessively for servicing the products that your customers are stuck with. (2) There is one old idea you can use to bring in new customers: Trash the brand. Sell to those who were not willing to pay for the high-end products of which you used to be so proud. In other words, cash in your legacy, quick! (3) If you can’t increase the revenues, then you can certainly cut the costs: cut maintenance, cut research, cut everything out of sight, except the executive perks. (4) And don’t forget to squeeze the workers, by putting them on short-term contracts at lower pay, without benefits. Better still, fire the whole lot of them and produce off-shore. (5) And when all else fails: Diversify. Get into all kinds of new businesses you don’t understand. So what: you’re big now, with lots of money to throw at them.

Ravaging Society and Self

Your enterprise has now become a global corporation, with obligation to no country, least of all your own, where it no longer pays taxes anyway. So why not go whole hog, so to speak? Do well by doing bad. (6) Collude with your competitors to create a cartel, or better still, buy them out altogether—in the name of competition. (7) And—in the name of free enterprise—lobby governments all over the globe to grant subsidies for your industry, and to rid it of those annoying regulations. If you do eventually go bankrupt, which can actually happen to companies that exploit, fear not: you have become “too big to fail.” Thanks to your political donations, the government you betrayed will bail you out, shifting the costs of your failure to society at large. (The economists, right in step with such shenanigans, call this an “externality”!)

But one day you wake up to the realization that you have been ravaging yourself. “Could I have been responsible for all this, by doing that IPO? I used to love my business. We had a great time serving the customers I worked so hard to keep. I had pride in our place, our products, our people. Now the customers write me nasty emails and the workers glare at me when I see them (which is rarely). For what reason have I cashed in my legacy: to amass all that money I can’t spend?”

Imagine a country full of such corporations, let alone a whole planet of them. We’re getting there. By hogging resources that could be recycled to build vibrant new enterprises, these kinds of companies are distorting our economies and debilitating our societies. (Why can’t they just die of sudden strokes, instead of these prolonged corporate cancers?) By playing countries off against each other, they are undermining our democracies. And by their relentless fostering of production and consumption, they are damaging our planet. Not all corporations do this, just too many. How much MORE can we take?

One-dimensional companies, like one-dimensional people, are pathological: they are an invasive species that has no business in a healthy society. Edward Abbey said it best in 1975: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Why build engaging enterprises only to jettison their engagement?

Getting Better

Let’s go back to that fateful decision about the IPO. You were a real leader when you built your enterprise. Why become a follower now, with yet another IPO? Are you really beholden to the stock market? There are better ways to finance enterprise. (a) Find some patient, decent capital, that will allow you to grow responsibly and sustainably. (b) Or do an IPO that keeps the analysts at bay by issuing two kinds of stock, as did Tata in India and Novo Nordisk in Denmark, with family trusts that control a majority of the voting shares. (c) How about converting to B or Benefit Corporation status, with a commitment—legal in one case, voluntary in the other—to respect social and environmental needs? My own publisher, Berrett-Koehler, profitable in a difficult industry, took the legal, B Corp route. It also offered its stock directly to its own authors and other stakeholders. (Disclosure: I am an owner of my publisher!) (d) This suggests another option—crowdfunding, where many people each buy a little bit of the ownership.

As for start-ups: (e) Consider relying on funding by loans and retained earnings, at least if you don’t need heavy investment. This is supplemented by sweat capital, the real investment in truly entrepreneurial enterprises. (f) How about creating the business as a cooperative, with one share each owned by the customers (as in a credit union bank), or the suppliers (as in a farmers’ cooperative), or the workers (as in the Mondragon Federation, started in the Basque region of Spain in 1955, now with 74,000 workers, in 268 businesses, and sales of €12 billion). By the way, there are more cooperative memberships in the United States than people. (g) Here’s an idea that may sound crazy: give your existing company away to its employees—you know, those people who actually care about the place, unlike the day traders who own it. Is it really crazy to carry this kind of legacy to your grave instead of destroying the one you built up so carefully? The John Lewis Partnership in the U.K. did this in 1950. Since then, while so many chains of department stores and supermarkets have come and gone, this one continues, acclaimed and profitable, with its 84,000 “partners”. Would the name “John Lewis” mean anything to Brits today if the family did an IPO? (h) One step farther is to dispense with ownership altogether and create a social enterprise— a business set up as a trust that is owned by no-one. Look around—they are proliferating. Think about the YMCAs. In fact, many NGOs have business activities alongside their more prominent social ones, to help support the latter. The Red Cross, for example, sells swimming lessons.

Better is better

Economists insist that MORE is the way forward. Nonsense. It is the way backward, economically as well as socially. We don’t have to destroy our progeny and our planet for the sake of this senseless dogma. Sure we need development and employment, but responsible development, with robust employment. A healthy society is sustained by a diverse, responsible economy, not one driven by the mercenary force of one-dimensional growth. Stock markets have done enough damage.

There are many impoverished people all over the world who need more: more food, more employment, more housing, more security. What they don’t need is the MORE that is depreciating the so-called developed world. When do all of us, in both these worlds, get to live honorably, fully? What is development for anyway?

We would do well by shifting our economies from MORE toward better. While MORE is about quantities, better is about qualities. They lift us up instead of dragging us down. We can invest our efforts and our resources in durable products, healthier foods, personalized services, properly-funded education. Rather than reducing employment, a shift to better can enhance it, with higher paying jobs in healthier enterprises. When we work better, we feel better, and so we do better and live better. Our societies become better…and sustainably democratic.

Imagine a world of getting better, instead of grabbing MORE.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

Administered by Tanya Sardana

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

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ᶦIn March of 2015, a deranged pilot flew a Germanwings airplane into the face of a mountain, murdering 150 people. Just over a month later, a New York Times article reported from a shareholders’ meeting that “at a time when Lufthansa faces urgent commercial challenges…many shareholders expressed concern...that the Germanwings tragedy risks detracting management from its turnaround efforts.” One portfolio manager claimed that Lufthansa management “will have to come back to reality.” The murder of 150 people was apparently a distraction; reality is getting back to managing Value for the shareholders.

Uber Uber über alles

27 October 2017

This TWOG is co-authored with Leslie Breitner, Director of McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (www.imhl.org)

(Image source: www.cbc.ca)

Until 1945, the German people sang their national anthem beginning with  the line “Deutschland Deutschland über alles” (“above all else”).  Today many people sing “Uber Uber über alles”, whether for or against. 

One of us sings for, the other against. The two of us live in Montreal, work together, and leaving Uber aside, are good friends. Leslie lived her life in the United States, with a brief time in France, until she moved to Montreal in 2010. Henry is a born and bred Montrealer, with years spent in England and France as well as some in the U.S. This may help to explain our differences over Uber.

This TWOG is co-authored with Leslie Breitner, Director of McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (www.imhl.org)

(Image source: www.cbc.ca)

Until 1945, the German people sang their national anthem beginning with  the line “Deutschland Deutschland über alles” (“above all else”).  Today many people sing “Uber Uber über alles”, whether for or against. 

One of us sings for, the other against. The two of us live in Montreal, work together, and leaving Uber aside, are good friends. Leslie lived her life in the United States, with a brief time in France, until she moved to Montreal in 2010. Henry is a born and bred Montrealer, with years spent in England and France as well as some in the U.S. This may help to explain our differences over Uber.

Leslie on Uber über the competition
I love technology, innovation, convenience and novelty, when it makes sense. Uber came on the scene with attractive pricing, but it was more about convenience and ease of use…no phone call, no confusion about where to pick up, and, best of all, no money exchange in the car. Upon arrival, a simple “thank you” and you’re on your way.

Is Uber a “disruptive innovation”? Does it matter?  What matters is that Uber and other ride-sharing companies have been disrupting the taxi business for the sake of better service, around the world, for almost a decade. Surely by now the taxi companies have had time to get their apps together.

I believe in a lawful society. I pay my taxes in two countries. But I also understand the time-honored tradition to avoid taxes by all legal means available. Beyond this, laws are regularly flouted when they are patently foolish, or exist to support monopolistic practices. This form of civil disobedience brings attention to the need for change. Along with Uber in transportation, Airbnb competes with traditional hotels, and Turo with traditional car rental companies. Hotels gouged people on personal phone calls, and then on Internet services, until mobile phones and Airbnb came along.  Turo avoids excessive airport taxes by enabling people to rent cars just offsite or from private owners who pick you up at the airport.

Governments must make laws that protect us, but that are also in our best interests. A level playing field and fair competition are important but, as we may be seeing now with Uber, an equilibrium can eventually be achieved through cooperation, negotiation and collaboration, allowing the type of choice one expects in a democracy.

Henry on Uber über the workers, the regulations, and governments
The dominating song today is really that of globalization: “Investors Investors über alles”—über the workers, über the rules and regulations, über national sovereignty. Make no mistake about it: Uber is just the latest version of the worker-busting practices that for some years have been driving middle class wages toward the minimum wage, to the delight of shareholders and customers alike. First the unions were busted, then job security was busted together with worker benefits, and with the resulting reduction of earnings has come busting of the social fabric of societies. No wonder so many people have had it with an economic globalization that is riding roughshod over decency and democracy.

People who operate real taxis had to buy that right from their municipal governments, and abide by various regulations designed to protect the public. Then Uber waltzed in and ignored all this while city administrations turned their backs. Better not mess with globalization. But certainly, mess with local workers. Why shouldn’t they too be earning minimum wage, so that we well-paid people, including those who run our governments, can cash in on the convenience? And as the taxi drivers fight back, they get labelled the bad guys, who are rude and drive dirty cars. (If this happens more often now, perhaps it’s because they are tired of being screwed.)

Uber claims it is not a taxi service. (Just as I claim that this is not a blog because I call it a TWOG.) Funny, because Uber picks up people and ferries them around the city for a fare. Sure sounds like a taxi service to me. No, they say, it’s a ride-sharing service. Maybe originally, but when was the last time you shared an Uber car with a stranger? OK then, Uber drivers are self-employed. Well, what are the taxi-drivers who own their permits and join a co-op? We live in a world of fake words too.

Apple has succeeded by competing with better products. Uber succeeds by cheating with a better service. It is the ultimate pit bull in a globe of pit bull corporations—apparently in its management and corporate culture too. The following sentence appeared in a recent article in The New York Times, about London’s efforts to rid itself of Uber: “There is a feeling in the air that regulators should stand up to businesses that simply ignore any regulations they don’t like.”  Really? Stand up to global corporations, holding them to the rule of law? What a novel idea! This is not a feeling in the air; there’s a sledgehammer striking the ground.

Leslie and Henry: Synergy über alles? 
Maybe we are both right. Our differing perspectives might just be a matter of context. Leslie cites corruption in the taxi industry, which has been especially so in New York City with its medallions — there are now fewer than in 1937, when they were first introduced, at $10! Certain people made fortunes on these – the price went to well over a million dollars before Uber became prominent — while some of the drivers who rented their cars struggled. In other words, in New York at least, this decimation of earnings preceded Uber, although it has hardly abated. So why shouldn’t the overwhelming proportion of NY drivers who don’t own medallions switch to Uber?

Henry points out that in Montreal, taxis are plentiful, many of them driven by polite owners who earned better incomes, at least before Uber came along. The city has tight restrictions on the number of permits that can be owned, tied to the individual ownership of the cars themselves. In other words, contexts do vary. Montreal may be closer than New York to what happens in cities elsewhere that have been challenging Uber.

Is what we have here, therefore, a solution to a corruption problem in New York City being applied to cities where that problem doesn’t exist? Is this, in other words, a case of the American exceptionalism, forsaken by Donald Trump in foreign policy, only to be carried on by American corporations in the global marketplace? That’s at least how many Canadians see the world today, and many Europeans too. Americans love novelty, and the competition that brings it, while Canadians tend to be more suspicious of aggressive multinationals, and more concerned about the underdog and fair play.

It seems to us that our positions can be reconciled—synergistically, if you like. Keep the benefits of the Ubers, but force them to play by the rules, at least sensible rules. This may be happening in Montreal right now. When the government of Quebec recently sought to impose restrictions on Uber, the company said it would leave by a certain date. The government didn’t cave, and Uber didn’t leave. Now on the table is a proposal to have Uber buy a certain number of permits, to collect and pay taxes as well as fees per ride, and to ensure that its drivers are properly licensed and insured while the cars are regularly inspected. In other words, act like the taxi company Uber is. The company is not exactly signaling its delight with this proposal, but it could be one way to maintain the innovations while ending the indecencies. Will this throw the Uber baby out with the taxi bathwater? Who knows?

Established taxi businesses certainly need to wake up—more quickly. They can do a better job of replicating many of Uber’s innovations. (Prepaying by credit card, for example, is hardly under patent.) Meanwhile, other variations are popping up all over the place. In London, using Gett, some of the legendary black cabs provide service via a mobile phone app. The rider can choose to pay a fixed fee up front or go by the meter. In the U.S., governments are now scrambling to strike a balance between the growing need for flexible urban transportation and protecting the interests of the taxi drivers.

Even Leslie has her own hybrid service: she met a licenced driver who prefers to drive his own customers. So, for certain needs, she arranges directly with him, at taxi rates. Yes, she actually pays more than for Uber. But in the bargain, she is assured that his car will always be clean and well-maintained, and most important, that she has a safe driver she can trust—indeed, someone who has become almost a friend.  Leslie has struck her own blow for decency.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

© Henry Mintzberg and Leslie Breitner, 2017.

Administered by Tanya Sardana

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¹Apparently, this line originally referred to a unified Germany over its parts, but the Nazis presumably had something else in mind. This line is no longer officially sung.

²“Why Clayton Christensen is Wrong About Uber and Disruptive Innovation”, by Alex Moazed and Nicholas L. Johnson, Techcrunch.com (27 February 2016)

³“London and Über: It’s Complicated” by Helen Lewis (23 September 2017)

“Guns don’t kill, people kill.” Sure, but… people with guns kill.

4 October 2017

This blog is updated from one posted on mintzberg.org/blog on 25 October 2015, under the title “Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms?”

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the people of America “the right to keep and bear arms.” Companies that sell arms thus make a great deal of money, the consequences be damned. So here is a conversation I fantasize having with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

“Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms, say in a shopping bag?”

And they reply: “Are you some sort of nut?”

This blog is updated from one posted on mintzberg.org/blog on 25 October 2015, under the title “Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms?”

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the people of America “the right to keep and bear arms.” Companies that sell arms thus make a great deal of money, the consequences be damned. So here is a conversation I fantasize having with the people who run the National Rifle Association.

“Do the people of America have the right to bear nuclear arms, say in a shopping bag?”

And they reply: “Are you some sort of nut?”

To which I retort: “Not at all. This is the answer I expected. We have now established the basic point: that a line has to be drawn somewhere. Where do you draw it: between nuclear bombs and cluster bombs? cluster bombs and automatic weapons? automatic weapons and handguns?” (A friend who hunts tells me that a one-shot rifle is all he needs. But he hunts deer, not people.)

I draw the line between guns and knives because, with knives in every kitchen, it’s tough to control them. (Handguns account for far more murders in the United States than do knives.) The right to bear arms may have made some sense when muskets were the only arms available, and took time to reload, with no 911 to call. But technology has moved on: now we have arms that can mass kill as fast as anyone can dial 9-1-1.

Here’s another mantra of the gun lobby: “Guns don’t kill; people kill.” Actually, people with guns kill, whether a toddler who mistakenly shoots a sibling or a lunatic in a hotel room who wantonly murders many people. (In total, on average, 93 Americans will die from gun violence today.)

Then there is the mantra that “We need more guns, not less”, presumably so that an innocent bystander can be ready to kill some killer. Can you remember the last time you heard that an innocent bystander killed a killer? In contrast, today may well be the latest time an innocent bystander was killed by a killer.

A young woman, traumatized by witnessing a mass killing, mouthed this mantra to a TV reporter. So why didn’t she have a gun in her pocket, finger on the trigger ready to kill him? After all, she could have bought one just as easily as he did. OK, so she didn’t expect a mass killing in her neighborhood. But fear not (really fear yes): with this attitude, one can’t be far away.

And here is a truly true fact: In the official copy of the Second Amendment, kept in the National Archives, this right to bear arms is qualified: “...a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Like the Swiss who, in case of hostilities, keep their one rifle in a closet, tightly regulated, Americans were given the right to bear arms for the sake of security, not murder, not even for the profit of private companies. 

So what’s going on here? Can people be that mindless, or that manipulated? It looks to be both. The Tea Party website used to have the following on its list of “Non-negotiable Core Beliefs”: “Gun ownership is sacred” and “Special interests must be eliminated.” The gun lobby is apparently not a special interest! And think about the ability of special interests to use the media to manipulate the minds of millions, including that young woman.

Can’t get rid of guns? How about getting rid of the right to take them anywhere? Better still, how about a constitutional amendment that puts a "not" in there somewhere? Dream on. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is not about buying, keeping, or transporting guns. It’s about bribery. When the Supreme Court granted corporations, as “persons” in the law, the right to make political donations to their hearts’ content, it legalized bribery. With these donations came the lop-sided lobbying that now dominates Congress, and is destroying the country’s renowned democracy. Guns are just the most blatant example of how the decent folks of America have lost control of their country.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017, 2015. To go deeper into this world out of whack, see my book Rebalancing Society https://www.amazon.ca/Rebalancing-Society-Radical-Renewal-Beyond/dp/1626....

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Transformation from the top? How about engagement on the ground?

15 September 2017

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

The company has a new chief, with 100 days to show the stock market some quick wins. Not the usual wins: transformation is the game. Hurry up and reinvent the whole company.

But where to begin? That’s easy: at the “top”. Where else when there’s such pressure. Besides, any chief who has been to a business school or reads the business press knows that it’s all about leadership: the boss who does the thinking that drives everyone else. Louis XIV said “L'état, c'est moi!” Today’s corporate CEO says “The enterprise, that’s me!”

John Kotter has written the widespread word on transformation, at the Harvard Business School, where so many of the cases are about the chief.  Here is the Kotter model, in eight steps.

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Form a powerful guiding coalition.
3. Create a vision.
4. Communicate the vision.
5. Empower others to act on the vision.
6. Plan for and create short-term wins.
7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change.
8. Institutionalize new approaches.

Please read this again, asking yourself, every step of the way, who does each? The chief. Beyond an inner circle, everyone else is there to pursue the vision, obediently. Indeed, the article states that “powerful individuals who resist the change effort” must be removed. What if they have good reason to resist? Can there be no debate, no discussion? Is the contemporary corporation the court of Louis XIV?

“Establish a sense of urgency”, to barrel ahead: the wolves of Wall Street are braying at the door. “A guiding coalition”—with “senior managers [always at] the core”—will “create a vision”: out of the thin air of the top? Is this any place to understand what’s happening on the ground? No wonder so many big companies can’t get past me-too strategies they call “visions”. Then “Communicate the vision” to that obedient staff on the ground—to continue with the clichés, by “empowering [them] to act on the vision”, as if people hired to do a job need permission to do it.

And keep those “short-term wins” coming with “still more change”—more and more and more change. Where is continuity in all this, given that change without continuity is anarchy? (Be careful of words like “transformation”, because change has to be about sustaining what’s good no less than changing what isn’t.) Finally, don’t forget to “institutionalize” the whole thing: after all, this is the holy writ. And whatever you do, and wherever you are, top or bottom, don’t learn, at least about the vision—that was finalized in Step 3.

If change is so good, how come such models of change hardly change? Kotter has been promoting essentially this one since 1995.  How about a change of perspective for a change: recognizing the top as a misguided metaphor that can distort behavior. Are the best strategies really formulated from on high, by looking down? Or do they form amidst the clutter of the real life of the organization: making products, providing services, attending to customers? Everyone deeply involved can think constructively, CEOs too, although sometimes the best thinking comes from unexpected sources, such as a worker who sews the seeds of a great new vision. Imagine that!

Actually, you don’t need to imagine that. Instead, consider this story from IKEA, about selling much of its furniture unassembled, so that customers can take it home in their cars, saving money for them and the company.  This powerful guiding vision transformed the IKEA business model as well as much of the furniture business. So where did it begin? With a worker. “Exploration of flat packaging begins when one of the first IKEA co-workers removes the legs of the LÖVET table so that it will fit into a car and avoid damage during transit” (from IKEA.com).

But someone had to come up with the key insight that “If we have to take the legs off, maybe our customers have to do so as well.” That needed to be someone on site, maybe that worker, or a foreman, perhaps even the CEO, since the best entrepreneurs spend much of their time on site. But if it was someone else, then this insight had to be conveyed to the chief so that he could sprinkle holy water on it. And this suggests an organization of open communication, throughout, not one fixated on tops and bottoms, where so many ideas like this get lost. In such an open organization, sustaining culture matters a lot more than transforming everything.

John Kotter acknowledges that major change can take years.  I asked someone in IKEA how long it took to develop this new business model fully. He said 15 years! Wait a minute: according to the stock market, you’re not supposed to do that. Why couldn’t they just get it done in 100 days? Please list all the furniture companies that succeeded by doing that.

So instead of a model of top-down transformation, how about a process of grounded engagement? I call it communityship: don’t look for the word in the dictionary, let alone at the top of any organization.  Here are a few basics of it—not steps, no order, non-linear, just a composite, like change itself.

Effective organizations are communities of engaged human beings, not collections of passive human resources. (I have used this sentence many times before, and will keep using it until it is taken seriously.) These organizations have no tops or bottoms, no “leader” who has to think for everyone else. Everyone is engaged; communityship is fundamentally indigenous.

Anyone can come up with a great idea for change.  Have you ever told a joke? Good, because you can change the world. Most jokes, and creative ideas, are just little switches. (See my blog on “The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary Creativity.”) Here’s an example: “I want to die like my grandfather died, quietly, in his sleep. Not like those other people in the car who died yelling and screaming.” The little switch: grandpa was not in bed after all. At IKEA, the little switch, the critical insight, was: “If we have to take the legs off…” Such little switches are no big deal, even if they can launch very big deals. I’ll bet that people who take that top seriously tell fewer jokes, or worse ones, than people whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. 

Communication is open, so that ideas get shared easily. With no top and bottom in communityship, people just connect, for the sake of progress. A fixed hierarchy gives way to flexible networks. That insight at IKEA must have made its way to a management that was listening all around, not looking down.

Strategies, whether as overall visions or market positions, emerge gradually from grounded learning; they are not immaculately conceived. Many of the greatest strategies really do form, rather than being formulated, in a process nurtured by an engaged management that cares, not a heroic leadership that cures. And this process is not primarily about doing competitive analyses, although these can sometimes help. It is about committed people prepared to learn their collective way to unexpected strategies, one switch at a time. (In the last paragraph of his article, Kotter notes that “In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises.” This sentence belonged in the first paragraph, where it could have changed many of the other paragraphs.) Of course, there is the need to pull diverse insights together, which is usually overseen by a management that’s on top of what’s going on, not on top of a hierarchy.

One final point: Often companies turn to the fix of transformation after a spell of disconnection. Those companies that stay connected, through communityship, don’t need step-by-step fixes. So please, all you serious managers, professors, and pundits, come down to earth, symbolically and literally. Get a bit playful with your strategies and your jokes: you just might find that effective change balanced with continuity follows, naturally: No need for transformation!

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org) focuses on communityship more than leadership and learning strategies more than planning strategy, by encouraging managers to engage, not pronounce.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

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¹Cases at the Harvard Business School “exaggerate the role of individual leaders. 62 per cent of cases feature heroic managers acting alone”, according to an internal HBS study. (Andrew Hill in his column in the Financial Times, “Harvard and its business school acolytes are due for a rethink”, 7 May 2017.)  

 ²Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” Harvard Business Review (March-April 1995; reprinted January 2007; table below and quote following from the later version.

Dave Ulrich with colleagues, while involved with the GE WorkOut program around 1990, developed a similar model in steps, called the Change Acceleration Process (date reported to me in personal correspondence). In fact, the similarities are striking: Ulrich et al. listed “Seven Universal Principles for making change happen:1. Ensure leadership commitment, 2. Create a shared need, 3. Articulate a desired direction or vision, 4. Mobilize commitment, 5. Turn the long-term change into short-term decisions, 6. Institutionalize change. 7. Monitor progress and learn along the way.” (See Dave Ulrich, Mary Ann Von Glinow, Todd Jick, Arthur Yeung, and Steve Nason.  1993.  Learning Organization, Culture Change, and Competitiveness:  How Managers Can Build Learning Capability.  Monograph prepared for the International Consortium of Executive Development and Research. For the latest rendition: Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood.  2013.  Leadership Sustainability:  Seven disciplines to achieve the changes great leaders know they must make.  New York:  McGraw Hill.)

 ³Some words have changed, but not the steps or the tone. For example, Kotter International now writes of “Building” rather than “Forming a guiding coalition”. #5 has become “Remove obstacles”, albeit still to empower people to execute the vision, and #8 says “Anchor the changes in corporate culture”

 ⁴I first used the term in a Financial Times article titled “Community-ship is the answer” (23 October 2006).

In a dangerous world, mine can no longer be bigger than yours

12 August 2017

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Why do we have juveniles running the world, obsessed with demonstrating that "mine is bigger than yours"? The president of the country with the largest nuclear arsenal on earth insists that no other country will ever have a bigger one, as if 7000 warheads are insufficient. Why does this country give any single person—let alone this loose cannon—the power to launch that? The only answer I can imagine is that “getting them before they get us” has had higher priority than protecting life on earth from an inadvertent catastrophe.

For his part, Putin insists on making Russia bigger, if not better, at the expense of its neighbors. At the expense of its people too, who pay the price of these leadership ego trips. But more so the people of North Korea, and the American soldiers who fell in Vietnam and Iraq.

Blame not just Putin, but NATO, because when the Cold War ended, it too decided to get bigger, by taking in nations on Russia’s flanks. With the Cold War gone, NATO had nothing to do. And so it found something to do, namely bring the Cold War back. Putin  was quiet then, not now.Talk about irresponsible posturing.

Meanwhile China sticks it to a weaker neighbor over some irrelevant hunk of rock in the sea This it does to claim--or is it to grow?—its territory. Boys may be boys, but we had better get the juveniles out of the schoolyard before they blow us all to bits.

Russia and China are ruled by power. America is ruled by reverence. Americans revere their president the way Catholics revere the Pope. Now CNN broadcasts its relentless disparagement of the incumbent alongside its mindless deference to the office, as if the two can be separated. Will American children be reciting the name Donald Trump alongside Thomas Jefferson?

Face it: the president of the United States of America is an unscrupulous ignoramus.  Yet almost half the voting population put him into office, and may well do something similar in the future. Accordingly, despite the many thoughtful and concerned people in the United States, can anyone outside the country ever trust it again? Now we have the incumbent facing off on behalf of the “free world” against the devious brute of North Korea. They deserve each other, but no-one else deserves either of them. Hold your breath.

The problem is built into the organization—really the disorganization—of our world. In a village with weak government and no police force, the thugs take over. This is the state of our global village. Three countries have taken over, and vie with each other for power: over who has more nuclear weapons, or greater control of its neighbors, or an additional hunk of rock in the sea. Thanks to “leaders” who never made it past the schoolyard, we may never make it past them.

What's the alternative? To wake up, not such leadership, but all of us who tolerate its nonsense. Thankfully, more and more people across the political spectrum, hitherto passive, are getting the message. Never before have so many concerned people been prepared to vote with their feet, their ballots, and their pocketbooks. They just need some way to channel that energy into constructive change. And that will take some new thinking. So how about this, for starters at least?

There are almost 200 countries in the world, some of whose governments are insufferable, but many others that are quietly democratic. Acting together, as a coalition of concerned democracies, the latter could exert their influence to challenge the bullies who put us at risk.

We need world government with teeth and legitimacy, not a Security Council whose five permanent members all have nuclear weapons, histories of bullying, and rank (with Germany) as the largest exporters of armaments in the world. This is an Insecurity Council, and judging from Syria, a War Council. We need a Peace Council.

Does such change sound utopian? Sure it does. Shall we therefore stick with what we have, and destroy ourselves sooner or later?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.  

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A CEO letter to the Board...long overdue

29 July 2017

Dear Members of the Board

I am writing to you with a proposal that may seem radical, but is in fact conservative. That is because my primary concern as Chief Executive Officer is to conserve this company as a healthy enterprise. You are now paying me so much that I can no longer manage this company as I should. I hereby request that you cut my salary in half and eliminate my bonuses.

We have talked a great deal about teamwork in our enterprise, that our people are all in this together. So why am I singled out by virtue of my compensation? Bonuses are the worst part of it. Like everyone else in this company, I am being paid to do my job. Why should I be paid extra to do a good job? If I believe in this company, I buy the stock. If I don’t, I quit. The misguided assumption behind these bonuses is that I, as CEO, do it all.

Dear Members of the Board

I am writing to you with a proposal that may seem radical, but is in fact conservative. That is because my primary concern as Chief Executive Officer is to conserve this company as a healthy enterprise. You are now paying me so much that I can no longer manage this company as I should. I hereby request that you cut my salary in half and eliminate my bonuses.

We have talked a great deal about teamwork in our enterprise, that our people are all in this together. So why am I singled out by virtue of my compensation? Bonuses are the worst part of it. Like everyone else in this company, I am being paid to do my job. Why should I be paid extra to do a good job? If I believe in this company, I buy the stock. If I don’t, I quit. The misguided assumption behind these bonuses is that I, as CEO, do it all.

Now I am getting hate mail from our employees about my pay. This is certainly disconcerting, but more troublesome is that I have no reasonable reply, short of claiming that I must be several hundred times more important than they are. Is this leadership? Is it any way to run a company?

We have had a good deal of discussion at our board meetings about the long-term health of this company. Why then am I being rewarded for short-term gains in the stock price? You all know perfectly well that I can use all kinds of tricks to drive up that price, and so reach my bonuses, while destroying real value—and helping to do a number on our economy too.

Ever since we started this Shareholder Value nonsense, our values have gone to hell. The frontline employees tell me that this gets in the way of serving customers: they are forced to see dollar signs out there, not people. Consequently, many of them don’t give a damn any more. As one put it to me recently: “With all this counting, we don’t count. So why should we care?”

I have always prided myself on being a risk taker; that is one reason you put me in this job. So how come I cash in big when the stock price goes up but pay nothing back when it goes down? Some risk taker! You know what: I’m tired of being a hypocrite.

I know the excuse we have been using all along: that I am just being compensated to keep up with CEOs in other companies. This makes me a follower, not a leader.  Enough of this complicity in behavior that we all know to be shameful. My salary should not be some kind of external trophy, but an internal signal about the culture we are trying to build.

So please, help me to concentrate on managing this company as it should be managed.

Sincerely,

Your CEO

© Henry Mintzberg 2017.

An early version of this commentary was published in the Financial Times, as “There's no compensation for hypocrisy" (29 October 1999), and it first appeared on this blog on 24 October 2014. I post it here now, with revisions, in the hope that some responsible CEO somewhere will finally listen.

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What could possibly be wrong with “efficiency”? Plenty.

14 July 2017

Modified version of blog posted 10 October 2014 and, 9 September 2015.

Efficiency is like motherhood. It gets us the greatest bang for the buck, to use an old military expression. Herbert Simon, winner of one of those non-Nobel prizes in economics, called efficiency a value-free, completely neutral concept. You decide what benefits you want; efficiency gets you them at the least possible cost. Who could possibly argue with that?

Me, for one.

I list below a couple of things that are efficient. Ask yourself what am I referring to—the first words that pop into your head.

A restaurant is efficient.

Did you think about speed of service? Most people do. Few think about the quality of the food. Is that the way you chose your restaurants?

Modified version of blog posted 10 October 2014 and, 9 September 2015.

Efficiency is like motherhood. It gets us the greatest bang for the buck, to use an old military expression. Herbert Simon, winner of one of those non-Nobel prizes in economics, called efficiency a value-free, completely neutral concept. You decide what benefits you want; efficiency gets you them at the least possible cost. Who could possibly argue with that?

Me, for one.

I list below a couple of things that are efficient. Ask yourself what am I referring to—the first words that pop into your head.

A restaurant is efficient.

Did you think about speed of service? Most people do. Few think about the quality of the food. Is that the way you chose your restaurants?

My house is efficient.

Energy consumption always comes out way ahead. Tell me: who ever bought a house for its energy consumption, compared with, say, its design, or its location?

What’s going on here? It’s quite obvious as soon as we realize it. When we hear the word efficiency we zero in―subconsciously―on the most measurable criteria, like speed of service or consumption of energy. Efficiency means measurable efficiency. That’s not neutral at all, since it favors what can best be measured. And herein lies the problem, in three respects:

1. Because costs are usually easier to measure than benefits, efficiency often reduces to economy: cutting measurable costs at the expense of less measurable benefits. Think of all those governments that have cut the costs of health care or education while the quality of those services have deteriorated. (I defy anyone to come up with an adequate measure of what a child really learns in a classroom.) How about those CEOs who cut budgets for research so that they can earn bigger bonuses right away, or the student who found all sorts of ways to make an orchestra more efficient.

2. Because economic costs are typically easier to measure than social costs, efficiency can actually result in an escalation of social costs. Making a factory or a school more efficient is easy, so long as you don’t care about the air polluted or the minds turned off learning. I’ll bet the factory that collapsed in Bangladesh was very efficient.

3. Because economic benefits are typically easier to measure than social benefits, efficiency drives us toward an economic mindset that can result in social degradation. In a nutshell, we are efficient when we eat fast food instead of good food.

So beware of efficiency, and of efficiency experts, as well as of efficient education, heath care, and music, even efficient factories. Be careful too of balanced scorecards, because, while inclusion of all kinds of factors may be well intentioned, the dice are loaded in favor of those that can most easily be measured.

By the way, twitter is efficient. Only 140 characters! This blog is less so.

References

Herbert A. Simon Administrative Behavior: Second Edition (Macmillan, 1957, page 14).

This TWOG derives from my article “A Note on the Dirty Word Efficiency”, Interfaces (October, 1982: 101-105)

© 2017s Henry Mintzberg

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Happy Birthday Canada!

1 July 2017

Quintessentially Canadian sculpture, by Castor Canadensis; from the author’s collection

Canada is 150 years old this Saturday—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

Quintessentially Canadian sculpture, by Castor Canadensis; from the author’s collection

Canada is 150 years old this Saturday—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

True, we have been suffering from no Stanley Cup for our cherished hockey teams since 1993. But there is one thing even more sacred here than hockey, namely our state-funded Medicare, and that, mercifully, remains intact. Maybe this is what enables us to get on with sanity. And with democracy too, which has likewise remained intact, perhaps never better. Most of us really do strive to be tolerant in this country, and, you know what, it feels good to aim for the highest common denominator.

French culture in Quebec has long been vibrant, more recently, English-Canadian culture has become so. The multi-culturalism promoted by Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder) has been a major factor. Turn on CBC in English, or Radio Canada in French—jewels in our cultural crown—and marvel at the variety of people and faces and origins and opinions that make up this country today. In Canada, even the beavers do art, as you can see above, and more.

It was not so long ago that my uncle could not get into medical school because my own university, McGill, had a quota on Jewish applicants. Now the last three deans of medicine have been Jewish. The Conservative Party of Canada had a leadership race this year, and one of the candidates campaigned on screening immigrants for “Canadian values”. This may seem innocuous enough, but to many of us it sounded racist, a throwback to the old days of white Anglo-Saxon dominance. At the convention, in ballot after ballot, this “ideal leadership candidate” (in the words of our main newsmagazine) never made it to 8%. And this was the Conservative Party.

Twenty universities around the world have granted me honorary degrees. Yet no award do I wear as proudly as my Order of Canada. The pin we recipients wear is small—Canadian-size—yet it means so much to us, perhaps because we try not to confuse pride with patriotism in this country.

Canada is another America. It expresses another perspective by which people everywhere can see the major issues of our time, in terms of a just and tolerant world based on balance and reconciliation. We may look much like our powerful neighbor to the south, but in significant if sometimes subtle ways, we are quite different. The world at this juncture desperately needs another perspective, and quiet Canada, hidden up here in the north country, might just be providing it.¹

So happy birthday Canada! After 150 years of striving to get it right, to paraphrase from Quebec’s own Happy Birthday song, it is time to let you speak of love.

© Henry Mintzberg 1 July 2017.

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¹Three of us—a quintessentially Canadian trio, French, English, and Rumanian-born Canadians (Yvan Allaire and Mihaela Firsirotu)—have been working on a book entitled Another America: A Canadian Perspectives on World Issues. It is a collection of writings from prominent Canadians who for many years have been expressing themselves on a variety of important subjects in a remarkable cohesive way.

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Draining the Reservoir?

22 June 2017

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

  • Massive cuts proposed in the budgets of some key American departments, including State
  • Many significant government posts left unfilled, some after firing the incumbents
  • Certain cabinet secretaries appointed who are diametrically opposed to the mission of their department.
  • Fights picked with many of America’s most trusted allies—including Angela Merkel, of all people—plus the badmouthing of NATO and the EU, while cozying up to the likes of Putin and Erdogan
  • Proposed tax breaks that would squeeze the government while exacerbating income inequalities, a major grievance of the very people who elected him
  • Despite all the promises, surprisingly little enacted legislation

All of this cannot be explained by a normal neoliberal agenda. (And surely Donald Trump cannot be so totally under the influence of Steve Bannon’s abnormal one.) The pattern—namely strategy—seems evident: Donald Trump is determined to dismantle the American government. He is not just draining the swamp; he is emptying the reservoir. I am not particularly paranoid, nor do I tend to fantasize, but I do know a pattern when I see one.

What could Donald Trump possibly have to gain from going this far? Surely, we can rule out simple greed, and even his narcissism, to rule in what seems more obvious: He looks to be under the influence of some powerful force that does have something to gain from the dismantling of the American government. What can it be other than Putin’s Russia? If this seems excessive, then find me a more plausible explanation for Trump’s steady stream of actions that have themselves been excessive.

What might the Russians have on Donald Trump?  Take your pick: money owed to them, knowledge of some dubious business or personal deal, manipulation of the election in those four states. Whatever it might be, the Russians could well be using something to get him to do their bidding. Why else would he be so concertedly pro-Russian? Aside from admiring bullies, why the great love affair with the Kremlin?

If this is true, then Donald Trump will not be able to resign. But since the true truth has a habit of getting out, he may well be impeached, and removed from office. And from there, he may well go broke, since he has not proved himself to be a particularly adept businessman, short of depending on his brand. The problem with brands is that they are double-edged swords. They can cut back a lot faster than they have been developed to cut forward. But, more significantly, he could end up being charged with treason, namely “giving [to the country’s enemies] Aid and Comfort.” If Russia has been doing this, they are the enemy.

An American friend of mine who read a draft of this blog wrote back that, with so much uncertainty, “for now it feels like a fool’s errand to place particular bets.” Maybe so, but we do need to speculate beyond the usual banalities. Besides, patterns discerned in early signals can sometimes be necessary to avoid later crises.

© Henry Mintzberg June 2017

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British election: The surprise will be on whom?

8 June 2017

Well, not exactly “Reporting live”: I wrote this on April 18, just after Theresa May called the British election. I sent it to three British friends, also to the Canadian Globe and Mail that said it was too short. I post it here today exactly as I wrote it then (aside from adding “British election” to the title, and regretting having included two words in the first sentence: Jeremy Corbyn).

There are 64 million Brits and yet they can’t do better than Theresa May, let alone Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron? Of course, the Americans couldn’t do better than Donald Trump. The world is now a strange place indeed. 

I thought there was one overriding message from David Cameron’s snap vote on Brexit: don’t call snap votes when so much of the electorate is restless. She is, I guess, as sure as was he. Labor is ill-led, and how can the Liberal Democrats possibly come back?  The British prime minister may be in for a surprise.

Well, not exactly “Reporting live”: I wrote this on April 18, just after Theresa May called the British election. I sent it to three British friends, also to the Canadian Globe and Mail that said it was too short. I post it here today exactly as I wrote it then (aside from adding “British election” to the title, and regretting having included two words in the first sentence: Jeremy Corbyn).

There are 64 million Brits and yet they can’t do better than Theresa May, let alone Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron? Of course, the Americans couldn’t do better than Donald Trump. The world is now a strange place indeed. 

I thought there was one overriding message from David Cameron’s snap vote on Brexit: don’t call snap votes when so much of the electorate is restless. She is, I guess, as sure as was he. Labor is ill-led, and how can the Liberal Democrats possibly come back?  The British prime minister may be in for a surprise.

There is another message too, from other snap elections in different places. Be careful of sending voters to the polls too early: they might read this as political cynicism rooted in cocky confidence, punishable by purgatory.

What has happened to good sense in politics, to decency, to wisdom, to modesty? (At least here in Canada we have a prime minister who doesn’t pretend to be president.) There is the story of an old lady in Maine who said: “I never vote. It only encourages them.” In these days at least, that’s wisdom. How come she was never elected president?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

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The Tower of Bapple

3 June 2017

My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s, and my mother reported that when they took their usual Sunday drive, he had to be able to fix just about everything. This was not a user-friendly technology.

Today I get into my car, turn the key, and drive away. Nothing to fix, happily, because while I may be trained as a mechanical engineer, I don’t have a clue what’s going on under the hood (except theoretically). This is a user-friendly technology.

I was named after my grandfather, but I did not follow in his footsteps. I used to be a techno-Peasant. My phone was a hand-me-down, two generations earlier, from my cousin. I never even learned how to get voice mail. But then I bought an iPhone, and became a Techno-PhonePhile! I discovered what a spectacular piece of consumer technology this is, without a doubt the greatest one ever.

My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s, and my mother reported that when they took their usual Sunday drive, he had to be able to fix just about everything. This was not a user-friendly technology.

Today I get into my car, turn the key, and drive away. Nothing to fix, happily, because while I may be trained as a mechanical engineer, I don’t have a clue what’s going on under the hood (except theoretically). This is a user-friendly technology.

I was named after my grandfather, but I did not follow in his footsteps. I used to be a techno-Peasant. My phone was a hand-me-down, two generations earlier, from my cousin. I never even learned how to get voice mail. But then I bought an iPhone, and became a Techno-PhonePhile! I discovered what a spectacular piece of consumer technology this is, without a doubt the greatest one ever.

You see, all the others did one thing. The wheel carried loads, the printing press propagated books, the automobile took us places, the telephone brought in distant voices and television added images. The iPhone does just about everything. It is:

a dictionary
a thesaurus
an encyclopedia
a telephone
a tape recorder
a TV
a calculator
a calendar
a camera
a low-fi hi-fi
photo albums
a clock
a watch
maps
a GPS
a flashlight
a mirror
a copy editor
a dictation secretary
a translator
a safety deposit box (for passwords)
a compass
a level
a bicycle speedometer
a beacon (to find itself)
a surveillance device (for others to find you)
the game room
a mosquito and even polar bear repellent¹

Ah, but is it user-friendly? Hardly more than that Model T.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there….

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth….

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” …it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

True the iPhone has one language and a common speech, albeit scattered over the face of the whole earth. But the Lord is still hard at work, confusing that language. Welcome to the Tower of Bapple.

Do you realize how many instructions we have to know to maneuver minimally through this tower? Must be hundreds. To maneuver fully? I’ll bet thousands. To maneuver competently? Zillions. Look, I have a PhD from MIT. How do PhDs from Harvard cope?

How many ways don’t you know to delete something on your phone? Slide left, slide right, scroll up, scroll down, hit something somewhere, in fact anything everywhere…in desperation. Sure I like to collect things. But not delete-directives. To accept something looks to be easier: just hit the place on the upper right where it says “done”. Except on my calendar. When I change something, in place of “done” on the upper right, there appears “cancel”. But I don’t expect it, so I hit that place anyway, and lose what I just did. The second time around, I do find “done”, on the lower right. I hit that, and guess what? “Done” appears again for the hitting: now on the upper right! This technology is user-ferocious. 

On that calendar, I wish to know the holidays. No problem; I programmed it for Canada, where I live. This is what appeared on August 1 (and I kid you not).
1. British Columbia Day (British Columbia)
2. Civic/Provincial Day (regional holiday)
3. New Brunswick Day (New Brunswick)
4. Natal Day (Prince Edward Island)
5. Heritage Day in Alberta
6. Terry Fox Day (Manitoba)
7. Saskatchewan Day
8. Natal Day [again, this time in] (Nova Scotia)
9. Civic/Provincial Day [this time in Nunavik, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario]
10. Clean the Chimney Day. (OK, here I kid you yes: I had added this one myself.)

It’s all or nothing for this calendar. I just want to know on which date certain important holidays fall—like New Year’s Day. (I’m told it’s January 1, but in this age of Bapple, you never know.) But no, I must have Natal Day twice and Saskatchewan day once. etc. OK, so this is a Google Calendar: should I blame Apple for that? Absolutely, because of the company this company keeps in their common Tower of Bapple.

Passwords, boy do I have passwords. Actually I have only one, the Master Password. It opens the door to the 55 others. (Yes, fifty-five.) Imagine your car requiring separate keys to open each of the doors and windows, for each of the gears and windshield wipers, to fill each of the tires, to access AM and FM, etc. I received this message recently: “Installer is trying to install new software. Enter your password to install this. User name: Henry Mintzberg” Hey, Installer, Henry Mintzberg has 55 passwords! I would be delighted to have only one password, but in this tower, some passwords require a cAp, and others DoN’T; some need numb0rs (#%&%#), and others don’t; some require eigth8 letters with a number and others require eightxx letters with no number. Constructing that old tower must have been like building a sand castle compared with our tower today.

iOS. I shudder at these letters. Every time I install a new one, back I must go to fix all kinds of settings that Bapple has screwed up, with uninvited banners and bantering appearing all over my eyes and ears. When I installed a new iOS a few years ago, I lost all my contacts--forever. Someone said that this iOS was designed for a 6, and I had a 5. The nerve of me. (Why did I hit “done” when I should have hit “cancel”—everywhere, always.) Yet not a peep from Apple, hiding behind its own tower in California. Hey, the Bible never said anything about having to change the mortar in that tower every few weeks, let alone with a kind that brings down half the structure. Simon has been my trusty TWOG teammate. Simon says—so it must be true—that his productivity is suffering from having to learn so many new productivity tools. (Did you know that “empathetic engineer” is an oxymoron?)

STOP the presses, or at least hold the electrons. Marley, the daughter of my cousin, showed me a major discovery. He was trying to talk, and she turned his phone up-side down. Have you noticed all the people who speak on the phone as if the LOUDspeaker is off, when actually it’s on. (You have certainly HEARD these people.) They need to turn their phones upside-down, because now the speaker is at the bottom, not the top. Imagine if those biblical builders had started upside-down: built their tower from the top, heaven2earth. The Lord, close by, might have HEARD a different message. Who knows, they might have finished the tower and now we’d all be speaking the same language—hopefully not Bapple.

Now, DA DAM, here comes Siri, the Goddess up to whom this terrifying tower is being built. Siri in the sky with data. She actually speaks in only one language, at least at a time. This is particularly evident here in Montreal, where Siri fractures French names as never before.

The fact is that I love Siri, although not in the usual Internet way. That kind of love I could have saved for the Facebook friends I cannot have, the LinkedIn contacts I cannot con, because I never have time in this tower for anything human—which I am told still exists out there.

Siri can, however, be sheer entertainment. Once Laura, my granddaughter, was playing with my phone, and told Siri to stop calling her “Henry,” “My name is Laura, not Henry”, she said in terms so certain that my email started to come addressed to “Laura”. So I pushed Siri’s button and said: “My name is Henry, not Siri.” (I meant to say “not Laura”, but it was too late.) She asked me amiably to confirm that henceforth I was to be called Henry not Siri, which I did, and she replied promptly: “OK, what can I do for you now, Henry not Siri?” Who needs satire when we’ve got Siri?

Look, it’s not all that bad. Wheels make ruts, books foment revolutions, cars trigger rage, telephones distract and television dumbs down. This user-ferocious technology merely drives us customer-crazy. A small price to pay for its wonders. Except that, while I have a day job that pays the rent, Bapple is a full-time job that pays nothing. I checked my contract with the phone company. Not a word about having to be a prisoner in a tower, let alone with the only maiden out of sight being Siri in the sky.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. My thanks to Simon for managing these TWOGs so well for so long, and welcome to Tanya for picking up the torch. A special thank you for Leslie also, to whom I turn for all these problems. Her shift ends each day at 11:59 pm and begins again at 6:01 am. I pay her Bapple rates.

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¹There are apps that emit some ultrasonic thing, supposedly to keep away mosquitos. (Several reviews say it doesn’t work.) And when a woman was attacked by a polar bear near Churchill, Manitoba a few years ago, she held up her phone to it and it ran away. Wouldn’t you?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

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The Haphazardly Informed We

18 May 2017

This blog is adapted from two passages of my new book Managing the Myths of Health Care.

The patient is the “single most underused person in health care”. This means you and me. We are not casual players when it comes to our health, no matter how passive we may be in front of our doctors.

Much of the time, we are not even in front of them, or even patients. We have to take primary responsibility for the care of much of our own health, including the prevention of diseases. Moreover, we are often the “first responders.” We feel something coming on and get ourselves to a professional, or else just deal with some problem ourselves. (Have you put on a bandage lately?)  And not just for ourselves. We can be the first responders for our children, sometimes even for our elderly parents. So we better be well informed.

This blog is adapted from two passages of my new book Managing the Myths of Health Care.

The patient is the “single most underused person in health care”. This means you and me. We are not casual players when it comes to our health, no matter how passive we may be in front of our doctors.

Much of the time, we are not even in front of them, or even patients. We have to take primary responsibility for the care of much of our own health, including the prevention of diseases. Moreover, we are often the “first responders.” We feel something coming on and get ourselves to a professional, or else just deal with some problem ourselves. (Have you put on a bandage lately?)  And not just for ourselves. We can be the first responders for our children, sometimes even for our elderly parents. So we better be well informed.

How well are we informed? There is a vast array of health care information out there: how much of what we need to know actually gets to us? Is 10% a gross exaggeration?

I go into the supermarket and see eggs, Omega 3 and Organic. Which is better? I always mean to check on the Internet when I get home, but I always forget. What’s the use? The answer will probably change soon anyway. But it’s not the reliability of the information that bothers me so much as the rendering of it for my personal use.

So how do I get informed for my very survival?  Haphazardly. Had I not had the radio on a particular day last year, I would not have heard that I no longer need to force eight glasses of water down my throat every day. But this year, had I listened to my medical friends and not gone to see a naturopath, I would not have found out that, for a particular condition I have, I had better drink all that water after all. Is this any way to get informed about my health—a radio program here, TV news there, a consultation, an article sent by a friend, and most systematically of all, ads telling me what pain killer to swallow?

And I’m advantaged: well educated, with time to read. Plus I have physician friends I can call about these things. And now, thanks to the Internet, I can find all kinds of information to misinterpret. Mostly, however, I am overwhelmed by the information available, and underwhelmed by what of it I get. I need HELP!!!

Health Navigator to the rescue

General practitioners, even the most responsive ones, are busy people. They have to diagnose, treat or refer, and advise—usually with a waiting room full of anxious people. We, the people out there, need something more.

So let me suggest the role of health navigator. Don't confuse this with nurse practitioner, who comes from the perspective of medicine, as a supplement to physicians. It should be noted that there's a lot more to health care than what physicians mostly do, including the promotion of health (especially diet), the prevention of many illnesses, and the treatment of those that medicine has yet to address (such as IBS and many auto-immune conditions).  Other services, such as acupuncture, naturopathy, and homeopathy, do treat some of these conditions—in my experience, at times remarkably well—yet get marginalized by a medical establishment that can be doubly blind.

A health navigator, professionally trained, would provide information and advice to you and me, the persons beneath the patients—in our communities, beneath the epidemiologists’ populations. The health navigator would:

  • Get to know us, as individuals and in our community, beginning with an extensive first interview about all aspects of our health (as homeopaths do), and continuing to maintain that understanding.
  • Remain abreast of health care information in general, as well as of the reliable sites that provide it, and of the services that are available in our community.
  • Provide us with whatever of that information each of us needs, alongside advice to help maintain our health.
  • In the event of illness, guide us through the intricacies of diagnosis, treatment, and especially recovery.

The diagram below shows the five key aspects of health care—maintaining health, detecting illness, diagnosing disease, treating disease, and recovering health—around two concentric circles. The outer one is labelled the Professional Ring while the inner one, closer to ourselves, is labelled the Personal Sphere. The health navigator would work all around he circle—as shown in the diagram, in the Professional Ring but close to the Personal Sphere.

Seeing the Parts around the Whole

 

Must we leave the fate of our health to the haphazardness of the information marketplace as well as to the limitations of medical practice? Or shall we find our proper place in the care of our own health?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017 with passages from Managing the Myths of Health Care.

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Don’t just sit there…

4 May 2017

Co-authored with Jonathan Gosling

Imagine a conference with a keynote listener instead of a keynote speaker. How about a meeting of the executive committee with the CEO facing backward, eavesdropping on the discussion but speechless until the end? Or picture a gathering of managers sitting in a circle to “show and tell” about their interests, just like they did in kindergarten.

Does all this sound like some other world? It could be yours. For years, we have had great success doing such things with managers in our programs. This began with our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org), created to get past training about the business functions (the MBA), toward true education for managers. While a manager cannot be created in a classroom—this is the misconception of so many MBA programs—people who practice management can enhance their capabilities in a classroom that respects their experience.

Co-authored with Jonathan Gosling

Imagine a conference with a keynote listener instead of a keynote speaker. How about a meeting of the executive committee with the CEO facing backward, eavesdropping on the discussion but speechless until the end? Or picture a gathering of managers sitting in a circle to “show and tell” about their interests, just like they did in kindergarten.

Does all this sound like some other world? It could be yours. For years, we have had great success doing such things with managers in our programs. This began with our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org), created to get past training about the business functions (the MBA), toward true education for managers. While a manager cannot be created in a classroom—this is the misconception of so many MBA programs—people who practice management can enhance their capabilities in a classroom that respects their experience.

The IMPM does things differently, starting with our 50:50 rule: faculty get half the class time to introduce ideas, but the other half is reserved for the managers to reflect on their own experience and share their insights with each other. In this program, which runs over 16 months, the managers come into our classrooms for five modules of 10 days, each one devoted to a managerial mindset, delivered by leading business schools around the world. (The reflective mindset takes place in Lancaster, England; the analytic mindset in Montreal, Canada; the worldly mindset in Bangalore, India; the collaborative mindset in Beijing, China; and the action mindset in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.) Call this an emba if you like, so long as you realize that here it means engaging managers beyond administration.

“How are you going to seat them?” asked Nancy Badore, who had created a novel program for Ford executives and was helping us think through ours. “I suppose in one of those U-shaped classrooms?” one of us answered. “Not those obstetrics stirrups!” Nancy shot back. We got the point! With that, we were off—never looking back (except when the class asked us to face backward, to receive some feedback).

Nothing explains these differences better than the seating arrangements that we have established in the IMPM. These enable the managers to listen more attentively, speak more thoughtfully, and address their problems together more effectively.

Table Talk 

Thanks to Nancy’s comment, we decided that the managers in our classrooms would sit at small round tables to facilitate learning from each other. No need to “break out” in some other place.

Round tables turn a collection of individual students into a community of engaged learners. (See Figures 1 and 2 at the end.) Managers bring wonderful experience to the classroom, so why not let them build on that with each other? So much better than pronouncing on cases that no-one in the room has experienced, or listening to theory without connecting it to their reality. We have a ritual starting every day in the IMPM, called morning reflections.  It begins with everyone scribbling personal thoughts in his or her Insight Book (empty except for their own thoughts), followed by sharing their insights around the table, and then on to the plenary…

Show and Tell in a Big Circle  

For these plenaries, we used to do what most programs do after workshops: ask for comments from each table—that dreadful go-around. Tell the teacher what was learned. Then one day, a new colleague put everyone in a big circle and sat down too. A great “show and tell” discussion followed. The next day, another colleague put them in the circle again but stood there, as if to say: I will give you permission to speak, and you will direct your comments to me, which I will follow with a smart reply. (Professors hate to stop professing.)

We had a photo of this, and so we whited him out. The next day, one of us repeated the circle, stood there too, and announced: “I’m in charge”—and promptly walked out. When he returned after the plenary, the class informed him that next time he was to take his place in the circle, like everyone else.

Eavesdropping  

How about this? Instead of just discussion around each tables, followed by a big circle, turn around one person at each table, to eavesdrop without speaking, and then have these people report in the plenary on what they heard. Focused on listening, instead of waiting to speak, they hear a lot more of the nuance.

Here’s an example of using this eavesdropping. A colleague who was doing a session on managing retrenchment polled the class in advance as to who had positive, negative, and no experience with retrenchment. The positives sat at some tables and the negatives at others, to share their what they had learned about retrenchment. But what were we to do with the few who had no experience? Of course. have them eavesdrop at those tables! They all took profuse notes, and then…

The Inner Circle  

…we brought these eavesdroppers together in the middle, facing each other in a little circle, to chat about what they heard, with the everyone else listening all around. (They became the eavesdroppers, about what they had just said!) Everyone loved this. One manager in the middle said that her group probably learned more about retrenchment than anyone else. Another, on the outside, said this was the best reporting out of a workshop that she had ever seen. The class dubbed the circle in the center “The Neutral Zone.”

Tapping In  

Why stop here? After those in an inner circle have had their say, and some others are itching to add something, why not let them tap someone on the inside and replace him or her. The discussion carries on, in fact gets enlivened, still with the same number of people. Here we have something quite fascinating: a running conversation, with a few people at a time, yet everyone participating—listening intently and able to join, with no-one in charge. Once, when a journalist from the New York Times was in the class to write an article about the IMPM, we put him in the inner circle. Trouble was, everyone hesitated to tap him out!  (See his article, “The Anti-MBA.”)

Keynote Listener  

If we can have eavesdroppers at the tables, then why not in the whole class? One time, in another of our programs, we invited Marshal Ganz from the Harvard Kennedy School to do a session. He came early, to see what we were doing beforehand—presentations on some earlier work. So we designated Marshall to be the keynote listener, and comment on the presentations. Everyone, Marshall included, sat in a big circle as he discussed what he had heard. No canned speech, just honest reactions from a thoughtful listener.

Beyond the Classroom  

OK, so all of this is well and good for a bunch of managers and professors having a good time while learning a lot in a classroom. But it hardly needs to stop there. We have used keynote listeners to replace keynote speakers in large conferences. We have used inner circles in rooms of 200 people, all sitting at round tables. After a presentation and workshop discussions around these tables, we said: “Quick, point to someone at your table who had a really good idea.” We invited the first few targets to come forward and share their ideas. One participant described this kind of exercise as a “great way to turn a large meeting into a series of meaningful conversations”—as well as one big conversation.

And into the Managerial Workplace  

We have yet to turn the CEO of some major corporation around. (Maybe because they are too busy turning their companies around.) But imagine bringing all of this into the workplace: round tables, morning reflections, eavesdropping, taping, keynote listening, big circles and inner circles. Carlos Ramos was exposed to the seating in another of our programs (EMBA Roundtables), and when he got back home, installed a round table on the floor of his factory in Mexico City. Here is the picture he sent us, with the comment that “We use it very often” when there is the need to reflect on a difficult issue.

Coaching Ourselves

The two of us are part of another program, called CoachingOurselves.com, that dispenses with the professors and the classroom, but not the ideas. Managers gather together in their own workplace with a few of their peers or reports, and download slides on a particular topic (for example “Strategic Blindspots” or “Developing our Organization as a Community”). These they discuss with each other while relating the ideas to their common experience, to carry their insights forward to improve their organizations. In other words, change how and where managers sit, and suddenly management development can become organizational development!

As we mentioned earlier, you can experience all this for yourself. The next IMPM cohort begins in September (impm.org; for other innovations in the program, see “How about an emba that engages managers beyond administration”). Another version, in health care (imhl.org), begins its next class in April of 2018. The embaRoundtables.org, a one-week IMPM-type program for managers, runs every May (this year from May 1 in Dublin), and the McGill-HEC EMBA, modeled after the IMPM but with shorter modules in Montreal, runs from September every year.

Morning reflections in our IMPM module in Rio de Janeiro.

© Jonathan Gosling and Henry Mintzberg 2017; edited from an initial posting on this site on 1 July 2015. 

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ANNOUNCING my new book

19 April 2017

Managing the Myths of Health Care

BERRETT-KOHLER  AMAZON UK  AMAZON

From the back cover:

“Health care is not failing but succeeding, expensively, and we don’t want to pay for it. So the administrations, public and private alike, intervene to cut costs, and herein lies the failure.”

Managing the Myths of Health Care

BERRETT-KOHLER  AMAZON UK  AMAZON

From the back cover:

“Health care is not failing but succeeding, expensively, and we don’t want to pay for it. So the administrations, public and private alike, intervene to cut costs, and herein lies the failure.”

In this sure-to-be-controversial book, leading management thinker Henry Mintzberg turns his attention to reframing the management and organization of health care.

The problem is not management per se but a form of remote-control management detached from the operations yet determined to control them. It reorganizes relentlessly, measures like mad, promotes a heroic form of leadership, favors competition where the need is for cooperation, and pretends that the calling of health care should be managed like a business.

“Management in health care should be about dedicated and continuous care more than interventionist and episodic cures.”

The professional form of organizing is the source of health care’s great strength as well as its debilitating weakness. In its administration, as in its operations, it categorizes whatever it can to apply standardized practices whose results can be measured. When the categories fit, this works wonderfully well. The physician diagnoses appendicitis and operates; some administrator ticks the appropriate box and pays. But what happens when the fit fails—when patients fall outside the categories or across several categories or need to be treated as people beneath the categories, or when the managers and professionals pass each other like ships in the night?

To cope with all this, Mintzberg says that we need to reorganize our heads instead of our institutions. He discusses how we can think differently about systems and strategies, sectors and scale, measurement and management, leadership and organization, competition and collaboration.

“Market control of health care is crass, state control is crude, professional control is closed. We need all three—in their place.”

The overall message of Mintzberg’s masterful analysis is that care, cure, control, and community have to work together, within health-care institutions and across them, to deliver quantity, quality, and equality simultaneously.

Some other excerpts:

In management no less than medicine, scalpels usually work better than axes.

Narrowness pervades health care, from professionals on the ground who can’t see past their specialities, to managers in the offices who can’t see past their institutions, analysts in governments and insurance companies who can’t see past their numbers, and economists in the air who can’t see past their dogma.

Reorganizing is the expected disjointed intervention for a health care “system” built on disjointed interventions.

While the ill act as a concerted force for spending more locally, the healthy act as a general lobby for spending less nationally. This makes the field of health care sick.

There are no management problems in health care, separate from medical problems, nursing problems, or prevention problems. There are only health care problems.

Because economics begins before medicine ends, the technocrats of health care have too often trumped the professionals.

In the name of competition, health care suffers from individualism: every patient, provider, and institution for themselves.

The field of health care may be appropriately supplied by businesses, but in the delivery of its most basic services, it is not a business at all, nor should it be run like one. At its best, it is a calling.

I can think of no field that is more global in its professional practices yet more parochial in its administrative ones than health care.

Certainly we have to measure what we can; we just cannot allow ourselves to be mesmerized by measurement—as we so often are.

Physicians who like to belittle hierarchies of authority are often slaves to their own hierarchies of status.

Who can possibly be against evidence in medicine? Me, for one, when it is used as a club to beat up on experience.

The essential problem in health care may lie in forcing detached administrative solutions on to practices that require informed and nuanced judgments.

It can be taken as almost an axiom of professional work that dysfunctional practices cannot be fixed by tighter administration. The problems have to be addressed within the work itself.

Strategy making in the field of health care tends to be about venturing more than visioning, and personal and collective learning more than institutional planning.

When we promote leadership, we demote everyone else. How about plain old management?

Instead of people pointing the finger at each other, they should be pointing their fingers together at the procedures and structures that set them apart.

Health care doesn’t need more measuring and reorganizing so much as better cultures of collaboration that open up the pathways of communication.

A systems perspective requires a focus on the person in the community, beyond a patient in a population.

There’s a massive amount of health care information out there, some of which I need to know. How much of that part am I actually getting? Is 10 percent a gross exaggeration? And how do I get even that? Haphazardly!

To find the systems perspective in health care, look first in the mirror: we are as close as we are going to get. That is because you and I are significantly responsible for promoting our own health, preventing our potential illnesses, and even treating many of our own diseases.

The invisible hand that is supposed to serve everyone by serving ourselves turns out to be a visible underhand in much of health care when it serves some users at the expense of others.

See full Table of Contents

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

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About this business of government, Mr. President

5 April 2017

[Another version of this was posted on hbr.org last week under the title “The U.S. cannot be run like a business.”]

Dear Mr. President

As a neighbor in Canada who has long worked with businesses and governments around the world, I have some important news for you. America is not suffering from too much government so much as from too much business―all over government. Please understand this to avoid pouring more oil on the fires of America, and this planet.

[Another version of this was posted on hbr.org last week under the title “The U.S. cannot be run like a business.”]

Dear Mr. President

As a neighbor in Canada who has long worked with businesses and governments around the world, I have some important news for you. America is not suffering from too much government so much as from too much business―all over government. Please understand this to avoid pouring more oil on the fires of America, and this planet.

Business in its place is essential, just as is government in its place, which is not all over business. Now, however, thanks to you and your cabinet, business need no longer just lobby government to get its way; it is government. You were elected to challenge the establishment; will the executives who came into your cabinet from ExxonMobile and Goldman Sachs do that? They are the establishment: that other, more powerful business establishment that has now displaced the weaker political establishment.

This is an old problem now being carried to a new extreme. In the early days of the Republic, Thomas Jefferson expressed the hope that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength...” Instead, later in that century the U.S. Supreme Court recognised corporations as “persons” in the law. Not long after that, in the new century, President Teddy Roosevelt was railing about the power of corporate trusts in American society, and in the 1960s President Dwight David Eisenhower warned of the “unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” Nevertheless, in 2010 the Supreme Court gave those corporate persons the right to fund political campaigns to their heart’s content. When “free enterprise” in an economy becomes the freedom of enterprises as persons in a society, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, government of the real people, by the real people, for the real people perishes from the earth.

Should government even be run like a business, let alone by businesspeople? No more than that business should be run like a government, by civil servants. As you well know, when an entrepreneur says “Jump”, the response is “How high sir?” You are now finding out what happens when a U.S. president says “Jump”. So far, so bad. Governments are relentlessly subjected to a plethora of pressures that many businesses, especially entrepreneurial ones like your own, cannot easily understand.

Business has a convenient bottom line, called profit, which can easily be measured. What’s the bottom line in government, say for terrorism? (Countries listed? Immigrants deported? Walls built?) What’s the bottom line for climate change? (Do you really believe it is jobs created?)

Running government like a business has been tried again and again, only to fail again and again. You must remember the debacle in New Orleans when Homeland Security was run by a businessman…of sorts. How about when George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Army promised to bring in “sound business practice”? He came from Enron, just before its spectacular collapse.

In the 1960s, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara introduced PPBS (Planning-Programming-Budgeting System) to run government like a business. The obsessive measuring led to the infamous body counts of the Vietnam War. That bottom line was about as low as it can get. Then in the 1980s came the “New Public Management”, a euphemism for old corporate practices: isolate activities, put a manager in charge of each, and hold him or her responsible for the measurable results. That might work for the state lottery, but how about foreign relations or education, let alone, dare I mention it, health care? And now, at your request, your own son-in-law heads yet another effort to run government like a business. Back he comes with that old buzzword of citizens as “customers.” (Al Gore was using this misguided metaphor when he was vice-president.) You know what? I am not a mere customer of my government, thank you, as if I buy services at arm’s length. I am an engaged citizen of my country.

The place of business is to supply us with goods and services; that of government, aside from protecting us from threats, is to help keep our marketplaces competitive and responsible. Do you really believe that recent American governments have been overdoing this job, let alone even doing it?

I have a little book for you, Mr. President, called Rebalancing Society. It contends that a healthy society balances the power of respected governments in the public sector with responsible businesses in the private sector and robust communities in what I call the plural sector (“civil society”). The most democratic nations in the world today function closest to such balance, including ours in Canada and those in Scandinavia, likewise your own when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the community “associations” that helped to maintain democracy in early America. Indeed, during the decades following World War Two, the U.S. was far better balanced, as it experienced striking prosperity and development—economic as well as social―despite high taxes and generous welfare programs. Now, however, the country has lost that balance, and needs the plural sector to offset the fruitless swinging back and forth between left and right—government interventions by the public sector and market forces in the private sector.

Think back to the Berlin Wall, Mr. President. That wall fell on our Western democracies, because we misunderstood what brought it down. The pundits of the West claimed that capitalism had triumphed. Not at all. Balance had triumphed.  While the communist states of Eastern Europe were utterly out of balance, on the side of their public sectors, the successful countries of the West retained a relative balance across the three sectors.

But with this misunderstanding, capitalism has been triumphing since the fall of that wall, and throwing America and many other countries out of balance the other way, in favor of their private sectors. Look around, Mr. President, at income disparities, climate change exacerbated by excessive consumption, and the unregulated forces of globalization running rampant around the globe. That is why we have seen votes like Brexit and your own, by distraught people unsure which way to turn, except against the “establishment”.

When enough people realize what has been going on, if not you, then a subsequent president, will have to restore the balance that made America great in the first place.

Sincerely

Henry Mintzberg
Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. For elaboration of these arguments, please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. Also my Harvard Business Review article “Managing Government, Governing Management”. 

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Some Half-truths of Management

22 March 2017

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths” (Alfred North Whitehead). So here are a few in management.

We live in times of great change.

Have you heard this before—say in the last hour? Did you know that when a laptop detects a CEO about to type a speech, it automatically enters: “We live in times of great change.”  Why bother the CEO to type it again, since just about every management speech in the past few decades has begun with this line. That never changes.

Do we really live in times of great change? Look around and tell me what’s changed fundamentally. Your food, your furniture, your friends, your fixations? Are you wearing a tie, or high heels? How come: because you always have? How about your car? Under the hood is probably a four-cycle, internal combustion engine. That was in the Model T Ford.

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths” (Alfred North Whitehead). So here are a few in management.

We live in times of great change.

Have you heard this before—say in the last hour? Did you know that when a laptop detects a CEO about to type a speech, it automatically enters: “We live in times of great change.”  Why bother the CEO to type it again, since just about every management speech in the past few decades has begun with this line. That never changes.

Do we really live in times of great change? Look around and tell me what’s changed fundamentally. Your food, your furniture, your friends, your fixations? Are you wearing a tie, or high heels? How come: because you always have? How about your car? Under the hood is probably a four-cycle, internal combustion engine. That was in the Model T Ford.

When you got dressed this morning, did you say to yourself: “If we live in times of great change, how come we are still buttoning buttons?” (from Wikipedia: “Functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothes appeared first in Germany in the 13th century”.)

What’s my point? That we only notice what is changing, and most things are not. Of course, some things are changing: information technology, most notably. Zap, I hit a few keys and Wikipedia tells me about buttons. I hope you have taken notice of this new technology, because it is rendering great changes.  But I hope that you are also taking notice of all the things that are not changing, because they are no less important. Managing change without managing continuity is anarchy.

The world is becoming more global.

Often, when I work with groups of managers in various parts of the world, I ask them whose businesses have more than half their sales outside the home country. You would be surprised how few do. (If a quintessentially global company like General Electric has about half its sales in the United States, then it is better described as a quintessentially American company.)  Think of how much retailing, banking, food, and so on, is local. On the other hand, more than a century ago, Singer sewing machines were sold as globally as are Apple phones today.

The fact of the matter is that some businesses have long been global, and a great many remain local.

Management sits on top.

Of what? The pay scale, to be sure, and probably the headquarters building too. But mostly on top of that ubiquitous chart. So what? If, as CEO, you see yourself on top of your organization, does that help you keep on top of what is going on in your organization? No. This top is the worst place to manage an organization: looking down on everybody else. Try the ground instead.  Don’t we have enough disconnected managing already?

From this top comes decisions and strategies for everyone else to implement.

IKEA has a terrific strategy: selling unassembled furniture so that we can take it home in our cars, which saves us and the company lots of money. According to IKEA’s own website, this idea came from the ground. A worker tried to put a table in his car, and it didn’t fit, so he took off the legs. Then came the key insight that eventually changed the strategy, and the industry: “If we have to take the legs off, don’t our customers do too?” Who asked that: a CEO on top?

Of course, key to this becoming strategic was a company culture that enabled this idea to get to the CEO, to sprinkle holy water upon it. But I’ll bet this particular CEO, like most successful entrepreneurs, spent lots of time at the bottom finding out what was going on.

Thus: from everywhere, “implementation” included, come little insights that can emerge into big strategies.

Organizations need heroic leaders.

Really? How often have heroic leaders ridden into established organizations on great white horses, only to fall into black holes? New organizations may need aggressive leadership, but most others need engaged management—quiet, humble, thoughtful. Enough narcissism in the executive suites.

People are human resources.

Not me! Feel free to let yourself be called a human resource. I am a human being, thank you. Not even a human asset, let alone human capital. Enough of the demeaning vocabulary of economics—turning us all into things. Resources are things we throw away when we no longer need them. Is that how to build a great enterprise: by throwing away the human beings? (It’s politely called “downsizing”.) Airlines used to refer to passengers as “self-loading cargo.” Are the HR words really any better?

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

This is just plain silly.  If you can’t measure it, you had better manage it. And if you can measure it, you had better manage it even more carefully. Think of all that matters in management—and in life—that is tough to measure: culture, engagement, leadership, the market for a truly novel product (who ever got that right?), even management itself. And tell me, did anyone who uttered this nonsense ever even try to measure the performance of measurement, instead of assuming it is wonderful? I guess, then, that we shall have to get rid of management and measurement too, not to mention truly new products.

I could go on, since too much management goes on and on with its half-truths. Instead I’ll just quote Winston Churchill, that human being who lived in times of greater change than most of us can possibly imagine:

“[People] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Our International Masters for Managers (impm.org) helps managers face all degrees of truth.

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Imagine getting it…beyond Donald Trump

9 March 2017

Imagine Donald Trump getting it. Imagine him coming to realize what he must do to serve, not the interests of business, but of the people who elected him to put a stop to their exclusion.

After all, Ariel Sharon was a tough guy who overcame his smugness to change course, for the sake of his country. Donald Trump has certainly shown the proclivity to change course—sometimes daily! And who can doubt his penchant to challenge his “enemies”, whoever they might happen to be? Barack Obama had trouble dealing with real opponents, and too many people doubted Hillary Clinton’s propensity to confront the establishment.

Imagine Donald Trump getting it. Imagine him coming to realize what he must do to serve, not the interests of business, but of the people who elected him to put a stop to their exclusion.

After all, Ariel Sharon was a tough guy who overcame his smugness to change course, for the sake of his country. Donald Trump has certainly shown the proclivity to change course—sometimes daily! And who can doubt his penchant to challenge his “enemies”, whoever they might happen to be? Barack Obama had trouble dealing with real opponents, and too many people doubted Hillary Clinton’s propensity to confront the establishment.

At his recent congressional address, Donald Trump did show a hint of a shift: he stayed on script, and read it with some feeling. Millions of Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief: finally something, anything. Next day, though, it was back to the old shtick.

So let’s try this instead. Imagine if those “enemies of the people”, the liberal press, get it instead, to help all the friends of a free press—doubtless a majority of the people—get it too. I subscribe to one of these newspapers up here in Canada, the New York Times, which should be called The Relentless Rant: article after article, comment after comment, day after day, on the foibles of Donald Trump. It’s become entertainment more than news: look at what this guy did to us yesterday.

OK, I get that. But does this newspaper get it? The New York Times will no more hound Donald Trump out of office than Donald Trump will hound The New York Times out of business. The problem goes far deeper than him.

I look for commentaries in the paper that get into this depth—go beyond those foibles, to the root of what is distressing so many Americans. Instead, here is what I got in the opinion piece on page 1 of the Times the day after that congressional address. Roger Cohen imagined a dinner of Nigel Farage with Donald Trump: “I suppose they disparage Muslims over well-done burgers and Coke. Multilateralism gets a guffaw with ice cream. God help us.” God help Roger Cohen. Here we have a bit of that fake news, its effete snobbery as base as Donald Trump’s ignorant rants. Indeed, this points the way to the problem: the callous exclusion of people who eat hamburgers and drink Coke.

OK, so if it’s not yet time for the Times to get it, how about the people themselves—the well-intentioned, good folks of America who are fed up with what’s been going on, including some who trustingly voted for this man. Imagine them as the silver lining in the dark cloud of Donald Trump.

To appreciate this, think of Donald Trump as one hell of a community organizer, superior even to Barack Obama (at least after his first election). The president has already been doing his country a great service by bringing all those people on to the streets, and thus bringing to a head the fundamental issue. He’s just the extreme manifestation of the problem that has been festering in the country for years. Yet it is surprising how many of even the most thoughtful people don’t get it. The dogma runs deep.

What the Donald Trump presidency makes clear is that the United States of America is not suffering from too much government so much as from too much business, all over government. The country is seriously out of balance.

I intend to elaborate on this in a forthcoming blog of its own. So please stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can get it by reading my little book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond let, right, and center.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. 

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MBAs as CEOs: Some troubling evidence

22 February 2017

Business schools like to boast about how many of their graduates have become CEOs—Harvard especially, since it has the most. But how do these people do as CEOs: are the skills needed to perform there the same as those that get them there?

MBA students enter the prestigious business schools smart, determined, and often aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce cleverly on situations they know little about, while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem—no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the “old boys” network that can boost them to the “top.” Then what?

Business schools like to boast about how many of their graduates have become CEOs—Harvard especially, since it has the most. But how do these people do as CEOs: are the skills needed to perform there the same as those that get them there?

MBA students enter the prestigious business schools smart, determined, and often aggressive. There, case studies teach them how to pronounce cleverly on situations they know little about, while analytic techniques give them the impression that they can tackle any problem—no in-depth experience required. With graduation comes the confidence of having been to a proper business school, not to mention the “old boys” network that can boost them to the “top.” Then what?

Some Surprising Evidence This is one question that these centers of research do not research. Some years ago, Joseph Lampel and I made an exception. A decade after its publication in 1990, I looked at a book called Inside the Harvard Business School, by David Ewing, long an insider. (The first line was “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world.”) The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who “had made it to the top”—the school’s superstars as of 1990. My attention was drawn to a few of them who would not have been on that list after 1990.

So Joseph Lampel and I studied the post-1990 records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that their company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable. Some of these 14 CEOs built up or turned around businesses, prominently and dramatically, only to see them weaken or collapse just as dramatically.

Frank Lorenzo experienced major failures with all three airlines that he headed, while Roy Bostock, who for a decade headed up Benton & Bowles, the renowned advertising agency, saw it close down five years after he retired. Perhaps most prominent and dramatic was the story of Bill Agee, CEO of Bendix and later Morrison Knudsen. About a book written by Mary Cunningham, another Harvard MBA, who worked alongside Agee, a Fortune reviewer wrote:

What little discussion there is of actual business consists mainly of genuflecting in front of a deity called The Strategy…. Near as I can tell, it consisted of getting Bendix out of a lot of fuddy-duddy old-fashioned products and into glitzy high tech. What makes this a terribly ingenious idea, let alone a good one, she does not say.1

Another Fortune article elaborated. Agee “was facile with finance and accounting, shrewdly selling assets and investing in other companies…. [But after] Bendix’s ill-conceived effort to go high tech…a takeover attempt…backfired, leading to the sale of Bendix.” Then, at Morrison Knudsen, a construction company, Agee “made some dreadful business decisions.” According to some executives, he used questionable accounting practices to boost earnings by tens of millions of dollars. The writer concluded that “Agee’s fatal flaw was his weakness as a manager.”2

Of course, a couple of years in a classroom does not necessarily destroy someone’s potential for management—there were, after all, those 5 other CEOs who seemed to do well. But the performance of the 14 suggests either that this business school has succeeded in putting some wrong people on the track to that top, or else that its emphasis on cases may have given some right people the wrong impression of management.

More Surprising Still   These results were obviously surprising. They did not prove anything, but they certainly deserved consideration: is it possible that the most renowned business school in the world graduated a group of people who performed so dismally at the apex of managerial power?

Hence, more surprising still is what happened next. Nothing.

We hardly hid these results: an initial version appeared in a 2001 Fortune magazine article3 and a later version in my book Managers not MBAs (2004, pp 111-119), which has sold 90,000 copies (presumably to some people who read it). You might think that this would have set off alarm bells, or at least evoked a bit of curiosity. That they do not suggests as much about business schools as do these results about their graduates.

More Troubling Still   Since I first posted this lament here in late 2014, two business school professors have weighed in, one of them my first doctoral student, Danny Miller, Director of the Research Center for Business Families at the HEC business school in Montreal, the other Xiaowei Xu of the University of Rhode Island. They authored two articles with much larger samples and even more troubling results.

In “A Fleeting Glory: Self-serving Behavior among Celebrated MBA CEOs”4, they used an ingenious sample:  444 chief executives of American corporations celebrated on the covers of Business Week, Fortune, and Forbes magazines from 1970 to 2008. The research compared the subsequent performance of those companies that were headed by MBAs—one-quarter of the total—with the ones that were not.

Both sets of companies declined in performance after those cover stories—Miller commented later that “it’s hard to stay on top”—but the ones headed by MBAs declined more quickly. This “performance gap remained significant even 7 years after the cover story appeared.” The authors found that “the MBA degree is associated with expedients to achieve growth via acquisitions...[which showed] up in the form of reduced cash flows and inferior return on assets.” Yet the compensation of the MBA CEOs increased, indeed about 15% faster than the others! Apparently they had learned how to play the “self-serving” game, which Miller referred to in a later interview as “costly rapid growth.”5

The second study, entitled “MBA CEOs, Short-term Management and Performance” (20176), used a wider, more recent sample: of 5004 CEOs of major U.S. public corporations from 2003 to 2013.  The results were much the same. “…we find that MBA CEOs are more apt than their non-MBA counterparts to engage in short-term strategic expedients such as positive earnings management and suppression of R&D, which in turn are followed by compromised firm market valuations.” Once again, these MBA CEOs were rewarded for this “performance.”

Why does this persist?  Business schools have become enormously successful, in some respects deservedly so. They do a great deal of significant research (Harvard now especially so). In universities, they are centers of interdisciplinary work, bringing together psychologists, sociologists, economists, historians, mathematicians, and others. And their MBA programs do well in training for the business functions, such as finance and marketing, if not for management. So why do they persist in promoting this education for management, which, according to mounting evidence, produces so much mismanagement?

The answer is unfortunately obvious: with so many of their graduates getting to the “top”, why change? But there is another answer that is also becoming obvious: because at this top, too many of their graduates are corrupting the economy.7

© 2017 Henry Mintzberg    See the last TWOG which described something  quite different: management education for practicing managers who reflect on and learn from their own experience. See also The Epidemic of Managing without Soul

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 M. Kinsley, “A business soap opera”, Fortune, 25 June, 1984

2 B. O’Reilly, “Agee in exile,” Fortune, 29 May 1995

3  H. Mintzberg and J. Lampel, “Do MBAs make better CEOs?”, Fortune, 19 February 2001

4Journal of Management Inquiry, 30 September, 2015

5 Miller, interviewed in the Harvard Business Review (Nicole Torres, “MBAs are more self-serving than other CEOs”, December 2016)

6Journal of Business Ethics, forthcoming in 2017 (for access now: DOI :10.1007/s10551-017-3450-5.)

7 A second unfortunately obvious answer is that many of the graduates are earning fortunes in financial institutions by serving themselves and their MBA CEO clients more than the economy.

 

How about an “emba” that engages managers beyond administration

7 February 2017

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. What, then, are you to do as a manager performing quite well, thank you, only to be repeatedly bypassed by MBAs who screw up? Join them by getting an EMBA and then do damage control?

Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action and engagement? Or pronounce on cases in companies that you never hear of before yesterday while your own first-hand experience is being ignored?  Is it just the administration of business that interests you, or the practice of managing?

There is plenty of business education, but hardly any management education. What, then, are you to do as a manager performing quite well, thank you, only to be repeatedly bypassed by MBAs who screw up? Join them by getting an EMBA and then do damage control?

Do you really want to sit in a nice neat row listening to lectures about action and engagement? Or pronounce on cases in companies that you never hear of before yesterday while your own first-hand experience is being ignored?  Is it just the administration of business that interests you, or the practice of managing?

For years, I went around giving talks at business schools about what’s wrong with MBA education for management: that it trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.1 The people are too young: a manager can’t be created in a classroom. This makes the ways too analytical: since the faculty can hardly address the art and craft of managing with these people (let alone by themselves), they have to rely on teaching them technique, or else use the second-hand experience of cases.  And by giving the students the impression that this has taught them to manage everything, whereas in actual fact they have learned to manage nothing, the consequences are often dire: the dirty little secret of even the best business schools is that too many of their graduates fail, even as CEOs. (Some surprising facts on this in an upcoming TWOG.)

Eventually people started asking me the question that should never be asked of an academic.  “What are you doing about it?” (We’re supposed to criticize, not do anything about anything.) Duly embarrassed, I teamed up with colleagues from leading schools around the world to create the International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org). Think of it as another kind of “emba”: engaging managers beyond administration.

While a manager cannot be created in a classroom, people who practice management can benefit enormously in a classroom that encourages them to reflect on their own experience and share their insights with each other. T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems that “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” This program is about managers getting the meaning of their experience.

Accordingly, the managers who participate in the impm (average age in their 40s) stay on the job—this is about doing a better job more than getting a better job—and come into the classroom for five modules of 10 days each over the course of 16 months. These focus, not on the functions of business (marketing, finance, etc.), but on the mindsets of managing: reflection (managing yourself, hosted by Lancaster University in England), analysis (managing organizations, hosted by my university, McGill, in Montreal), worldliness (managing context, hosted by the  Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore), collaboration (managing relationships, hosted by Renmin University in Beijing), and action (managing change, hosted by the FGV school in Rio de Janeiro).2

At the end of our very first module, on reflection, while everyone else was going around saying “It was great meeting you!”, Alan Whelan, a sales manager at BT, was saying: “It was great meeting myself!” We were off to a good start!

We have a 50:50 rule in our five classrooms: half the time it’s over to the managers on their agendas. Hence they sit at round tables in a flat room so they can go in and out of workshops at a moment’s notice. No need to “break out.”

These managers are not lone wolves parachuted into class to sit in selfie-silos, as shown in Model 1. They are colleagues in a community of social learning, engaged in their common development, as shown in Model 2.

This arrangement has opened the door to a variety of novel practices. 

•    “This is the best management book I ever read”, IMPM graduate Silke Lehnhardt told colleagues at Lufthansa who were about to start the program. She was holding up her Insight Book, which was empty when she first received it. Every day begins with morning reflections, first alone as everyone records in that book thoughts about the learning and their managing—on the job, in the business, in their life. Then they share these thoughts with colleagues around their table, followed by discussion in a big circle of the most compelling of their insights. Shouldn’t every manager’s best book be the one that they have written for themselves?  

•    It is intriguing what can happen in friendly consulting, where the concerns of each manager become the focus of attention of a small group of empathetic colleagues. One manager’s boss quit suddenly during the program, and she was struggling with whether to take that position. The hour of friendly consulting proved so helpful that they kept going over lunch.

•    Mayur Vova was running his jam and jelly company in Pune, India, while Françoise LeGoff was number two on the Africa desk at the Red Cross Federation in Geneva. They did the very first managerial exchange together, where the IMPM managers pair up and spend the better part of a week at each other’s workplaces. When the two of them arrived at the next module, they couldn’t wait to talk about their experience. At the start of that week, Mayur saw Françoise typing and asked: “Can’t a secretary do that?” Welcome to the worldly mindset: Geneva is not Pune! (That’s why we call it worldly, not global: the IMPM is not about becoming cookie cutter global, but about getting into other people’s worlds to better understand their own.) On the last day, Mayur told Françoise that he would be happy to meet with any of her staff. All of them lined up to convey through him their impressions of her management style. Better than a 360! Mayur “was like a mirror for me,” Françoise reported.

•    We encourage the managers to form an IMPact team back at work, to carry the learning into the company for sharing and action. In one small company that had run into a serious problem, the manager in the program, who had to pick up the pieces, formed such a team. He told us it saved the company.

The IMPM has been slow to spread to more conventional business schools, perhaps because they are too busy teaching cases about how the established companies missed the new technology. Is this the new technology? You have to see it to believe it.3 (The next IMPM class begins on May 15. Read also about the health care version, at IMHL.org.)

The MBA is fine so long as it is recognized for what it does well, namely train people for certain specialized jobs in business (such as marketing research or financial analysis). But it also has to be recognized for what it does badly, namely prepare people to manage. Beyond the MBA, it’s time for management education.

© 2014, 2017 Henry Mintzberg. This is a revision of a TWOG that first appeared on 19 December 2014. For more on all this, please see “Looking Forward to Development” (Training & Development, 13 February 2011), “From Management Development to Organization Development with Impact”  (OD Practitioner, 2011,Vol. 43 No. 3), and “Developing Naturally: from management to organization to society to selves


1 See Chapters 1-6 of my book Managers not MBAs (Berrett-Koehler, 2004).

2 See Gosling and Mintzberg, “The Five Minds of a Manager”, Harvard Business Review (November 2003).

3 Phil LeNir saw it, and took it in a different direction, out of the university. He was an engineering manager at a high tech company, concerned about developing his young managers, but with no budget for this or help from HR. He asked me what to do and I suggested that he get them together periodically for reflections and the sharing of experience. Over the course of two years, that worked so well—some of these managers started to do the same thing with their people—that we set up CoachingOurselves.com as a kind of do-it-yourself management development program. Now groups of managers in their own workplaces are downloading topics and engaging in social learning to address their common concerns. The IMPact group mentioned above made extensive use of CoachingOurselves in turning around its company.

 

Marching to Clever Campaigns

26 January 2017

Missing from the marches on Saturday was Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer of decades ago who, beyond marching, conceived clever campaigns to drive social change in the U.S.—by driving established authorities crazy.

Here is a simple example, in the spirit of Alinsky: In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bill by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It gave in.

Missing from the marches on Saturday was Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer of decades ago who, beyond marching, conceived clever campaigns to drive social change in the U.S.—by driving established authorities crazy.

Here is a simple example, in the spirit of Alinsky: In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bill by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It gave in.

From schoolyards to the White House to the global marketplace, it is remarkable how easily bullies can be outmaneuvered by a bit of imagination. To quote Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals: “…the disturbance would [have to] be utterly outside the experience of the establishment, which was expecting the usual stuff of mass meetings, street demonstrations, confrontations and parades.”

David brought down Goliath with an unexpected stone. (Of course, the Bible tells us that Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho with a march. But don’t expect this to happen again.) Trump is big and boastful too—and no less vulnerable. His offensive proposals can be brought down, not by violence or the breaking of laws, but by plain old ingenuity. Hit them where it hurts, bearing in mind one of Alinsky’s basic tactics: “Ridicule is [the] most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.” Trump it is!

Well before Saturday, he was aware of the intense resitance to his election. Indeed, the marches may have strengthened his resolve. While millions of women were voting with their feet, on the ground, one man in the White House was consolidating a cabinet that will violate their interests. And quite the cabinet it is: Exxon and Goldman Sachs taking on the establishment! In alternate fact, there are  two establishments in America, business and government, and the stronger has just taken control of the weaker. Business no longer need merely lobby government; now it is government. Things will likely get worse before they can get better.

How, then, to get them better? Tap into the energy of Saturday’s marches. See them as the foundation on which to build a framework for action.

It is telling how many people were prepared to express their concerns publicly, no few marching for the first time. With a taste of acting together, all these people constitute a potent starting point for change—but only that. Mass action will have to follow, creatively targeted at specific proposals coming out of this administration.

Please understand that this is about more than Donald Trump. He is an extreme symptom of problems that have been festering for years, in America and, increasingly, elsewhere: income inequalities, legalized bribery (in the form of political donations), unregulated globalization run rampant, and so much more, resulting in the demise of democracy and the denigration of decency. Some voters, not knowing which way to turn, have brought into power a slew of bullies all over the world. Figuratively and almost literally, these people will be pouring oil on the fires of this planet.

It will thus fall to the concerned folks, all over the world, to do  something about this. Bear in mind what made America great in the first place: protest turned into inspired action against indecent authority.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili (CC BY-SA 2.0) For more with For more on Saul Alinsky, please see:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/360/saul-alinsky/

 

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Forgive me for raining on that parade

20 January 2017

20 January 2017   Eating breakfast this morning, looking for diversion, I turned on CNN, only to be reminded of the event I had forgotten about, one that apparently “the whole world is watching.” I could take only so much of this before I banged out this rant.

It was the repeated claim about the resilience of American democracy that really got to me—this wonder of handing over power from one elected president to another. After decades of McCarthy, Vietnam, Iraq, income disparities, and now someone who lost the election but won the presidency with a vile campaign, you will have to forgive me for asking: When will the United States take its head out of the sand and face its condition?

20 January 2017   Eating breakfast this morning, looking for diversion, I turned on CNN, only to be reminded of the event I had forgotten about, one that apparently “the whole world is watching.” I could take only so much of this before I banged out this rant.

It was the repeated claim about the resilience of American democracy that really got to me—this wonder of handing over power from one elected president to another. After decades of McCarthy, Vietnam, Iraq, income disparities, and now someone who lost the election but won the presidency with a vile campaign, you will have to forgive me for asking: When will the United States take its head out of the sand and face its condition?

Sure it’s nice to celebrate, and to be proud of one’s heritage, even understandable to put a good face on a difficult situation. But not when this masks—and it has repeatedly masked—the reality facing the country. Serious problems have been festering in the United States for decades, and they have not been seriously addressed.

And when will the rest of us face the fact that a world of America the great, even if sometimes true, is a world of perpetual conflict, as other countries that think of themselves as no less great, weigh in.

I will stop here, except to refer you to my previous blog, where I suggested what concerned people might be able to do about this, and to my book, Rebalancing Society, that describes this deterioration, in the U.S. and worldwide.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017 

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Jefferson and Lincoln anticipated Trump. What’s next?

30 December 2016

Donald Trump is not a new phenomenon in the United States, just an extreme form of an ongoing one. For years theatre has been prominent in the country’s public life, although never quite like this. This latest farce may be entertaining, but it could prove to be disastrous. The so-called “leader of the free world” will soon be a loose cannon loaded with nuclear warheads.

The winner of the presidency loses the election (although not, conveniently, in four key states—kind of makes you wonder).   The great tax evader is expected to stop the evasion of taxes. He accused his opponent of giving speeches to the very bankers who are staffing his new administration. A hunt is already underway in the Environmental Protection Agency for whoever has dared to protect the environment. And please welcome ”clean coal” back to an atmosphere near you.

Donald Trump is not a new phenomenon in the United States, just an extreme form of an ongoing one. For years theatre has been prominent in the country’s public life, although never quite like this. This latest farce may be entertaining, but it could prove to be disastrous. The so-called “leader of the free world” will soon be a loose cannon loaded with nuclear warheads.

The winner of the presidency loses the election (although not, conveniently, in four key states—kind of makes you wonder).   The great tax evader is expected to stop the evasion of taxes. He accused his opponent of giving speeches to the very bankers who are staffing his new administration. A hunt is already underway in the Environmental Protection Agency for whoever has dared to protect the environment. And please welcome ”clean coal” back to an atmosphere near you.

This is quite literally business as usual. Just look at the stock market: it’s having a ball.

Business as usual began early in the Republic. It was barely a quarter century old when Thomas Jefferson expressed the hope that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength...” A half century later, Abraham Lincoln “tremble[d] for the safety of my country….  Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow…until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.… God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Instead, two decades later, the Supreme Court granted corporations the right to personhood. Not your usual personhood, however: corporate persons do not go to jail when they commit a crime (otherwise the ranks of the great enterprises would have been decimated by now). More recently, for anyone who missed its message, the Supreme Court granted these persons the right to fund political campaigns to their heart’s content. Do you think Brazil is corrupt? Its corruption is criminal, and is being prosecuted. The corruption in America is legal, and therefore beyond challenge: the U.S. Supreme Court legalized bribery.

There is noble America and there is nasty America: on one hand, the America of World War Two, the Marshall Plan, and the upholding of basic freedoms; on the other hand, the America of repeated incursions all over Latin America and into Vietnam and Iraq, and at home travesties from McCarthy to Trump.  Yet even rather liberal commentators have been blindsided by noble America. “Somewhere in the back of their minds, a lot of people seem to be realizing that the alternative to a United States–dominated world . . . is a leaderless world” (Thomas Friedman).1 “To regain the identity it enjoyed during the Cold War, the United States ought to become the leader of a community of democracies…. [It] would still need to retain its military might, but this strength would serve to protect a just world order” (George Soros).2 Shall we all sit back and hope that Friedman and Soros will not have to eat their words?

Guess what? Nasty America is on its way back in. Indeed, 2017 is looking to be the year of the bullies: Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, and the rest. Will people around the world who care about this planet and our progeny finally realize what has been going on and do something about it?

What has been going on is imbalance. Private sector forces now dominate the “free world” much as public sector forces dominated the communist world of Eastern Europe. In the name of globalization, “free enterprises” ride roughshod over free people and sovereign nations. Something is rotten in the state of democracy.

No wonder so many people are angry about globalization. The trouble is that they don’t know where to turn, so they vent their rage indiscriminately—in favor of the likes of Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen. The world is on fire and the inclination is to pour oil on it (all too literally in the case of climate change). Many of the more  established people don’t turn to reckless leadership; they are just waiting for corporate social responsibility to fix it—as if CSR will compensate for all the CSIrresponsibility we now see around us. These people should be taking tranquillizers (on patent). 

How to escape what Albert Einstein defined as insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? There may, however, be a silver lining in the Trump election: it issues a wake-up call, that we shall have to do things differently, sooner or later. Given his latest Twitter pathology about the American nuclear arsenal, sooner looks better.

Doing things different is possible. Imagine, for example, a council, a coalition, and communities.3 The Security Council of the United Nations is an insecurity council, arguably a war council. All five permanent members have large arsenals of nuclear weapons and histories of bullying—whether in the form of colonialism or belligerent incursions. They are also the five largest exporters of armaments in the world. Aleppo is their most recent accomplishment. Imagine instead  a Peace Council, made up of democratic nations with no nuclear weapons and no recent history of belligerence. Vested with legitimacy by concerned people all over the world, such a council could shift the whole thrust of international relations.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) each have their own cause: human rights for Amnesty International, the environment for Greenpeace, the medical consequences of calamities for Doctors Without Borders. Yet these problems share common cause, namely the imbalance that distorts the world today. Imagine if a coalition of respected NGOs issued a compelling vision forward—a manifesto for action to restore balance—around which these concerned people everywhere, left and right, could coalesce.

One message of the Trump, Sanders, Brexit, and other votes is that never before have so many regular people been prepared to act on the resentment they feel. With such a vision to replace the deceptive rhetoric of populist politicians, there could emerge a groundswell of people in communities, connected around the world, intent on restoring decency and democracy. They could pressure their governments to legislate and regulate for better balance, promote an international Peace Council, and support businesses that act responsibly while targeting those (and governments) that do not. We should be using the marketplace, with boycotts, to let the sellers beware.

Is any of this utopian? All of it is. But that makes none of it impossible, not when the alternative is to hope for the best. Everything in Donald Trump’s behavior indicates that what we see is what we are going to get.

It must have seemed impossible in 1776 that a popular groundswell could create a new form of democracy that would change the world. Thomas Paine, pamphleteer for that effort, did write that: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” And so they did. And so we can.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Some of these ideas are elaborated in my 2015 book Rebalancing Society

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 Friedman, T. 2009, February 25. Paging Uncle Sam. New York Times.www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/opinion/25friedman.htmal?

2 Soros, G. 2004. The bubble of American supremacy: The costs of Bush’s war in Iraq. New York: Perseus Books, pp. 167-168.

3 These were discussed at greater length in an earlier TWOG entitled “We couldn’t vote, but we can act.

 

Globalization or Democracy? Trade Pacts and Tribunals behind Closed Doors

7 December 2016

 Wallonian Farmer, photo by André Mouraux

Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, shed a few tears of frustration in October when the little region of Wallonia blocked the Canada-EU trade pact that she worked so hard to negotiate. Imagine that: a bunch of Belgian farmers standing up to the mighty forces of globalization. Next thing you know, Britain will be brexiting the EU and Trump will be trexiting the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). What is this world coming to? Its senses?

At the very least, the genie is out of the globalization bottle. Many people now realize the opaque consequences of globalization. Unfortunately, no small proportion of them have been convinced by demagogues to accept solutions that could be worse.

 Wallonian Farmer, photo by André Mouraux

Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, shed a few tears of frustration in October when the little region of Wallonia blocked the Canada-EU trade pact that she worked so hard to negotiate. Imagine that: a bunch of Belgian farmers standing up to the mighty forces of globalization. Next thing you know, Britain will be brexiting the EU and Trump will be trexiting the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). What is this world coming to? Its senses?

At the very least, the genie is out of the globalization bottle. Many people now realize the opaque consequences of globalization. Unfortunately, no small proportion of them have been convinced by demagogues to accept solutions that could be worse.

The Loaded Global Game   Economists have been telling us for decades that globalization is motherhood, as is free trade and free enterprise. After all, they insist, greed is good and markets are sacred while governments are suspect. Well, I am one of those who believe that governments are suspect when they buy into this nonsense. You don’t have to be bribed to be corrupted; you just have to be conned by dogma.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the sham tribunals that have been written into the trade pacts of recent years. These enable those free enterprises to sue sovereign nations whose laws or regulations—even in matters pertaining to health, culture, and environment—they deem to have affected their profits. So much for free people.

To understand why Trump and Farage as well as Sanders have been getting so much support, please notice two disconnected dots: the multinational enterprises that barrel ahead in the back rooms and the people in local communities who feel shut out. Something is rotten in the state of democracy.

This global game is loaded. The international trade pacts privilege large corporations that can move freely around the globe. They face no countervailing power, to use John Kenneth Galbraith’s forgotten phrase1—no global taxes, no global regulations to speak of (except for the ones they develop for themselves), no global government with teeth, just a set of international agencies, all of them economic—the IMF, The WTO, the World bank, the OECD—that act mostly as their cheerleaders. All of this has enabled these corporations to ride roughshod over governments, for example by playing them off against each other for tax breaks and by being allowed to enter the back rooms of the trade negotiations for their own benefit. 

Local businesses, in contrast, are subject to the countervailing power of their own governments, comprising regulations and national taxes. They have no foreign tax haven where they can plant some phony headquarters. Instead, these businesses are rooted in local communities, which, in fact, they serve socially as well as economically. And make no mistake about their importance to us all: count the number of local businesses with which you regularly interact. I’ll bet they far outnumber the global ones. Yet the concept of community does not figure in mainstream economics, nor therefore in the trade pacts. It took the peculiar veto power of Wallonia to open the closed doors of this pact, thereby providing three million people with an 11th-hour deal for themselves. Is this any way to make some of our most momentous policy decisions?

The Sham Tribunals  Here is what was written about these tribunals in a spate of articles three years ago, as their consequences became evident. In the Guardian: their hearings “are held in secret, the judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities...have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal.”2 A New York Times article and editorial pointed out how “big tobacco” had been using these tribunals to “intimidate” and “bully” poor countries into rescinding regulations intended to control the use of tobacco. The health minister of Namibia reported receiving “bundles of letters” from the industry about its attempts to curb smoking rates among young women.3

As for our rich country, Canada, with regard to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), one Canadian official reported seeing “the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years” (in the Guardian article). Before the trade negotiations for the EU-US pact had even begun, according to another New York Times article, European officials were “consulting with business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic on how to structure a free-trade pact…. Among other things, the business community was seeking an active role in writing new regulations.”4 Cry for democracy Minister Freeland.

The recent Canada-EU agreement has removed the most abusive aspects of these tribunals. But not the tribunals themselves, whose very existence is abusive, as are some other aspects of the agreement. Here is what a prominent group of Canadians with extensive experience on this issue wrote in a open letter to the people and parliamentarians of Wallonia. This “agreement will impose new constraints in many...areas of public policy”, including “pharmaceutical regulations, public health, agriculture… [and] labor rights.”5 This undermining of democracy by democratically elected government is happening in Trudeau’s Canada, not Erdogan’s Turkey.

Time to use our own courts   Democratic countries have laws and courts dedicated to protecting all their citizens and institutions. We don’t need special courts outside our borders devoted to the protection of private capital. We should be challenging in these courts the self-assumed right of our governments to bargain away our basic rights as citizens. Strike down this travesty of justice in just one country and watch the whole house of cards come down.6

Globalization needs to be constrained, not further entitled. Continue to allow it to trump democracy and watch the rise of more Donald Trumps.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more on global, local, and community, see my book Rebalancing Society...radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 J.K. Galbraith, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power (Houghton-Mifflin, 1952)

2 Monbiot, G. 2013, November 4. This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy. The Guardian. www .theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal- full-frontal-assault-on-democacy

3 Tavernise, S. 2013, December 13. Big Tobacco steps up its barrage of litigation. International New York Times.

4 Hakim, D. 2013, October 8. European officials consulted business leaders on trade pact. New York Times. www.nytimes .com/2013/10/09/business/international/european-officials- consulted-business-leaders-on-trade-pact-with-us.html

6 As part of their deal, the people of Wallonia have set off a process that may accomplish just that, while judges in Germany are already questioning the constitutionality of the tribunals in the EU pacts.

 

We couldn’t vote, but we can act

23 November 2016

We in Canada, alongside other people around the world, did not get to vote in the recent American election. Yet we are meant to suffer the international consequences of it. Shall we sit back, as usual, and watch events unfold, including the possibly catastrophic effects of climate change left unchecked?

Moreover, shall we continue to look on, in Aleppo and elsewhere, as communities are blown apart while a few great powers maneuver behind the scenes? Now another of these powers will have a bully at the helm—a loose cannon with his finger on the nuclear button. Bullies may admire each other, but what happens when they cross each other?

On the other hand, perhaps Donald Trump has done the world a great service, by bringing to a head long festering problems that can no longer be tolerated.

We in Canada, alongside other people around the world, did not get to vote in the recent American election. Yet we are meant to suffer the international consequences of it. Shall we sit back, as usual, and watch events unfold, including the possibly catastrophic effects of climate change left unchecked?

Moreover, shall we continue to look on, in Aleppo and elsewhere, as communities are blown apart while a few great powers maneuver behind the scenes? Now another of these powers will have a bully at the helm—a loose cannon with his finger on the nuclear button. Bullies may admire each other, but what happens when they cross each other?

On the other hand, perhaps Donald Trump has done the world a great service, by bringing to a head long festering problems that can no longer be tolerated.

Enough of the Great Global Powers    Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. Gangs would roam the streets, seizing territory and battling with each other for advantage. Well, this is the world we live in today. Three political powers roam the globe, exercising their influence, while an economic force called globalization empowers the affluent of the world to ride roughshod over everyone else.

We all know about noble America, the defender of freedom, as in World War II and the Marshall Plan that followed. Nonetheless, we had better not forget about nasty America, with its wars in Vietnam and Iraq as well as its repeated incursions throughout Latin America. Are we about to experience another round of nasty America—America made great again? Power does corrupt, whether it speaks English, Russian, or Mandarin.

We may not choose the leaders of the great powers, but we can certainly challenge the outsized control that they, and globalization, exercise over our destinies. Consider a council, a coalition, and connected communities.

A Council of Peaceful Democracies    Five countries dominate the United Nations: the permanent members of the Security Council. This should be called the War Council, since all five have large arsenals of nuclear weapons and histories of bullying—whether in the form of colonialism or belligerent incursions—and are the five largest exporters of armaments in the world.

Imagine instead a Peace Council, of democratic countries with no nuclear weapons, no history of military incursions in recent times, and relatively insignificant exports of armaments.  

Does this sound impossible? It could be made possible simply by creating it. Imagine if Pope Francis, perhaps the most respected leader in the world, convened an initial meeting of several such countries, to define the mission and determine the membership of such a council. This could include countries that have been particularly active in peacekeeping (such as Sweden and Canada), democracies in South America and Africa (for example, Uruguay, Ghana, and Brazil when it gets its political act together), Costa Rica (which got rid of its armed forces in 1948), and perhaps South Korea, from Asia (once it resolves its current difficulties).

Before ridiculing this collection of peripheral powers, consider how many such countries there are, and the influence they could have when working together for a safer world. Get your head around this form of influence—peace in place of power—and the ridicule could instead be directed at the obstinate permanent membership of the Security Council.

Such a council could take positions on issues such as the inequitable distribution of wealth in the world and the recent demise of so many democracies. With no official status, or even one day with it, the power of such a council would  depend on the efforts of institutions and people on the ground.

A Coalition of Engaged NGOs   Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) abound in the world, each with its own mission. Amnesty International deals with human rights, Greenpeace with the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the medical consequences of calamities. Yet many of these problems share a common cause, namely the imbalances that pervade the world today: the domination of all things economic over anything social, the capacity of global corporations to intimidate sovereign governments, and the lop-sided influence of the three great powers. Imagine, then, a coalition of engaged NGOs that could champion the establishment of a compelling, constructive vision—a manifesto for balance—around which concerned people everywhere could coalesce.

Connected Communities of the “good folk”   One message of the Trump, Brexit, and other votes is that never before have so many people been prepared to act on the resentment they feel. What they have lacked, however, is this compelling vision to replace the deceptive rhetoric of populist politicians. That could provide a groundswell of collaboration among what can be called the “good folk” of the world—people concerned with decency and democracy.

Collaboration happens in communities, not networks. (If you doubt this, ask your Facebook “friends” to help paint your house.) Thus, the real force for change exists in community groups on the ground, albeit networked around the world. If Amnesty International alone has seven million members, think about how many other people now function in groups in particular communities, and how many more groups would form given a clear rallying call for change.

Well, then, what are we waiting for?   All the necessary elements are in place for a groundswell of global action: Peaceful nations perhaps now ready to work together; the mass media to highlight the excesses of our imbalanced world; the NGOs to articulate a compelling vision for change; community groups of concerned people determined to make the necessary changes; and the social media prepared to connect these communities into a worldwide movement.

These community groups could pressure their governments to legislate and regulate for better balance, to promote an international Peace Council, and to support businesses that act responsibly while targeting businesses as well as governments that do not. Think of how powerful the tool of boycotting would be—so well-honed by international alliances—when executed at the grass-roots level, across the globe.

Is this vigilante justice?  Not at all. It is making good use of the marketplace, a concept that corporations understand well, as does President-elect Donald Trump, not to mention Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. We do, after all, have the right not to buy, also to let the buyer be aware—and the seller too.

Am I dreaming in color? Sure, for good reason. The likely alternative could well be one of the nightmare scenarios that would destroy our planet and our progeny.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. A similar version appeared in the Huffington Post on 22 November. See my book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. 

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Need a strategy? Let it grow like a weed in the garden

23 October 2016

Hothouse Dick sitting among the weeds, photo by HM

Searching for a strategy? Here’s how to get one, according to just about every book and article on the subject. I have stylized this a bit, in what I call the Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation.

1.    There is one prime strategist, and that person is the chief executive officer. Other managers may participate, and planners provide support, while consultants offer advice (sometimes they even offer the strategy itself—but don’t tell anybody).

2.    The chief analyzes the appropriate data and then formulates the strategy through a controlled process of conscious thought, much as tomatoes are cultivated in a hothouse.

3.    The strategy comes out of this process immaculately conceived, then to be made formally explicit, much as ripe tomatoes are picked and sent to market.

Hothouse Dick sitting among the weeds, photo by HM

Searching for a strategy? Here’s how to get one, according to just about every book and article on the subject. I have stylized this a bit, in what I call the Hothouse Model of Strategy Formulation.

1.    There is one prime strategist, and that person is the chief executive officer. Other managers may participate, and planners provide support, while consultants offer advice (sometimes they even offer the strategy itself—but don’t tell anybody).

2.    The chief analyzes the appropriate data and then formulates the strategy through a controlled process of conscious thought, much as tomatoes are cultivated in a hothouse.

3.    The strategy comes out of this process immaculately conceived, then to be made formally explicit, much as ripe tomatoes are picked and sent to market.

4.  This explicit strategy is then systematically implemented, which includes the development of necessary budgets as well as the design of appropriate structure. (If the strategy fails, blame “implementation”, namely those dumbbells who were not smart enough to implement your brilliant strategy. But be careful, because if the dumbbells are smart, they will the ask “Why, if you are so smart, did you not formulate a strategy that we dumbbells were capable of implementing?” You see, every failure of implementation is one of formulation.)

5.    Hence to manage this process is to plant your strategy carefully and watch over it as it grows on schedule, so that the market can beat a path to your products and services.1

 

Wait, don’t go off and start your strategy quite yet. First read what I call a grassroots model of strategy formation.

1.    Strategies grow initially like weeds in a garden; they are not cultivated like tomatoes in a hothouse. In other words, the process of creating strategies can be over-managed. Sometimes it is more important to let ideas emerge than to force a premature consistency on the organization. Allow those strategies to form, as patterns, not having to be formulated, as plans. The hothouse, if needed, can come later.

2.    These strategies can take root in all kinds of strange places, virtually wherever people have the capacity to learn and the resources to support that capacity. Sometimes an individual in touch with an opportunity can create his or her own idea that evolves into a strategy. An engineer meets a customer and gets an idea for a new product. No discussion, no planning: she just builds it and sells it. The point is that organizations cannot always plan where their strategies will emerge, let alone plan the strategies themselves.

3.    Ideas become strategies when they pervade  the organization. Other engineers see what she has done and follow suit. Then the salespeople get the idea. Next thing you know, the organization has a new strategy—a new pattern in its activities—which might even come as a surprise to the central management. After all, weeds can proliferate and encompass a whole garden; then the conventional plants look out of place. Likewise, newly emerging strategies can sometimes displace existing deliberate ones. But, of course, what’s a weed but a plant that wasn’t expected? With a change of perspective, the emerging strategy can become what’s valued, much as Europeans enjoy salads of the leaves of dandelions, America’s most notorious weed.

4.    The processes of proliferation may or may not be consciously managed. As noted above, the pattern can just spread by collective action, much as plants proliferate themselves. Of course, once strategies are recognized as valuable, the processes by which they proliferate can be managed, just as plants can be selectively propagated. Then it may be time to build that hothouse—make that emergent strategy deliberate going forward.

5.    There is a time to sow strategies and a time to reap them. The blurring of the separation between these two can have the same effect on an organization that the blurring of the separation between sowing and reaping can have on a garden. Managers have to appreciate when to exploit an established crop of strategies and when to encourage new strains to replace them.

6.    Hence to manage this process is not to preconceive strategies but to recognize their emergence and intervene when appropriate. A destructive weed, once noticed, is best uprooted immediately. But one that seems capable of bearing fruit is worth watching, indeed sometimes worth building a hothouse around. Managing in this context means ensuring a flexible structure that encourages the generation of a wide variety of ideas and establishing a climate within which such ideas can grow, then to notice what does in fact come up, and support the best of it. But you must not be too quick to cut off the unexpected: sometimes it is better to pretend not to notice a newly emerging strategy until it bears some fruit, or else withers.

 

OK, now you are all set to go out and create strategies: by forgetting the word, getting involved in the details, and doing a lot more learning than planning.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. This TWOG is adopted from pages 214-216 of my book Mintzberg on Management, which is the best collection of my earlier writings.

1Aside from the work of Michael Porter, see Dick Rumelt’s book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Neither author would, of course, quite subscribe to this characterization of their work, but both offer the best of this approach.

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The devil is in a detail

4 October 2016

Mies van der Rohe, the famous Bauhaus architect, claimed that “God is in the details.” But another expression, that “The devil is in the details”, is more common, perhaps because the devil has been hard at work in the corporate world these days.

I relish businesses that get the details right. The first thing you notice about a great restaurant is how good the bread is. When you walk into a well-functioning office, you are struck by the attentiveness of the people. As a customer, you pay what they ask, because of another detail: you trust them. Even when this is substantial, you walk out feeling satisfied—it was worth it.  When the devil is lurking about, however, you notice the details even more: the surliness of a staff member, or being ripped off by some unexpected charge.

Mies van der Rohe, the famous Bauhaus architect, claimed that “God is in the details.” But another expression, that “The devil is in the details”, is more common, perhaps because the devil has been hard at work in the corporate world these days.

I relish businesses that get the details right. The first thing you notice about a great restaurant is how good the bread is. When you walk into a well-functioning office, you are struck by the attentiveness of the people. As a customer, you pay what they ask, because of another detail: you trust them. Even when this is substantial, you walk out feeling satisfied—it was worth it.  When the devil is lurking about, however, you notice the details even more: the surliness of a staff member, or being ripped off by some unexpected charge.

Recently we took our health care program (imhl.org) back to a hotel because last time it was so good on the details. Not this time. We brought two of our own microphones, but were forced to rent theirs: four days for $1200. (We bought our two for $400.) A server grabbed away my juice glass at breakfast, and didn’t respond when I asked for it back until I raised my voice a third time. She turned around and shot back: “You could go and get a new one.” The bathroom near our meeting room was dirty, and ran out of paper. Liz, who administers the program, said: “I did not feel like we were important to them.” What happened to this place?

Shall we look for the devil in the executive offices? A new manager, perhaps? Nope, the same one as last time. New owners? Yes, from abroad, who apparently moved into the place. Were they managing the manager? Who knows? Or maybe this was just an off week. After all, the first thing I noticed at dinner was how good the bread was. (The second thing I noticed was that the food had become less good.)

The devil in many enterprises these days may also be lurking in a book that is 100 years old. Henri Fayol, a French mining magnate, published General and Industrial Administration in 1916. It described the basic elements of managing as Planning, Organizing, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling. Think about them: five words for controlling!

This view dominated the managerial mindset for decades. Then along came a number of management writers, myself included, who challenged it. In my 1973 book The Nature of Managerial Work, I pointed out that managers spend at least half their time interacting with people outside their units: negotiating with suppliers, lobbying with governments, meeting customers, and so on. Where is the controlling in this? And many of us have been working hard for years to get managing past the mindset of all that controlling: toward cooperating and collaborating, in a word, communityship, beyond leadership.

Now, however, especially in many widely-held enterprises, controlling seems to have come back with a vengeance. “Owners” who are changing all the time, and many of the stock analysts who do their bidding, couldn’t care less about engaging employees, about pride and respect in work, about serving customers, about quality in products and services.  All they care about is MORE: squeezing out more revenues, more savings, more profits. Manage the enterprise the way you make orange juice.

But what happens when there is no more to be squeezed out of a place that has been run really well? The answer is easy: provide less to make more. Rip the customers off with add-on fees. Pressure the staff to cut corners. Or “downsize” them altogether so that there is no-one to replenish the toilet paper. And don’t forget to pay the CEO outrageous bonuses to drive all this.

Yes, Planning, Organizing, Commanding, Coordinating, and Controlling is back all right, except that now it has become remote controlling: detached from the operations yet determined to control them. This has become much of management in the digital age.

Did I suggest above that controlling is focussed within the organization? Not this time around. Now the customers are controlled ($1200 for microphones), the suppliers are controlled (don’t let them get carried away with quality), even markets are controlled (buy your competitors when you can’t collude with them). All except the stock market and those analysts. The devil is now in one little detail: the immediate price of the stock. Where are you God?

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more on some of this, see my book Simply Managing.

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Trumped both ways: ‘Snake Oil’ or ‘Business as Usual’

14 September 2016

This week’s TWOG is co-authored with John Breitner, after we realized that our discussions about the U.S. election led us from different political perspectives to the same conclusion.

One of us is American and the other Canadian, one conservative, the other liberal.  We live in Canada, a good vantage whence to watch the U.S. election.  Where, we wish to ask, are the good folks of America, in politics and in the population? In the population they appear to be marginalized by a choice between one politician who is selling snake oil, 21st century style, and another who epitomizes the establishment that many of them abhor—business as usual.

This week’s TWOG is co-authored with John Breitner, after we realized that our discussions about the U.S. election led us from different political perspectives to the same conclusion.

One of us is American and the other Canadian, one conservative, the other liberal.  We live in Canada, a good vantage whence to watch the U.S. election.  Where, we wish to ask, are the good folks of America, in politics and in the population? In the population they appear to be marginalized by a choice between one politician who is selling snake oil, 21st century style, and another who epitomizes the establishment that many of them abhor—business as usual.

Donald Trump gives voice to many Americans who know that they are getting bamboozled. Yet here is the ultimate hustler, the very type who does so much of the bamboozling. Trust me, he says. Hillary Clinton gives voice to many who appreciate how dangerous her opponent could be. Trust me, she too says, while offering a steady stream of reasons why people cannot.  Sure we all have our flaws, but among 320 million Americans, could two not be found with flaws that reveal an underlying integrity? 

How is anyone to believe that either candidate will deal with the deeply-rooted problems of America today: income disparities, the legal corruption of political donations, a warming globe that needs to be cooled, crony capitalism that has harmed so much of the American middle class? Add to this the ultimate problem: an uncanny tendency to deal with all these fires by repeatedly pouring oil on them.

How, exactly, will the hotshot with the checkered background, who promises to “make America great again”, do that?  How will the archetype of the American establishment challenge that establishment?  And how will either of these two, who used to socialize together as members of the 1%, improve the lot of the 99%?

Americans have been hearing the “trust me” line for centuries. Lincoln famously claimed that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  Maybe so, but it appears that you can fool many of the people much of the time because, to quote P.T. Barnum, a sucker is born every minute.  So, evidently, is a shark.  Ask the contractors and workers of Atlantic City who sued the Donald for reneging on his contracts.

Trump, of course, also offers business as usual—in his case, quite literally.  I’m a businessman, he says. I can do it.  We’ve heard that before too.  Even if we leave aside that government is not business, even if we ignore the record of so much of today’s business as usual—all the lobbying, pay-to-play donations, corporate social irresponsibility, and the obscenity of executive compensation—we still have to ask what kind of a businessman is Donald Trump anyway?  Was he serious when he offered to renegotiate the U.S. federal debt to solve the deficit problem?  Or when he asked that an American-born judge of Mexican descent be recused from hearing complaints about his infamous “Trump University”?

What, then, are the good folks of America to do? When two people engage in a battle, both can look bad, even though one may have been worse. They drag each other down. No-one should be fooled by this. We believe that the calculus of the U.S. election is quite simple. The flaws of these two candidates hardly deserve the equal attention they are getting in some of the correct media. One is flawed, but the other could be fatally flawed. Business as usual may be intolerable, but snake oil for the ills of this world is downright hazardous. What Donald Trump would do as president is anyone’s guess; what Hillary Clinton would do is not.

So the American among us will hold his nose and vote Democratic. Then both of us will take a deep breath and contemplate the bigger issue: how can good folks save democracy from itself?  We urge you to do likewise.

© Henry Mintzberg and John Breitner 2016.  John is Director of the Center for Studies on Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease at the Douglas Hospital Research Center in Montreal, and a Professor of Psychiatry in the McGill University Faculty of Medicine. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Confronting Socially Transmitted Epidemics

2 September 2016

Today this TWOG is 2. On 2 September 2014, I wrote: “Welcome to my TWOG—Tweet2Blog. Rousing reflections in a page or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in a sentence or 2.” So maybe it’s time to look back and ask myself what all this has been about.

Mostly, I have decided, these TWOGs have been about socially transmitted epidemics: pathological practices in society that spread like wildfire, causing considerable devastation. We need to see each of these for what it is, and to get it by reframing it so that we can do something about it.

Today this TWOG is 2. On 2 September 2014, I wrote: “Welcome to my TWOG—Tweet2Blog. Rousing reflections in a page or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in a sentence or 2.” So maybe it’s time to look back and ask myself what all this has been about.

Mostly, I have decided, these TWOGs have been about socially transmitted epidemics: pathological practices in society that spread like wildfire, causing considerable devastation. We need to see each of these for what it is, and to get it by reframing it so that we can do something about it.

Seeing it   These socially transmitted epidemics range from mismanaging (including organizing defectively, measuring excessively, and training mistakenly) to the mother of them all, imbalance in society (the domination of private sector forces). In between are executive bonuses and income disparities, pharmaceutical pricing, gun control (in the U.S. at least), climate change, and others.

Getting it   We may see most of these epidemics, but that doesn’t mean we get them, in our souls, and behaviors. For example, most of us see climate change, and do get it—in our heads. But how many of us get it in our practices? (That’s inconvenient.) We may see mismanagement all around us, but how many of us understand its full consequences, let alone its causes. I have railed on about the dysfunctions of conventional management education, which I see as a main cause of this mismanagement, and have backed this up with a study of Harvard’s superstar graduates, most of whom failed as CEOs. This raised not a single alarm bell. Do we not want to get it?

I am amazed at the extent to which these epidemics fester. How, for example, do we tolerate pharmaceutical pricing for one day longer? Likewise, why is it that the more outrageous is executive compensation, the worse it gets?

Reframing it   Hence I have devoted considerable attention to reframing—attempting to shift our understanding of these epidemics so that we can get them. To understand gun control in America, ask yourself if people there have the right to bear nuclear arms. To face the defects of globalization, think worldly. To reverse mismanagement, understand its separation from leadership on one side and from communityship on the other. Appreciate that effective managing is about scrambled eggs more than bottom lines.

To challenge pharmaceutical pricing, recognize that a patent is a monopoly, granted by a government. (How can any government allow its citizens to die for want of available medicines that could be affordable? That’s manslaughter.) 1 To understand the imbalance that enables such pricing, appreciate that the Berlin Wall fell on us. Capitalism has triumphed since then, not before that. To do something about this imbalance, recognize that there are three sectors in society, not two, and that the forgotten one—the plural sector, of you, me, and our communities—will have to galvanize our governments and businesses into serious action.

Doing something about it   This is where TWOGs stop. They are collections of electrons, from my e-thing to yours, hopefully having passed through my brain and into yours, so that they can reach our hands and our feet, for action. When a medical epidemic is recognized, the progressive world goes into action. Well, here are all kinds of social epidemics causing untold damage; they need attention. At the ripe young age of 77 (Happy birthday to me!), after years of being the good academic, now I am active. Maybe you are too; otherwise I can assure you that it’s not too late.

_____________________________________________

I wrote in my first TWOG that “I intend to do this at most weekly, to avoid doing it at worst weakly, feeding the beast with all sorts of provocative and profound fun.” I have been true to that, skipping just one week in two years. It has been fun, for me and I hope for you too. But to avoid doing it weakly, I think I should stop doing it weekly. Time to confront the beast. So look for these TWOGs about every other week. Both of us already have quite the agenda of epidemics awaiting out attention.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. My special thanks to Simon Hudson, who has been the rock between the place of hard data and my soft ideas.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 On Tuesday, an article in the New York Times reported that “The raging debate over EpiPen pricing has offered a surprisingly wide window into the complicated world of prescription drug pricing…” Are you kidding? There is nothing complicated about this scandal at all. 

 

Analyst: Analyze Thyself

24 August 2016

Photo credit: Ian ThompsonCC BY-SA 2.0

“It is a well-known axiom that what is not measured can’t be managed” (Kaplan and Porter in the opening of their 2011 Harvard Business Review article “How to solve the cost crisis in health care”). This is well-known all right, and false, not to mention downright silly.

Photo credit: Ian ThompsonCC BY-SA 2.0

“It is a well-known axiom that what is not measured can’t be managed” (Kaplan and Porter in the opening of their 2011 Harvard Business Review article “How to solve the cost crisis in health care”). This is well-known all right, and false, not to mention downright silly.

Who ever successfully measured culture, leadership, even the potential for a truly new product? Can none of these thus be managed? Did Kaplan and Porter measure the effectiveness of their own recommendations? Indeed, who has even tried to measure the performance of measurement itself, aside from assuming that it is marvelous? And how about measuring the performance of management? (Don’t tell me that increase in share price does this for the CEO. See “The tricky task of measuring managers.”) I guess, therefore, measurement and management can’t be managed.

Guess what? They can. We just have to understand that many of the things that matter most in organizations (and in life) cannot be measured, yet they have to be managed, whether personally or organizationally. Certainly we have to measure what we can; we just cannot allow ourselves to be mesmerized by measurement―which we so often are.

In this article, Kaplan and Porter (2011) provide a list of seven steps “to estimate the total costs of treating...patient populations”:

1.    Select the medical condition [specifying the possible “complications and comorbidities"]

2.    Define the care delivery value chain…which charts the principal activities

3.    Develop process maps for each activity

4.    Obtain time estimates for each process

5.    Estimate the cost of supplying patient care resources

6.    Estimate the capacity of each resource and calculate the capacity cost rate

7.    Calculate the total cost of patient care

Don’t look for:

8.    Include the costs of doing all this.

But you can get a sense of it by reading the authors’ example of a knee replacement, for which 77 activities are listed.1 Multiply this by elbows, hips, brains, hearts and minds, etc., factor in the frequency of improvements in these activities, which may come one at a time, and you have to wonder if analysts will soon outnumber clinicians in health care.

But the direct costs of their efforts are not the only costs. How about the costs of the distractions to the clinicians―for example, by having to record so much data―plus the costs of the political battles that ensue over who is measuring what, how, where, when, and for whom. Analysts see measurements as objective; contrast this with the political blood spilled over determining them.

Imagine if analysts put themselves through the same scrutiny as some do everyone else. In other words, imagine if they analyzed themselves. Maybe then, instead, we would get more of the following:

Years ago, the British retailer Marks and Spencer decided it was spending too much money controlling the movement of stock in its stores. So instead of a clerk filling out an order form to replenish a shelf, which was handed to another clerk behind a counter, who went to fetch the items, etc., the company got rid of the whole procedure and simply let the clerks go in the back and scoop up what they needed. The company was able to function with thousands fewer clerks and 26 million fewer cards and papers.

Now that’s truly efficient­­, and a vote of faith in the honesty of the clerks. Health care administrators take note: treated with respect, left to figure out many things for themselves, health care professionals can prove to be at least as trustworthy as store clerks.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Excerpted from my new book Managing the Myths of Health Care (forthcoming in 2017).

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

 


1 Not to mention that “Outcomes for any medical condition or patient population should be measured along multiple dimensions, including survival, ability to function, duration of care, discomfort and complications, and the sustainability of recovery” (p. 5).

 

Coalescing around Climate

17 August 2016

(Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library, CC BY 2.0)

I hate to harp on the same themes, but I do need to to get this right. For some time, I have been blogging about imbalance in society, about climate change, and about the plural sector (civil society) and how to get its collective act together. Last week, after participating in several related activities at the World Social Forum in Montreal, including a panel discussion that gave rise to two insights, these themes began to coalesce into a coherent framework for action. I summarize it here as a work-in-progress:

(Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library, CC BY 2.0)

I hate to harp on the same themes, but I do need to to get this right. For some time, I have been blogging about imbalance in society, about climate change, and about the plural sector (civil society) and how to get its collective act together. Last week, after participating in several related activities at the World Social Forum in Montreal, including a panel discussion that gave rise to two insights, these themes began to coalesce into a coherent framework for action. I summarize it here as a work-in-progress:

THE ISSUE: The world is dangerously out of balance. The private sector is dominant; much of the public sector is coopted by it; and the plural sector is obscure, marginalized by our obsession with left versus right, namely public sector governments versus private sector markets, with no room for the communities of the plural sector in between.1 Many of the difficulties we face now—for example, income disparities, lop-sided globalization, and global warming (intensified by our relentless production of more and more)—derive from, or are exacerbated by, this imbalance.

THE IMPERATIVE: The plural sector will have to take the lead in restoring the balance. The private sector will not cede its established dominance, nor will the social responsibility of businesses compensate for all the the social irresponsibility we now experience. And how many governments are prepared to challenge the private interests that coopt them domestically alongside the economic forces that overwhelm them globally?  This leaves but one sector to take the lead in driving the radical renewal we require—the plural sector.

THE PROBLEM: The plural sector is too plural, and disorganized, to get its collective act together. This is the sector of NGOs, cooperatives, community groups, social movements, social initiatives, and other associations that are owned neither by the state or by private investors. (They are owned by their members, or else by no-one. Who, for example, owns Greenpeace?) The World Social Forum itself made clear last week how eclectic and vibrant is the plural sector, also how much difficulty it has getting itself organized. (Compare this with the World Economic Forum in Davos, and business lobbying in general. Private sector businesses get their collective act together rather effectively when, for example, they wish to lobby for lower taxes.) Can our future be ceded to whatever force in society happens to be the most organized?

FIRST INSIGHT: The plural sector will have to focus on some central challenge. At a panel we ran at the Forum about the sector getting its act together, someone in the audience made the point that, to make headway at this point, the plural sector will have to focus its energies on one central theme. Rebalancing society is perhaps too broad and abstract a theme, at least for getting started. The obvious theme on which to focus is climate change. Pledges by governments, as at the COP 21 conference in Paris last December, will not deal with it. ( See the TWOG of 12 May, “Saving the planet from governments and markets.”) And business initiatives, however beneficial—for example, related to cap and trade, electric vehicles, and alternate forms of energy—are not going to suffice. (See the TWOG of 22 January 2015, “Can the World Economic Forum deal with the world’s social problems.”) We need 0°, not +2°, and cannot count on government or business alone to get us there. Once we recognize the urgency of stopping global warming, not just slowing it down, we will be able to face the underlying problem of balancing our societies.

SECOND INSIGHT: The plural sector will have to channel the power of its plurality—to make constructive use of its own dis-organization. Alex Megelas of Concordia University made an important point on the same panel: that the strength of the plural sector lies in its plurality, namely its messiness. How then are we to reconcile these concurrent needs for organization and dis-organization at the same time? By organizing around a central theme and then tackling it with a whole host of different efforts. We need to swamp the problem of climate change with all kinds of clever initiatives. So the issue reduces to:

THE QUESTION: How to channel the power of the plural sector, which includes that of ourselves, to move the public and private sectors toward profound action on climate change, and ultimately, on the imbalance we face? We are the plural sector, on the ground: you and I. We create, staff, use, and support its associations, in our communities and beyond. Moreover, we vote, we buy, and we march. Individually, we can refuse, we can reduce, and we can replace. And together, as consumers, citizens, and actors, we can drive our governments and businesses to face their responsibilities, as we must face our own. The plural sector will cease to remain obscure when the good folks of the world come to realize the potential of their power, and become the force needed to address the future of this planet and our progeny. After all, what major social change ever began without a groundswell of concerned human energy?

I want to end this TWOG here. After all, as James Thurber claimed: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” Here at least is one of the questions. But can I just stop now, without explaining what has to happen next? This is the question I get every time I push these ideas one step further: “Yea, but what do we do now?” The answer lies in we, beyond me.

Social change in the thirteen American colonies began with a sudden tea party in the Boston harbor. The civil rights movement in the U.S. began with an act of civil disobedience, by a woman who boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. People on the ground take the steps that cause chain reactions to change the world.  As a work-in-progress, this effort has to engage many of us, with a plurality of ideas that can evoke all sorts of determined actions, to overwhelm what now overwhelms us. So let me ask you to suggest what can come next, with the spark of compelling ideas that can take us to a decent climate: on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

We don’t have it right yet, but we are getting there!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more on the central theme, please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left right and center, available in the usual places, but also for free downloading as a PDF.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 For an all-too-pointed example of this, see last week’s TWOG on how Montreal’s English-language daily focussed its coverage of the Forum around two Israeli-Palestinian incidents, as if the thousand other activities never took place.

 

Dis-organizing our way to balance

12 August 2016

We are masters at running successful experiments in failed events. On Wednesday, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal, our event in the McGill University football stadium was entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” We had no way to know how many people would attend.1 I predicted between 50 and 5000, which made our organizing rather difficult. Suffice it to say that we did not hit the high side.

We are masters at running successful experiments in failed events. On Wednesday, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal, our event in the McGill University football stadium was entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” We had no way to know how many people would attend.1 I predicted between 50 and 5000, which made our organizing rather difficult. Suffice it to say that we did not hit the high side.

Undeterred, we improvised. We adapted much of our design to the numbers present. It worked, rather well in fact. The intention was to self-organize in small groups, to come up with cool ideas that could be taken home for dealing with climate change. That we did, albeit with few groups, including our super-enthusiastic volunteers. Each focussed on one of four questions:

  • Getting it about climate change doesn’t mean we live it. How can you and I live it?
  • What can we do with food: producing, processing, distributing, consuming, and wasting?
  • How can the plural sector [civil society] get its collective act together?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?

What we lacked in quantity (more and more), we made up in quality (better and better). The discussions were great, and animated: we had to stop them after 90 minutes. I joined the group on getting the plural sector act together, a conversation I have had with many other groups, but never this good. All the groups shared what they found, and everyone seemed to leave on a high.

Was this event a failure? Not for the people who attended, and not if, as an experiment, it leads to something more successful. (One attendee hopes to use the design in an event he is organizing later. And we shall be doing so as well, and capturing the learning, in a forthcoming GROOC—a MOOC for groups—in the Spring, probably under the same title. (Check it out on edX in the new year.) But yes, it was a failure by the standards of more and more.2

So, the next time I consider doing something else unusual, should I be asking myself “Why?” instead “Why not?” Never! We have too many events that succeed in numbers—look at the turnouts Trump in the U.S. and Erdoğan in Turkey have been getting lately. We need many more successful experiments, and thoughtful ideas, to make the world a better place.

Later in the day we held a more conventional event—a panel on how the plural sector can get its collective act together. That succeeded both ways: about 200 people turned out, for 90 minutes in a McGill amphitheater, and the discussion was stimulating and animated. Ian Hamilton, who heads up Equitas, the International Centre for Human Rights Education, explained why the sector often does have its collective act together, while Alex Megelas, of the Office of Community Engagement at Concordia University, claimed that one of the great strengths of the sector is its messiness. The five of us were one about the need for pluralism in the plural sector! Yet we live in a world in which the dominant private sector is highly organized. How can dis-organization correct that? This is our dilemma, all too evident in both these events.

And all too evident as well in the coverage of the Forum by the Gazette, Montreal’s English-language daily. It is part of a chain of most of the country’s dailies that were ordered to run the same editorial in the last federal election, endorsing the Conservative Party. This we call a free press. Aside from an initial article on August 4 (straight reporting, that mentioned our event), the Gazette has run only two pieces on the Forum, both about the same issue.

Yesterday the headline read “Protesters hurl insults outside the World Social Forum in Montreal.” Ten members of the Jewish Defence league were yelled at by a number of pro-Palestinians. So many other events during the day, and this received the only headline. A few days earlier, an opinion piece was headlined “World Social Forum shouldn’t grant a platform to anti-Israeli agitators.” True enough. But hardly true enough was what the piece went on to proclaim: “The tone of the conference is fundamentally at odds with” the WSF’s belief in living together. How did this become the tone of the conference? Thousands of concerned and well-meaning people doing wonderful work to make the world a better and more balanced place all dismissed by the excesses of a few. So much is happening in this Forum: discussing youth inequality in Peru, promoting people’s rights to affordable housing all over the world, facing the problem of climate change and of the demise of democracies, even questioning the Canadian government’s refusal of visas for many people trying to attend the Forum itself.

It’s as if the newspaper was sitting in a tree like a panther, waiting to pounce on some cause célèbre to reinforce its own agenda. The first reader comment on the opinion piece tells it all: “This [Forum] is just a platform for socialist ‘anti-everything’ agitators.” Mission accomplished.

Here we have a perfect reflection of the imbalance we live with every day. In Canada we may get to elect our government, but our corporate press continues to use its power to sway public sentiments in favor of private interests—by what it reports, and especially by what it does not report.

The World Social Forum is eclectic. All kinds of tones and voices are being heard inside of it, a few that I personally don’t care for. Yet all but one of these get ignored by a newspaper acting as a platform for its own agitation—essentially to intensify the existing imbalance. Concerned people will have to learn how to use dis-organization to rebalance a world headed for disaster, environmentally and politically.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. My thanks to Debbie Hinton, Karla Flores, Laura Cardenas Berdugo, Jessica Xiao, Calolina Cruz-Vinaccia, et al. for so wonderfully organizing our experiment, to Joe Ross and Clelia Cothier for so enthusiastically animating it, and to the Office of McGill’s Vice-Principal External Relations and its Desautels Faculty of Management for their support. 

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 The Forum keeps track of registrants—there were about 15,000 before the start—but no-one signs up for particular events.

2 Several things can explain the low turnout. The McGill stadium is on the edge of downtown, up a hill, a significant walk to reach. The schedule of 9:15 to 3 in a conference of 90 minute events was probably too ambitious. Our marketing was hardly stellar. And then there is getting that act together: a mistake in the printed program also showed our event taking place in a classroom several kilometers away.

 

Resourcefulness for Climate Change: Cool Facts for Cool Ideas

5 August 2016

1¢ and 10¢ 

It is interesting how simple resourcefulness can defeat sheer massiveness. David brought down Goliath with a slingshot. In the 1960s, people in San Antonio, Texas were fed up with the utility company so they overpaid their bills by 1¢. This tied the bureaucracy in knots; it responded to their demands.1

1¢ and 10¢ 

It is interesting how simple resourcefulness can defeat sheer massiveness. David brought down Goliath with a slingshot. In the 1960s, people in San Antonio, Texas were fed up with the utility company so they overpaid their bills by 1¢. This tied the bureaucracy in knots; it responded to their demands.1

Climate change is a massive problem; it needs more resourcefulness, constructive as well as confrontational. 10¢ to The March of Dimes addressed the crisis of polio years ago. People all over America, many of them children, mailed dimes to the White House—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived with the consequences of the disease, was president when this began. Seven billion dimes were collected. Some of that went to the laboratory of Dr Jonas Salk; it came up with the vaccine that eradicated the disease. Simple 10¢ resourcefulness!

We need to eradicate global warming, and that will take a great deal of human resourcefulness. To do our bit, on Wednesday August 10, we are hosting an event called “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” It will take place in the McGill University Football Stadium, as part of the World Social Forum in Montreal. Think of this event as a do-it-yourself climatic picnic, to address one of the big problems of the world. To set the tone, here are some “cool facts” about climate change that I will present in my opening remarks.

Some cool facts about climate change

1.    Norway now generates almost all of its electricity using renewable energy. Of course, Norway is a rich country with considerable hydroelectric power, and it does produce a great deal of oil and gas for other countries. But …

2.    Tiny Bhutan, a poor country in the Himalayas, wedged between Tibet, India, and Nepal, some years ago committed to reducing its carbon emissions and increasing its forest cover to 60%. That it did; the country now absorbs more carbon than it produces.

3.    Clean energy now employs 8 million people worldwide.

4.    The average Canadian household wastes 47% of its food. [S LINK AT END]

5.    Better recycling of textiles, now with the lowest rate of any reusable material, could be the equivalent of taking a million cars off the roads.

6.    By unplugging when unnecessary your computer, phone charger, microwave oven, and video wave consoles, you could reduce your energy consumption by up to 10%. 

7.    Hundreds of you are attending the World Social Forum for the admission price of one of you to the World Economic Forum. Climate change is a social problem more than an economic one. Yet the WEF gets hundreds of times the press coverage of the WSF. 

Here is what we will be doing for the Earth, on the earth of the stadium on Wednesday:

Some cool ideas for climate change

We expect several hundred participants from around the world to join us for this 9:15-15:00h outdoor living lab. We want to generate truly novel ideas for dealing with climate change. Everyone will form into small groups to share insights and build on each other’s ideas, the best of which will be presented at the end. Each group will choose to work on one of these seven basic challenges:

 

1.   Getting it about climate change doesn’t mean we live it: how can you and I live it?

2.   What can we do with food: producing, refining, distributing, consuming, and wasting?

3.   How can we make our own city more energy friendly?

4.   How can we wake up our governments to 0 degrees, not +2 degrees?

5.   How creative can we be about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?

6.   How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?

7.   How can the plural sector (civil society) get its collective act together to balance the power of the private sector?

 

The various groups discussing each challenge will sit together in one area of the field. Those that believe they have come up with a truly cool idea will present it to the others in their area, and the best of these will be be presented to everyone, in the hope of inspiring collective action back home. (I hope to present the best of these ideas in next week’s TWOG.) If we get 3 great ideas, and 100 people leave determined to act, the event will be a great success.

If you are tired of being a human resource, and wish to put some of your human resourcefulness to work for the sake of our future, please join us if you can. If you cannot, while saving the carbon energy to get here, please join us in live streaming starting at 9:45 Eastern Daylight (NY) Time.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Thank you to Carolina Cruz-Vinaccia and Myko for the research on the cool facts. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 Gutierrez, J.A. (1998). The Making of a Chicano Militant: Lessons from Cristal. Univ. of Wisconsin Press

 

Do you run for cure? How about running for cause.

27 July 2016

You probably know people who have had some sort of cancer. You also know many more who will be getting these diseases—you just don’t know who they are. So when you “Run for Cancer”, the money likely goes for those people who have the disease, to find a cure, rather than to the investigation of cause, so that many more people needn’t get the disease in the first place. We certainly need to celebrate concern for the ill, but shouldn’t we show equivalent concern for the healthy, so that they don’t get ill? Is not an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure?

You probably know people who have had some sort of cancer. You also know many more who will be getting these diseases—you just don’t know who they are. So when you “Run for Cancer”, the money likely goes for those people who have the disease, to find a cure, rather than to the investigation of cause, so that many more people needn’t get the disease in the first place. We certainly need to celebrate concern for the ill, but shouldn’t we show equivalent concern for the healthy, so that they don’t get ill? Is not an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure?

Part of the problem lies with medicine itself. It is mostly about treating diseases, and since physicians do so much of the research, that’s where the bulk of the funding goes. I asked a surgeon active in breast cancer research about the proportion of funding that went to finding cause. She estimated it to be 1%. (Some physicians even refer to as “prevention” stopping Stage 1 breast cancer from advancing to Stage 2. That’s like claiming that the cause of Stage 2 cancer Is Stage 1 cancer.) True there are diseases such as Alzheimer’s that do better, but how many others are like breast cancer?

And let’s not get started on pharmaceuticals, except to note that there is no money to be made from people who are well, or at least usually a lot less money from one-shot vaccines to keep them well. So developing medications gets most of the big bucks, and siphons off a great deal of the creative talent that could be looking for causes. All around, our health care needs to be better focused on the care of health.

John Robbins has written a wonderful allegory about a cliff that people kept falling over. There thus developed a highly sophisticated effort to treat the injured, involving physicians, ambulances, and hospitals with the latest technological wizardly. Efforts were even undertaken to develop drugs to cure the injuries of the fallen. When some people suggested building a fence atop the cliff, they were ignored, or else dismissed: what did they know about health care?1

Dr Jonas Salk didn’t buy any of this. He never cured any child of polio. Instead he ensured that no child ever had to be cured. His laboratory developed a vaccine that eradicated the disease. We need more money and talent dedicated to stopping diseases, including studying the toxic effects of what we inhale, ingest, and absorb. And by the way, Dr Salk refused to patent his vaccine, with the comment that “Who owns my polio vaccine? The people. Could you patent the sun?” He could have made a great deal of money by ensuring at the outset that only the children of rich parents could get the vaccine. Instead children all over the world became protected rather quickly.

Researching cause can be quite different from researching cure. It is often more like detective work, where samples of one can be perfectly appropriate. After all, find the cause in someone and you may be on your way to finding the cause in everyone.

A 2003 poll by Hospital Doctor named Dr John Snow the greatest physician ever. Partly he earned that with a sample of 2. When an outbreak of cholera exploded in London’s Soho District in 1854, believing that the disease was water-born, even though the physicians who mattered were convinced it was air-born, he plotted the locations of the recent victims on a map. They clustered around one well, all except two, who lived miles away. Like a good detective, Dr Snow visited the home of one of them. A relative told him that she liked the water of that well and had someone fetch it for her. Her niece also liked that water, he was told, and she died too. And where did she live? There was sample Number 2. Finally Dr Snow’s colleagues listened to him. (Sewage seeping into the well—i.e., toxin—was later found to be the cause of the outbreak.). The handle of the well was removed—that was the cure! (for this well at least)—and the epidemic ended.

Some years ago, I heard about an astonishingly high incidence of certain cancers among children in Alexandria. So for this TWOG I went on the internet and found one related article, in the Journal of the Egypt Public Health Association, 2002, under the title “Patterns in the incidence of pediatric cancer in Alexandria, Egypt, from 1972 to 2001.” The article concluded that “The trends in some cancer types suggest the need of a closer examination of the underlying factors and environmental contaminants leading to the disease in children.” Yes indeed, and what a perfect place to research cause. But who is to do that: where is the constituency for cause?2 In other words, where are the Dr Snow’s when we need them now?

If you have lost a cherished member of your family to a dreaded disease, I can well understand your wish to help find a cure for it.  But cannot this emotion also be directed into helping avoid the suffering of others? So please, the next time you run for a disease, or fund a research chair, or just donate a few pennies for health care, consider cause. Invest in health.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. HM is the Founding Director of the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org) and author of the forthcoming Managing the Myths of Health Care (Berrett-Koehler, 2017). Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.


2 I found no follow-up study, nor any comments on that one.

 

Decision Making: It’s not what we think. It’s also what we see. And what we do too.

21 July 2016

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So how do we make decisions? That’s easy. First we diagnose (figure out what the problem is), next we design (identify possible solutions), then we decide (evaluate each, and choose the best), and finally we do (carry that choice into action). In other words, we think in order to act: I call this thinking first.

So let’s take a decision that was hardly incidental in your life: finding your mate. Did you think first? Following this model, let’s say as a male, first you make a list of what you are looking for in a woman, say brilliant, beautiful, and bashful. Then you list all the possible candidates. Next comes the analysis: you score each candidate (so to speak), on all the criteria. Finally, you add up all the scores to find out who has won, and inform the lucky lady. Except then she informs you that “While you were going through all this, I got married and now have a couple of kids.” Thinking first does have its drawbacks--although arranged marriages in India kind of work like this, and many do work quite well. (You may wish to consider this the next time around.)

So chances are that you proceeded in a different way, like my father, who announced to my grandmother that “Today I met the woman I’m going to marry!” And that he did. There was not a lot of analysis in this decision, I assure you, but it worked out well—a long and happy marriage ensued.

This is known as “love at first sight”; as a model of decision making, I call it seeing first. Even some rather formal decisions happen this way—for example, deciding to hire someone two seconds into the interview, or buying a company because you like the looks of the place. These are not necessarily whims; they can be insights.

But not so fast: there’s a slower and sometimes more sensible way to make decisions. I call it doing first. I’ll leave how that works in finding a mate to your imagination. Suffice it to say that when you’re not sure how to proceed—often the case in making decisions big and small—then you will just have to do, in order to think, instead of thinking, in order to do. You try something in a limited way to see if it might work, and if it doesn’t, you try something else until you find what work. Start small to learn big.

Of course, this can have its drawbacks too. As Terry Connolly, a professor who studies decision making, quipped: “Nuclear wars and childbearing decisions are poor settings for a strategy of ‘try a little one and see how it goes.’” But there are lots of other decisions for which that proves to be a perfectly good strategy. IKEA came up with selling its furniture unassembled after a worker had to take the legs off a table in order to get it in his car. “If we have to do this, what do we think about our customers…?” Rest assured that IKEA must have tried this on a few products before it changed many of them.

So, have you an important decision to make? Good. Hold those thoughts! Look around! Do something! Then you may find yourself thinking differently.

(For more on this and related topics, see the book by Brice Ahlstrand, Joseph Lampel, and myself entitled Management: It’s not what you think (Amazon and Pearson, 2010).

Reference: Terry Connolly “On Taking Action Seriously” in G.N.Undon and D.N.Brunstein eds. Decision-Making: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry (Boston: Kent, 1982:45)

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg Originally posted September 26, 2014. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

On the earth, for the Earth

14 July 2016

You have likely heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), or at least its annual conference in Davos. Every January, 2500 of the world’s movers and shakers descend on this Swiss resort to shake the world, while keeping it firmly planted in economic globalization.

Have you heard of the World Social Forum (WSF)? It expects twenty times as many people to descend on Montreal next month in the hope of doing a little moving and shaking of their own, for example to loosen the roots of the “crisis of capitalism”. This will be the twelfth bi-annual conference of the WSF, but the first in the “North”. (Others have taken place in Brazil, India, Tunisia, etc.)

You have likely heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), or at least its annual conference in Davos. Every January, 2500 of the world’s movers and shakers descend on this Swiss resort to shake the world, while keeping it firmly planted in economic globalization.

Have you heard of the World Social Forum (WSF)? It expects twenty times as many people to descend on Montreal next month in the hope of doing a little moving and shaking of their own, for example to loosen the roots of the “crisis of capitalism”. This will be the twelfth bi-annual conference of the WSF, but the first in the “North”. (Others have taken place in Brazil, India, Tunisia, etc.)

Don’t feel badly if you never heard of the WSF. Recently I gave a talk to 300 people at HEC, Montreal’s main French-language business school. Barely 10 knew about the WSF, let alone that it was meeting soon in their hometown.

A Tale of Two Forums  Such is the state of our world today: focused on the economic while obscuring the social. The WEF calls itself “The International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.” Cooptation too, thanks to its success in promoting globalization at the expense of national sovereignties. The private sector leads and the public sector follows while the plural sector (civil society) struggles.

I have been to Davos as a speaker a few times. In 2006, I attended a session entitled “Global Business: Survivor or Scapegoat.” Some choice! (Of course, it’s the choice we’ve been hearing from those pundits quick to dismiss the recent Brexit vote.)

Don’t expect to see anything like Davos in Montreal next month. The WEF attracts elites; its agenda is loaded with big names, not necessarily with anything new to say; and the organization is big on “young global leaders” (presumably selected by old global leaders).

The WSF attracts activists, organizes its conferences around “self-managed workshops”, and promotes collaboration—what I like to call communityship, in contrast to leadership. This is a meet-up of people concerned less about doing deals than about the consequences of doing such deals.

The WEF conference gets enormous press coverage. The WSF conference has barely received mention in its host city, let alone around the world. If the WEF is about power in the name of change, then the WSF is about change in the face of power.

Here, then, we have the two main models for changing this world, neither of which is working. One fails because it brings together the people who have benefited most from some of our main problems—income disparities, consumptive economics, lop-sided globalization. The other fails because it lacks the power, and the attention, to do something about these problems, not to mention its own lack of organization. (Business gets its collective act together for what it wants—such as tax cuts—while the plural sector associations do not. To paraphrase a song by Tom Lehrer, the WSF may have the good songs, but the WEF wins the big battles.) Together, this is not a happy combination for a troubled world.

The theme of the Montreal conference is “Another world is needed.” Another model too. Imagine if one day the two forums—social and economic—marched as equal partners for a balanced world. While holding our breath for that, let me tell you what we will be doing in Montreal to nudge the world slightly in this direction.

Our March  Our little team at McGill has been busy preparing three events. I will be speaking about Rebalancing Society, and we have organized a panel about how the plural sector can get its collective act together to help restore balance in this troubled world.

We are especially excited about our self-organizing event, entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” It will be held on Wednesday August 10 from 9:15-15h in the McGill University football stadium—on that earth. (Please see the Facebook event for details.)  Participants from around the world will meet each other and form small groups, each to focus on one issue, such as:

  • What can we do in our personal lives to reverse global warming?
  • How can we get creative about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?
  • What can we do to make our city energy friendly?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?
  • How can the WSF become the force that the WEF has become?

The groups will share their proposals for change, and select the best, for presentation to the whole throng. Five really cool proposals will do it (although we will not complain if we get 50). Then we will all consider what each of us can carry home for action—starting the following week. If 100 people go home determined to make a difference, we will be happy; if 1000 do so, we will be delighted.

Please join us. We promise you a low fee for the whole conference: at $40 it comes to .0005 that of Davos (finally a chance to join the 0.1%!). (You can register here.)We can also guarantee you a lot more fun: a living lab and do-it-yourself climactic picnic, on the ground. Who knows, we might even move the Earth!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Brexit and the rest: it all adds up

6 July 2016

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

It was claimed in 1989 that capitalism had triumphed. This was dangerously wrong. Balance had triumphed. While the communist states of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful nations of the West balanced their power more effectively across their public, private, and plural (civil society) sectors. But a failure to understand this has been throwing the world out of balance ever since, with power increasingly concentrated in the private sectors, in favor of the forces of economics and individualism. Since 1989, capitalism has indeed been triumphing, globally and domestically.

Now consider these happenings in light of this imbalance.

Brexit. Was there dissatisfaction with the European Union? Of course. Was there xenophobia? No doubt. But these evident explanations do not justify the knee-jerk reactions of an establishment press to the pro-Brexit vote: “stupidity”, “lies”, “cynical politicians”, “dumb down”, “hucksters”—to quote from two recent columns in the New York Times, by Roger Cohen and Thomas Freidman. It’s too easy to dismiss the lashing out of disadvantaged and disoriented people instead of probing into the source of their angst, especially when that questions the globalization dogma that these two writers have promoted blindly for years.

Beneath this vote lies the social imbalance When people have lost their way, while their established leadership offers no viable alternative, they find somewhere to go. And this can cause them to act no less stupidly than their leaders. The prevailing paradigm, the American dream, has become a nightmare for too many people around the world. (Especially in America, where social mobility—the odds of getting ahead when born into a poor family—has dropped startlingly.) One inconvenient truth behind the Brexit vote is the anger felt about globalization, in this country directed at the powerful elites of the London financial establishment.

Trump and Sanders. Take your pick—rednecks or liberals, manifesting their frustration as anger or angst. Again we find the same social imbalance, here directed more explicitly at the brazen power of Wall Street.

Democracies in retreat.  Not long ago, democracies were in ascension, all over the world. No longer. Thanks again to the imbalance, they are in retreat, left and right, with the unimpeded rise of elected thugs in presidential palaces (Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, etc.), or through the bribing of elected politicians by private interests. In Brazil this corruption is criminal, and at least is being prosecuted. In the United States this corruption is legal, and so it continues to fester.

Global Warming. Is there excess use of carbon energy? Of course there is. But behind this is the imbalance inherent in the domination of economic interests over social need: the obsessive drive for quantity over quality—for more and more GDP and Shareholder Value instead of better and better lives. We and our planet are being consumed by consumption.

Exaggerated individualism and rampant globalization. These are two sides of the same coin. Instead of balancing individual needs with collective and communal needs, we allow one to dominate the other two. And who are the prime beneficiaries of this? The wealthiest individuals, many of whom are the greediest—and the ones behind a globalization movement that allows an unelected economic autocracy to undermine national sovereignties and social communities. No wonder so many disrupted people vote Brexit, Trump, Sanders, Le Pen, et al. Who else acknowledges their concerns?

And how about terrorist attacks?  Angry at the established forces and unimpeded by a balanced alternative to the prevailing paradigm, some people lash out in horrific ways, with indiscriminate killing. They express no concern for the consequences of their actions. (Does the 1% express concern for the consequences of their particular actions—less horrendous but more widespread?) After the latest carnage in U.S., we have the spectacle of the National Rifle Association giving elected representatives permission to legislate against assault weapons.

Need I go on? Need we go on? There is another way. It’s called balance, across the sectors: respected governments and responsible businesses with robust communities. Constrained greed. Concern for the disadvantaged. The Western democracies were closer to all this in the four decades following World War II. (Recall the welfare programs of the Johnson administration in the U.S. and the higher levels of taxation in many of the developed countries.) The world needs to restore its balance, and reject the oxymoronic “democratic capitalism.” (Notice which is the noun and which the adjective.)

Once we understand what has been going on, we can appreciate that the conventional solutions will not work. The problem will not be fixed in or by the private sector. Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but this will require rebalancing across all the sectors—which means putting capitalism in its place, namely in the provision of goods and service. Period. Nor can we expect public sector governments to take the lead, because most have become too coopted by private interests domestically and overwhelmed by corporate forces globally.

This leaves the plural sector, comprising those associations that are neither private nor public, most of them community-based: our clubs and groups, NGOs, not-for profits, cooperatives, social initiatives and social movements. This sector is massive, yet it has been lost in the great debates over public versus private, namely the linear politics of left versus right.

Please understand that the plural sector is not them; it is you and I, in our everyday lives. Some of us may work in the private sector and most of us may vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. We need to recognize that it is here, on the ground, that the restoration of balance will have to begin.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for a full rendition of this message. For earlier comments on this theme, please see the TWOGs under Rebalancing Society (This TWOG was delayed pending the appearance of a related version on the Huffington PostFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Customer Service, or serving customers

23 June 2016

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I don’t know about this. But I do know that there are two kinds of companies: those that believe in Customer Service and those that believe in serving customers (leaving aside those that believe in neither). I’ll call them CS and sc (asking government people to read sc as serving citizens, so as not to contradict last week’s TWOG).

Serving customers is not some sort of technique, not a program. It’s a way of life, a philosophy of doing business. Treating customers well because that makes you more $$$ is not sc; it’s CS. In contrast, sc is making more money because you treat your customers well. There’s a difference, namely what comes first in your head. Sure you charge properly for what you give, knowing that if your customers are satisfied, they will come back.

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I don’t know about this. But I do know that there are two kinds of companies: those that believe in Customer Service and those that believe in serving customers (leaving aside those that believe in neither). I’ll call them CS and sc (asking government people to read sc as serving citizens, so as not to contradict last week’s TWOG).

Serving customers is not some sort of technique, not a program. It’s a way of life, a philosophy of doing business. Treating customers well because that makes you more $$$ is not sc; it’s CS. In contrast, sc is making more money because you treat your customers well. There’s a difference, namely what comes first in your head. Sure you charge properly for what you give, knowing that if your customers are satisfied, they will come back.

What do the employees see when a customer walks in the door: $$ or a person? Put those employees on commission and guess what they see. (“Now, how about a luxurious little Lincoln to go with your beautiful new Rolex watch? Try it on and see how good they look together!”) Put the company on the stock market, under the influence of people who can’t see past $$, and guess what everyone else is expected to see. Most big companies started with sc—that is what enabled them to grow big.  I admire the few that have managed to remain so after they went public.

I am told by someone inside Johnson & Johnson that it is one of these. Its website says that its Credo was developed by Robert Wood Johnson in 1943, “just before it became a publicly traded company…. Our Credo is more than just a moral compass. We believe it’s a recipe for business success. The fact that Johnson & Johnson is one of only a handful of companies that have flourished through more than a century of change is proof of that.” I can’t vouch for this, but the following, excerpted from the Credo, does sound right: 

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services….

We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world…. They must have a sense of security in their jobs…. 

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens….

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders… When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.

What does sc feel like? That’s easy; you can’t miss it. For example, recently we couldn’t find an iPhone and reported it lost to our phone company. Later we we found it and called back. There was no voice saying “We appreciate your business” while forcing us to wait interminably. (If a company appreciates my business, why doesn’t it treat my time as important as its own?) Instead, Patricia (can’t remember her actual name) answered quickly and was genuinely delighted to hear that we found it. Genuinely—the two of us were charmed by the delight in her voice. I can’t speak for that whole company, but I can tell you that the Patricia’s of this world should be staffing the call centers, not to mention the executive suites.

Then there’s that wonderful waiter in a delightful restaurant in Quebec City, charmingly called Le Cochon Dinge (The Wacky Pig). The happiest, jolliest, friendliest waiter we have ever encountered. I can’t tell you his name because he was not programmed to say when we arrived: “Hello, my name is Mestipho and I will be your server today!!”

What does CS feel like? For me, alienating. How about the programmed greeters at the entrance to the Walmart stores. One time, on a weekday afternoon, I wished they had put this person inside the store, to clean up the god-awful mess of merchandise strewn all over the shelves. And then there’s our dear old airline, so devoted to CS. Try booking at the last minute an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Boston, which takes less than an hour in the air. The fare is $1066, one way ($2132 return, if you are not good at math).  Guess what:  Air Canada has a monopoly on that route. Guess what: Air Canada can’t see past this monopoly, to its customers who fly elsewhere too. To hell with those who need to go to Boston. How about to hell with Air Canada when we need to go elsewhere.

And this brings us to $CS$: treat well only those customers with tons of $$$ who spend it lavishly. This requires that they sort the customers the moment they walk in the door, between those who get CS and those who get dismissed. I said to a Honda salesmean [whoops, a typo!]: “Can you please give me your best price.” He replied: “Are you here to buy now? Otherwise, why should I tell you that. You will just go to another dealer and tell him our price.” I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that I am not allowed to do that. The nerve of me for trying to comparison shop for the second biggest purchase I make (after a house). So I went to another Honda dealer. He gave me his best price and I bought the car, right then and there. I couldn’t care less if the other guy’s price was lower.

Of course, there’s another side to all this: respecting sellers (rs). Customers who don’t do that, even ones with $$$, may get CS, but they don’t deserve sc. That is because, if the employees are not treated well, by the company as well as the customers, how can they truly treat the decent customers well? 

© Henry Mintzberg 2016  Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Managing Government, Governing Management

16 June 2016

Government certainly needs to be managed, but management also needs to be governed. It cannot just be let loose on public services, especially in the form of the “New Public Management” that imitates fashionable business practices. Governments no more need to be run like businesses than businesses need to be run like governments.

This New Public Management is hardly new: it began with the Thatcher government, in the U.K. of the 1980s. Yet for many influential people today, the old New Public Management remains the “one best way” to manage government.


Wax statue of Margaret Thatcher by YortW, CC BY 2.0

Government certainly needs to be managed, but management also needs to be governed. It cannot just be let loose on public services, especially in the form of the “New Public Management” that imitates fashionable business practices. Governments no more need to be run like businesses than businesses need to be run like governments.

This New Public Management is hardly new: it began with the Thatcher government, in the U.K. of the 1980s. Yet for many influential people today, the old New Public Management remains the “one best way” to manage government.


Wax statue of Margaret Thatcher by YortW, CC BY 2.0

There is no one best way to manage everything. These practices have done their share of damage to many government departments, and beyond. Many corporations and NGOs have also suffered from what can reduce to a contemporary form of bureaucracy that discourages innovation, damages cultures, and disengages employees.

In essence, the New Public Management seeks to (a) isolate public services, so that (b)  each can be run by an individual manager, who is (c) held accountable for quantitate measures of performance, while (d) treating the recipient of these services as “customers.” Let’s take a look at all this.

Am I a customer of my government, or a citizen and a subject?  I am no customer of my government, thank you, buying services at arm’s length in the marketplace of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Do I really need to be called a “customer” to be treated decently?

I am in fact a citizen, who has every right to expect more than a mere customer. This is my government, after all. I am also a subject—whether formally in kingdoms or de facto elsewhere—who has responsibilities to my state. For example, while I may choose to empty my tray at McDonald’s, in our public parks I am expected to keep things tidy. How about soldiers drafted in wartime: are they customers of the government they are expected to serve? And criminals: are they customers of the justice system? True I may be a customer of the state lottery, but frankly, government has no business encouraging me to gamble.

Some activities are in government because caveat emptor cannot possibly apply. Regulation for example. And policing: blacks are citizens of the United States who should not have to beware of their own police. Other activities are funded by government, if not necessarily be delivered by it, to ensure  equality and decency of service. Think of the many health care and educational activities delivered by not-for-profit institutions on behalf of government. (Imagine caveat emptor applied to open heart surgery.)

Can government services be isolated from each other, as well as from political influences, so they can be managed by their managers?   Sure sometimes—again the state lottery. But how about diplomacy?

Let the managers manage” is the motto, just like in business. It sounds good. Isolate the services so that managers themselves can manage them while being held accountable for the results.  (And don’t forget to call these managers CEOs.) Talk about centralization—or more exactly, decentralization from the central state apparatus in order to centralize the department.

Johnson & Johnson can have one brand manager for Tylenol and another for Anusol. But can a government have one brand manager for waging a war and another for diplomatic negotiations to end it? Individuals may be assigned to these activities, but can their responsibilities be isolated? Government activities are wide-ranging, covering so much of life itself, yet can be intricately intertwined, as in life itself.

Nor can the policy-making of many public services be easily separated from the  administration of them. Sure the politicians need to be kept from meddling, especially where there can be graft. But can they remain aloof, for example, when the police are accused of abuse?

This separation of policy-making from administration parallels the belief in business that strategies are formulated at the “top” so that everyone else can implement down below. The superstructure plans and the microstructures execute. It’s all very tidy. Except that the interesting strategies are learned, not planned—sometimes throughout the organization, namely back and forth between managers and other people on the ground. In government this separation is built in, and reinforced by the New Public Management. Yet it can stifle innovation and flexibility.


Free Press and Prentice-Hall International, 1994. Amazon

Can we really rely on performance measures in government?  Measurement has been adopted with a religious fervor in the New Public Management. Look what it has done to the education of our children. I defy anyone to measure adequately what a child learns in a classroom (and you to measure what you are learning in this TWOG). 

Sure we need to measure what we can, just so long as we don’t pretend that everything that matters can be measured. Much that matters in government is not in business precisely because it has no easy measures of performance.

I have been railing on about the dangers of obsessive measuring in a number of these TWOGs. In government, the need to measure everything in sight may now be doing as much harm as corruption. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is the popular motto. When enough people believe it, we shall have to close down government.

The “balanced scoreboard” is based on the mistaken belief that we can level the playing field across social and economic considerations by measuring both. But that scoreboard can never be balanced because things social are often much harder to measure than things economic. (Once a year I repeat one of my favorite TWOGs about this, called “What could possibly be wrong with efficiency?” Coming soon.) What we need in government, and elsewhere, are balanced brains.

So the next time some civil servant calls you a customer or imposes some artificial measure on you, the next time you meet a “CEO” of some government agency, the next time some candidate for political office claims that government needs to be run more like a business (heard that lately?), tell them that if they wish to manage government effectively, they shall have to respect government for what it is—while governing its management.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. An earlier article by the same title makes a few of these points and others. See also our book Managing PubliclyFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Contrary to the Harvard Business School?

8 June 2016

It’s Friday, June 3rd. Early this morning, I found myself giving a talk at the Harvard Business School. It was an awful experience. I arrived 5 minutes late, and suffered the consequences. The professors there were rude and dismissive; nobody wanted to listen. I was interrupted twice by some weird ritual: a huddle of people chanting and dancing off to one side, like cheerleaders at a college football game.

Suddenly, everybody was gone, except one guy—a visitor, he said, quite pleasant. He confirmed that the rest of them were punishing me because I was 5 minutes late. You don’t do that at the Harvard Business School, he said. 5 minutes!

I wondered what would happen if I was 5 minutes late for an audience with the Pope. Surely he would have been kind and attentive, even curious to know why I was late. Of course, the Pope professes what most Harvard Business School professors do not: he challenges capitalism, and consumption.

Then I woke up.

It’s Friday, June 3rd. Early this morning, I found myself giving a talk at the Harvard Business School. It was an awful experience. I arrived 5 minutes late, and suffered the consequences. The professors there were rude and dismissive; nobody wanted to listen. I was interrupted twice by some weird ritual: a huddle of people chanting and dancing off to one side, like cheerleaders at a college football game.

Suddenly, everybody was gone, except one guy—a visitor, he said, quite pleasant. He confirmed that the rest of them were punishing me because I was 5 minutes late. You don’t do that at the Harvard Business School, he said. 5 minutes!

I wondered what would happen if I was 5 minutes late for an audience with the Pope. Surely he would have been kind and attentive, even curious to know why I was late. Of course, the Pope professes what most Harvard Business School professors do not: he challenges capitalism, and consumption.

Then I woke up.

In actual fact, the last time I spoke at the Harvard Business School it was a wonderful experience, even though the room full of faculty knew how critical I had been of their case study method.  I promised not to talk about that, but to describe what we had been doing instead in our own masters programs. They were attentive, kind and considerate, not unlike the Pope. But then again, I didn’t arrive 5 minutes late,

I discussed this dream with Dulcie, my better half, who comes from a different world yet has been so helpful in improving these TWOGs. It’s just the discomfort you feel by so often being five minutes late for things, she said.

I think it’s something else: I worry that my ideas are not being taken seriously enough, whether they are ignored, or dismissed—with me being labelled a “contrarian.” While I am proud of having passed 10k “followers” on Twitter, some of those Harvard professors have passed 100k. Is it because they are Harvard, or mainstream, or better?

Last year I was on a panel with a prominent Canadian. As he left, he told me that I was a contrarian. I took that to mean he didn’t understand what I had said, or at least didn’t care to entertain ideas than ran counter to his mainstream beliefs. How much easier to dismiss me as a contrarian. (Sadly this guy now sits as a minister in our federal government.)

A contrarian opposes for its own sake. I oppose for the sake of trying to improve things. That I oppose so many mainstream ideas no more makes me a contrarian than does it make the world any less screwed up. And it certainly does not justify people who prefer not to notice what is going on. I am sorry Mr. Lincoln, but these days it is possible to fool most of the people most of the time. Or as Paul Shepheard put it in his book What is Architecture, “the mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” It can also take you over a cliff.

Anyway, thank goodness for you. Having read this far, you are at least attentive, maybe even supportive. I do apologize if this has made you 5 minutes late for something. Do take another 5 and tell your “friends” and “followers” about this.

Henry watching the mainstream going over a cliff. Or is it Lisa, his daughter who takes the photos, warning him about going over that cliff?

Because... Before this was posted, Lisa wrote to him about this TWOG:

·      “It takes a while to build up a following.” [Must I skip the quarterly reports, every 15 minutes?]

·      “People who like your work, like your body of work, not necessarily 140 characters of it.” [Are you trying to say that this is about rousing reflections in pages or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in sentences or 2?]

·      “Far better to have 10 likes/followers, who you can engage in discussion with… than thousands signed up, who don't even notice that you've posted something…” [You mean it’s about quality, not quantity?]

·       “And you never did care about 'fitting in' for the sake of it, so why start now?”  [I get it; I should be good, not strive to be the best.]

Has Lisa been reading my TWOGs? More to the point, have I??

©Henry Mintzberg 2016. I apologize for delaying the TWOG promised last week, about the old New Public Management. I’m working on it. I just don’t control what I dream. About our own programs, please see the International Masters for Managers (impm.org) and the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org). Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs,we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Organizations around Public, Private, Plural

3 June 2016

In a recent TWOG where I described four basic forms of organizations (machine, entrepreneurial, professional, and project), I characterized our general understanding of organizations as primitive. We need much greater appreciation of the institutions that are so prominent in our lives, from our birth in hospitals through those where we learn, work, and play.

I have written frequently in these TWOGs about the three main sectors of society and the need for balance across them. Here I plot various types of organizations around a circle according to whether they function in the public sector (owned by government, for example agencies and ministries), the private sector (owned by founders or investors, as in widely-held corporations), or the plural sector (owned by members, as in cooperatives, or by no-one, as in NGOs). 

In a recent TWOG where I described four basic forms of organizations (machine, entrepreneurial, professional, and project), I characterized our general understanding of organizations as primitive. We need much greater appreciation of the institutions that are so prominent in our lives, from our birth in hospitals through those where we learn, work, and play.

I have written frequently in these TWOGs about the three main sectors of society and the need for balance across them. Here I plot various types of organizations around a circle according to whether they function in the public sector (owned by government, for example agencies and ministries), the private sector (owned by founders or investors, as in widely-held corporations), or the plural sector (owned by members, as in cooperatives, or by no-one, as in NGOs). 

For those of you using a wide screen, all of this can be seen on the one big circle above. If you are using a smaller screen, this big circle is broken down at the end into the three segments of public private, and plural for easier reading.

You will notice that the organization most typical of each sector is placed in the middle of it, while others are displayed to either side, depending on the extent that they tilt toward another sector. (For example, state-owned enterprises, such as power utilities, may be public, but because they function as businesses, are shown near the private sector. And because many family businesses exhibit a strong sense of community, as is typical in the plural sector, they are are shown near it.)

I make no claim that this circle includes all types of organizations. (I built it from all the notes I have been making for years about these different organizations.) Nor is the placement of these organizations tilting toward one sector or another indisputable, just suggestive. (There are, for example, family businesses that are rather mercenary, not community-oriented.) This framework may be rudimentary, but our understanding of organizations is far more rudimentary. We can use all the help we can get!

A couple of comments about all this: First, you see many more types under plural than under public or private. Of course that is why I call the sector plural! There are all kinds of businesses, but not so many distinct types. And while the range of activities in government is vast, the marching orders that come from being public limit their activities somewhat. The plural sector is the most varied of the three.

Second, the circle indicates that organizations fall into one sector or another. It shows only two hybrids. PPPs are one, namely public-private partnerships, although even these are shown as slanted toward the private sector, because that is where power tends to be these days. (The American “military-industrial complex” is probably the greatest PPP of all time.)  And communes (as well as kibbutzim) are shown as both public and plural, because they can be seen as municipal governments of a sort as well as distinct communities.1

The point, which I emphasize in my book Rebalancing Society, is that the three sectors are, and must remain, distinct as well as strong if our societies are to regain balance. Organizations belong in their place. B Corps may care about more than profit, but they are still businesses. And NGOs should no more be run like businesses than businesses should be run like NGOs. Likewise, the “New Public Management”, so reflective of old corporate values, has been doing a number on many governments for years (as I hope to discuss in next week’s TWOG).

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.


1 Of course, a company like Volkswagen, owned by both governments and private shareholders, is technically a hybrid too, although the tendency here is to run such enterprises like regular businesses.

 

The Epidemic of Managing without Soul

25 May 2016

I will be doing a live Facebook conversation June 1st at noon (EST). I posted this TWOG a year ago (21 May).  Since this has been one of the most popular TWOGs, I repeat it here, with some editing, as a main subject for that conversation. To receive a notification when the broadcast goes live, follow my Facebook page and add any question you would like to ask.

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

I will be doing a live Facebook conversation June 1st at noon (EST). I posted this TWOG a year ago (21 May).  Since this has been one of the most popular TWOGs, I repeat it here, with some editing, as a main subject for that conversation. To receive a notification when the broadcast goes live, follow my Facebook page and add any question you would like to ask.

My daughter Lisa once left me a note in a shoe that read “Souls need fixing.” Little did she know…

A tale of two nurses  When we asked the incoming members of our health care management program (imhl.org) to share stories about their experiences, an obstetrician told about the time when he was shuttling as a resident between the wards of different hospitals. He and his colleagues “loved working” in one of them. It was a “happy” place, thanks to a head nurse who cared. She was understanding, respectful of everyone, intent on promoting collaboration between doctors and nurses. The place had soul.

Then she retired, and was replaced by someone qualified in nursing, with a masters degree in management. Without “any conversation…she started questioning everything.” She was strict with the nurses, for example arriving early to check who came late. Where there used to be chatting and laughing at the start of shifts, “it became normal for us to see one nurse crying” because of some comment by the new manager.

Morale plummeted, and soon that spread to the physicians: “It took 2-3 months to destroy that amazing family…. We used to compete to go to that hospital; [later] we didn’t want to go there any more.” Yet “the higher authority didn’t intervene or maybe was not aware” of what was going on.

The Epidemic  How often have you heard such a story, or experienced one? In the work that I do—studying management and organizations—I hear them often (in one week when I first wrote this, four times). And no few are about CEOs. Managing without soul has become an epidemic in society. Many managers these days seem to specialize in killing cultures, at the expense of human engagement.

Too many MBA programs teach this, however inadvertently. Out of them come graduates with a distorted impression of management: detached, generic, technocratic. They are educated out of context, taught to believe they can manage anything, whereas in actual fact they have learned to manage nothing. Such technocratic detachment is bad enough—numbers, numbers. numbers. The worst of it is also mean-spirited, by bullying people and playing them off against each other. One person, pushed around for years by a nasty boss, said: “It’s the little things that wear you down.”

These managers focus on themselves. You can tell them by their references to “my department”, “my hospital”, as if they own the place because they manage it.  Some, of course, say “our department”, but you can pretty easily tell whether they are sincere. And when they get to the “top” of some non-business organization, they prefer to be called “CEO”, as if they are managing a business. Please understand: managing without soul is bad for business too.

Why do we tolerate this? Why do we allow narcissists with credentials, posing as leaders, to bring down so many of our institutions?

Part of the problem is that people are generally selected into managerial positions by “superiors” (senior managers, boards of directors), often without understanding the damage caused by their decisions. And so we often get what have been called “kiss up and kick down” managers—able to impress “superiors” while denigrating “subordinates.”

A hotel with soul  Last year I was in England for meetings about our International Masters Program for Managers (impm.org—it’s designed with soul, for soul). We stayed at one of those corporate hotels—I hated it from years ago, no spirit, no soul. I recalled the high turnover of staff, and the time when they charged our Japanese participants $10 per minute for calls back home—minutes that a participant from British Telecom estimated to cost the hotel pennies.

Lisa was in England, and so after the meetings we went travelling in the Lake District, a great place to hike. The IMPM was to run a few months later in a hotel there that we hadn’t used before, so we volunteered to check it out.

I walked in and fell in love with the place. Beautifully appointed, perfectly cared for, a genuinely attentive staff—this hotel was loaded with soul. I’ve been studying organizations for so long that I can often enter one and sense soul, or no soul, in an instant. I can feel the energy of the place, or the lethargy; the genuine smile instead of the grin from some “greeter”; honest concern instead of programmed “care.” (“We appreciate your business!” as you wait for someone to answer the phone. Translation: “Our time is more important than yours.”). 

”What’s it mean to have soul?” Lisa asked. “You know it when you see it,” I replied. In every little corner. I asked a waiter about hiking trails. He didn’t know so he fetched the manager of the hotel to tell me. Soon he was there, in no rush to cut the conversation short. I chatted with a young woman at reception. “The throw pillows on the bed are really beautiful” I said. “Yes,” she replied, ‘the owner cares for every detail--she picked those pillows herself.”  How long have you been here?” I asked. Four years, she said proudly, and then rattled off the tenures of the senior staff: the manager 14 years, the assistant manager 12 years, the head of sales a little less.

Why can’t all organizations be like this? Most people—employees, customers, managers--want to care, given half a chance. We human beings have souls, and so too can our hospitals and hotels. Why do we build so many great institutions only to let them wither under the control of people who should never have been allowed to manage anything? Souls need fixing all right, and so does a lot of managing.


Inn on the Lake,  Ullswatter U.K.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016, 2015. See my book Simply Managing, which also discusses how else to select managers (on pages 161-164). There are many TWOGS related to this theme: “Five easy steps to destroying your organization”, “Celebrating the flawed manager”, “Managing to lead”, “Managing scrambled eggs”; “Enough leadership; time for communityship”; “Time for management education”; “The Harvard 19”; “Jack’s turn.”

Citizenship, Communityship, Ownership & Leadership

19 May 2016

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

Between citizenship at the collective level and ownership and leadership at the individual level is another kind of experience that deserves far more attention. Just think of how much of our lives are lived in our groups and communities, quite apart from conventional citizenship, ownership, and leadership. Yet this level doesn’t even get a single …ship. So some years ago I gave it one: communityship.1 Communityship designates how we pull together to function in our personal relationships.

Of course ownership too exists at the collective and community levels. It's just that these take on quite different forms. Public ownership—what is owned by our government—is technically owned by you and me. But do we feel the same sense of proprietorship that we feel for our house or our car? (“I’m flying from MY airport”? These are MY VERY OWN tax collectors”?)

Ownership at the community level is called common property, or “the commons”2,  and where it does exist, we can feel quite attached to it, as do farmers that share water for irrigation.

The bad news is that common property is less common than it used to be. Take a walk on the “Boston Common.” This is where the landless people of that town used to graze their cows. (Some Bostonian should try that today! The sign at the entrance doesn’t even explain the name.) The good news is that the commons is making a comeback. Even, maybe especially, on the Internet. Take a walk on Wikipedia—it’s ours in common, technically owned by no one and therefore socially owned by everyone. It is ours to use, and to change. Walk too around our community gardens, and look at the research findings of our universities. Thankfully, these are all in the commons.

To drive home the idea of these three levels and four …ships, here are a few quotes to go with each, together with corresponding photos.

Citizenship

“The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” (Flaubert, from Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes)

Elector, n. “One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

We are the unwilling,
Led by the unqualified,
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful
(U.S. troops in Vietnam).

Communityship

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

“The mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” (Paul Shepheard, in What is Architecture)

“Scout bees…fly out from the bivouac in all directions in the search for a new permanent nest site. When a suitable site is found…the scouts return and signal the direction and distance of the find…Different scouts may announce different sites simultaneously and a contest ensues. Finally the site being advertised most vigorously by the largest number of workers wins, and the entire swarm flies off to it…”(Edward O. Wilson)

Leadership

Queen bees “never participate in the ordinary duties of the hive such as cleaning cells, tending the young, or gathering food. After performing their nuptial flights, queen honeybees function as little more than egg-laying machines…” (Thomas D. Seeley, Honeybee Ecology) 

“Management is the delusion that you can change people. Leadership is deluding other people instead of deluding yourself.” (Scott Adams, in Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel)

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw)

“Unhappy is the land that has no heroes,”’ sighed Andrea in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. “No,” contradicted the astronomer, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.”

Ownership

“I had reached the end of my journey. Everything that surrounded me seemed to be my own property. I was the King of Mont Blanc—the statue of this tremendous pedestal.” (Jacques Balmat, on being the first person to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, 1786)

Corporation, n. “An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

“We sold the patent for insulin to the university for one dollar. And come to think of it—I don’t believe I ever saw that one dollar.” (Charles H. Best, medical researcher, quoted by George Gamester in the Toronto Star, 22 July 1975)

To close, I believe that we shall have to reclaim democracy from private individualism at the expense of collective citizenship and cultural communityship. (See MY book Rebalancing Society, which is yours to have too, in the commons on mintzberg.org.)

________________

Text © Henry Mintzberg 2016. Photos © Lisa Mintzberg. If you need some creative photography visit lisamintzberg.comFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also started a new Facebook page to disseminate these TWOGs. 


1 In “Community-ship is the answer", Financial Times, 23 October 2006; see also "Rebuilding Companies as Communities” in the Harvard Business Review, and the TWOG of 12 February 2015.

2 See J. Rowe, 2008. The parallel economy of the commons. jonathanrowe.org/the-parallel-economy-of-the-commons, also E. Ostrom 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press. 

 

Saving the planet from governments and markets

12 May 2016

Think back to the Paris Conference on Climate Change last December and ask yourself which had greater influence on your personal behavior: the clips you saw from that conference on television, or the ads that sponsored those clips?

While governments imagine that pledges and plans will deal with the problem of climate change, markets barrel ahead with business as usual, namely the consumption of goods, and of this planet. We are hooked on a malignant model of more. To paraphrase Hannibal facing the Alps, we shall have to find another way, or else make one.

Think back to the Paris Conference on Climate Change last December and ask yourself which had greater influence on your personal behavior: the clips you saw from that conference on television, or the ads that sponsored those clips?

While governments imagine that pledges and plans will deal with the problem of climate change, markets barrel ahead with business as usual, namely the consumption of goods, and of this planet. We are hooked on a malignant model of more. To paraphrase Hannibal facing the Alps, we shall have to find another way, or else make one.

The politicians pledge, and then their professionals plan, in the hope of driving actions on the ground. But think of all the talk required before any feet can walk on that ground: all the discussions, debates, and deliberations, all the planning, programming, and budgeting that have to work their way through countless public agencies, private businesses, and plural associations. Such a top-down process may be fine for building oil refineries, but is it any way to deal with the environmental consequences of these refineries?  

Politicians Pledging in Paris

Meanwhile economic globalization continues to undermine the sovereignty of nation states around the world. Now trade pacts even give international corporations the right to sue countries that legislate contrary to their private interests. Can the corporations that benefit from the warming of this planet—for example in coal and petroleum—be expected to cease their covert lobbying if not their overt litigating.

The private sector offers another way to deal with the problem of climate change: markets. The very same markets that have been firing on all cylinders with carbon energy are supposed to save the planet from that energy—as if the money to be made in fossil fuels will disappear because there is money to be made in solar panels.1 The problem is not markets per se, but the fact that markets have become so dominant in a world that requires balance across social, political, and economic forces. (See my book on Rebalancing Society and the TWOG on it.) 

Markets barreling ahead

If not governments or markets, then what other way can there be? Look in the mirror: you could be seeing the answer. We buy, we vote, we march. We can refuse, we can reduce, we can replace. As consumers, voters, and doers, we can change our own behaviors while driving our governments and markets to face their responsibilities—if we can act together.  

This will require recognition that there are three consequential sectors in society, not two. The battles that have raged for so long over public versus private—governments versus markets, left versus right, collective needs versus individual rights—have obscured the importance of this other sector, which functions largely at the community level. I believe it should be called the plural sector, instead of inadequate labels such as the third sector or civil society, to help it take its place next to the sectors called public and private.

While many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector, all of us live in the plural sector—in our many groups and communities as well as associations (owned by ourselves as members, as in cooperatives, or else organized as trusts owned by no one, as in Greenpeace). This sector is also home to mass movements and to the many community initiatives we see around us, whether to encourage recycling or to support the poor.

Is it utopian to expect us to rise up in some sort of groundswell within this hitherto obscure sector? This question needs to be put differently: Is it really utopian to mobilize ourselves for the survival of our progeny and our planet?

We have seen significant groundswells before: in 1776 in the American colonies, in 1930 in the Indian salt march, in the Prague Spring of 1989. The best example may be the “Quiet Revolution” of Quebec in the 1960s, because of the remarkable shift it brought about in collective behavior. In that one decade, as the people threw off the yoke of the Catholic Church, the birth rate fell from among the highest in the developed world to one of the lowest.

In none of these movements did public pledges, commercial markets, or established leadership play the major role. People did, together. Tom Paine wrote in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” How prophetic that proved to be. How prophetic that will have to be now.

It is not plans from some elite “top” that will begin the world over again, but actions on the ground. We are the feet that will have to walk all the talk, connected to heads that will have to think for ourselves. We shall have to confront the perpetrators of climate change—and that includes ourselves—not with violent resistance or passive resistance, but with clever resistance. Some years ago, the angry customers of a Texas telephone company paid 1 extra cent on their telephone bills. This tied the company in knots. It got the message.

Beyond resistance will have to come the replacement of destructive practices by more constructive ones, as has been happening with wind and solar energy. There will be more of this when we “human resources” pursue our resourcefulness as human beings. Imagine, for example, an economy based on growth in qualities instead of quantities, of better instead of more—in education, health care, and nutrition.

Facing the issue of imbalance last week in our program RoundTables for Experienced Managers.

That conference in Paris was not a wake-up call so much as an event. Pledges and plans will not not wake us up to the problem of climate change, nor will markets. We wake up when our house is flooded, or our crops fail. But surely we cannot await the pervasion of such calamities to drive our actions. Addressing the specific problem of climate change, and the broader problem of imbalance, will have to begin with ourselves, together—locally and globally.

Progeny on the planet

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. A version of this was published on HuffingtonPost.com earlier this week. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page to disseminate these TWOGs.


1 The International New York Times reported from the Paris conference on December 11 that “diplomats and policy experts” believe that, for any accord to work, it will have to convince “companies and investors that it would be more profitable to invest in renewable sources of energy” than traditional fossil fuels. On this our survival is supposed to depend!

 

The truth about Truth

5 May 2016

Last week I raised the issue of truth, concerning my comments about orchestra conductors. In early 2015 I did a blog about truth, which is revisited this week, with some editing.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered truth: that the world is round, not flat. Did he? Is it?

Not long after that, in 1535, Jacque Cartier crossed the same ocean and sailed way up a mighty river, until he had to stop at an island just short of the first rapids. There he saw a mountain, which was later named Mont Royal, for the king of France. Now, almost half a millennium later, my office in Montreal faces that mountain. Have a look at the photo below; it offers definitive proof that the world is neither round nor flat.

Last week I raised the issue of truth, concerning my comments about orchestra conductors. In early 2015 I did a blog about truth, which is revisited this week, with some editing.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered truth: that the world is round, not flat. Did he? Is it?

Not long after that, in 1535, Jacque Cartier crossed the same ocean and sailed way up a mighty river, until he had to stop at an island just short of the first rapids. There he saw a mountain, which was later named Mont Royal, for the king of France. Now, almost half a millennium later, my office in Montreal faces that mountain. Have a look at the photo below; it offers definitive proof that the world is neither round nor flat.

Mount Royal from my Montreal office. Sorry about what Santa, my assistant, calls our stained glass windows. They are not cleaned in the winter.

Why must I tell you this? Because we have to appreciate that while facts may be true—that mountain is there—theories are not. How can they be when they are just generalizations, namely words and symbols on paper or screen, not reality itself?

Theories can, however, be useful, or not, depending on the circumstances. The flat earth theory is still quite useful for building football fields in Holland.  (Can you imagine an engineer saying: “Please raise one end a millimeter or two to correct for the curvature of the earth”?) But when it comes to sailing ships, the round earth theory works much better (even though the earth is not round—it bulges at the equator—although what to do with the oblong theory of the earth I do not know). And anyone who likes to climb mountains has to be a fan of the bumpy earth theory (although I heard somewhere that if we reduced the size of the earth to a billiard ball, we would not be able to feel Mount Everest).

Many proper scientists just don’t get it. They fight with each other furiously over their respective theories, without recognizing that all may be right, and wrong, depending on the circumstances. Don’t we still make greater use of Newton’s theory of mechanics, which was supposedly debunked by Einstein’s theory of relativity? It has been much the same with those economists who poo-pooed Keynesian theory for years, only to rediscover it during the recent financial crisis.

There has been concern of late about the measles vaccine: by failing to have their children inoculated, parents are being accused—rightly—of putting other children at risk. To convince these parents, proper scientists and physicians have been announcing that the vaccine has been proved safe. This is not true, nor is it proper science, which can disprove beliefs but never quite prove them.1 The truth is, so to speak, that the tests have not found the vaccine to be harmful, so far. If you doubt the difference between these two wordings, consider all the medical treatments that were declared safe only to be later declared unsafe. Science marches on, unpredictably.

So beware of any claims about truth in theory, including those that I have advanced furiously in these TWOGs. But do check out the claims about their usefulness, while keeping your mind open for the next theory that comes along. As D.O. Hebb, the great psychologist, put it: “A good theory is one that holds together long enough to get you to a better theory.” (He worked at McGill, and probably looked out at the same mountain—unchanged.)

© Henry Mintzberg 2015/6   Photo © Lisa Mintzberg Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.


1 Karl Popper wrote a famous book entitled The Logic of Scientific Discovery, which was not about the discovery of theories—the interesting part—but about the falsification of them. Another assistant of mine once typed his name as Karl Propper.

Some quotes about Truth:

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths.” (A.N. Whitehead)

“Add a few drops of malice to a half-truth and you have an absolute truth.” (Eric Hoffer)

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” (Andre Gide)

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” (Niels Bohr)

“All astrologers are liars. Even when an astrologer tells the truth, he is lying.” (proverb)

 

The maestro myth of managing

28 April 2016

After last week’s TWOG on an “efficient orchestra”, this week’s takes a good look at the popular metaphor—really the deceptive myth—of the heroic leader as orchestra conductor: the managerial maestro on the podium.

A flick of the baton and marketing begins; a wave of the wand and production chimes in; a grand sweep of the arms and HR, PR, and IT join with perfect harmony. It’s a manager’s dream—all those obedient players. There are even conductors doing workshops for managers who believe they are leaders, and grander still, these people pretending to conduct real orchestras—with equivalent justification. 

After last week’s TWOG on an “efficient orchestra”, this week’s takes a good look at the popular metaphor—really the deceptive myth—of the heroic leader as orchestra conductor: the managerial maestro on the podium.

A flick of the baton and marketing begins; a wave of the wand and production chimes in; a grand sweep of the arms and HR, PR, and IT join with perfect harmony. It’s a manager’s dream—all those obedient players. There are even conductors doing workshops for managers who believe they are leaders, and grander still, these people pretending to conduct real orchestras—with equivalent justification. 

To sober us all up, here are three quotes about this metaphor that I found in books. As you read them, we shall play a little game. Please vote for which best explain your understanding of managing. But there’s a trick: you must vote when you first read each, even if that is before you have read the others. But there’s a compensating trick: you can vote up to three times!

From Peter Drucker, the guru’s guru: One analogy [for the manager] is the conductor of a symphony orchestra, through whose effort, vision and leadership, individual instrumental parts that are so much noise by themselves, become the living whole of music. But the conductor has the composer’s score: he is only interpreter. The manager is both composer and conductor. (from The Practice of Management, 1954) Your vote for composer and conductor?

From Sune Carlson, a Swedish economist who carried out the first serious study of managerial work—managing directors of Swedish companies—in the 1940s: Before we made the study, I always thought of a chief executive as the conductor of an orchestra, standing aloof on his platform. Now I am in some respects inclined to see him as the puppet in the puppet-show with hundreds of people pulling the strings and forcing him to act in one way or another. (from Executive Behavior, 1951) Your vote for puppet?

From Len Sayles, who published an early study of middle managers in the United States: The manager is like a symphony orchestra conductor, endeavoring to maintain a melodious performance … while the orchestra members are having various personal difficulties, stage hands are moving music stands, alternating excessive heat and cold are creating audience and instrumental problems, and the sponsor of the concert is insisting on irrational changes in the program. (from Managerial Behavior, 1964)1 Your vote for disruption?

Which did you choose? I use this game when I do workshops with managers (they let me do them, even though I am not an orchestra conductor). The results are almost always the same. There are a few votes for the first (because people are suspicious about what’s coming next), and a few more for the second. But when I read the third, all the hands go up! Managers are like orchestra conductors all right, but away from pretentious performing. Myths abound in management; that’s what many of these TWOGs are about. Beware of metaphors that glorify.

And the same can be said about orchestra conductors. Are they managers, even leaders? Outside of performance, certainly both, together. (As discussed in an earlier TWOG, good managers lead and good leaders manage.) They select the musicians, and the music, and during rehearsals synchronize them all into a coherent whole.2 But watch a conductor in performance: it is mostly just that—performance. Sure there is all that flailing of the arms, just like in the picture above. (Better still, have a good look at “orchestra conductors” on Google Images, a bit of which is reproduced below. What a cacophony!). Have a glance at the musicians during performance: they barely look at the conductor—who, by the way, may well be a guest conductor. Can you imagine a guest manager anywhere else?  

Bear in mind who is pulling the strings: Beethoven, a lot more than any Toscanini. Each musician is playing to the notes written for his or her instrument by the composer. So let’s revisit Drucker’s comment: it is the composer who is both composer and conductor!

Sure the conductor has a role to play in performance, just like the bassoonists. Somebody has to start the music and set the pace. But don’t tell me that all that arm waving is not significantly show—albeit part of the entertainment. Shakespeare had it right: “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players…” That includes managers as well as conductors, not to mention “leaders”.

The concertgoers, there because they love inspiring music, need to express their delight somehow. Much of this really belongs to Beethoven, but he’s dead. And how to thank so many musicians? So the Toscanini’s get most of the attention—as the symbol of everyone’s effort—with a bit left over for a bassoonist or two (with the conductor’s permission), not to mention the soloist. Do the conductors really deserve all that veneration? Of course orchestras play better with some conductors than others. But the same can be said of each musician on the stage. Tell me: when you hear a really great symphony on the radio, do you give the conductor a standing ovation?

By this point, if you know anything about orchestras, you are probably outraged. Who is this ignoramus? I have had running debates for years with people who know better, including a member of the family who is a prominent music critic. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I don’t know how to play any musical instrument, nor have I ever conducted an orchestra (although I love listening to Tchaikovsky). Yet, as noted above, I do conduct workshops for managers; I even compose these TWOGs. So I too am both composer and conductor.

Look, all of the above is not true. As I shall discuss next week (“The truth about Truth”), nothing is true. Or at least there are no whole truths, at best only half-truths. So it is true that conductors make a difference, just as it is true that their gyrations are so often overblown.3 And it is true that managing is like orchestra conducting, at least when things are going wrong. But truer still is that neither managers nor conductors belong on the podium of heroic leadership.


1 Notice that all three quotes are over a half-century old. Did any seem out-of-date? Here is another myth shot to hell: that every thought about management has to be current—terribly up-to-date. In subject matter, to be sure: about what is being managed. But not in process: about how it is being done. As I discuss in my book Simply Managing, because management is largely a practice, not a science or a profession, its essence hardly changes. Just like orchestra conducting.

2 See my article “Covert Leadership” where I describe observing a conductor in rehearsal for a day. I also observed a guest conductor—a famous violinist—during rehearsal one morning at the Tanglewood Music Festival, and mostly he was playing his instrument, with the occasional flick of his bow in the general direction of the musicians.

3 The Internet is loaded with videos about conductors as leaders. Go to the one with Itay Talgam. It really does capture both sides. Notice especially the moment when Leonard Bernstein raises an eyebrow, definitive proof that there is substance in performance!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. I will be composing and conducting at a one-day workshop in Holland on November 8, www.focusconferences.nl/mintzberg.. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

 

Ye gods: an efficient orchestra!

21 April 2016

Last week’s TWOG described four different species of organizations, and warned about mixing them up. This week’s TWOG provides a graphic example of doing just that: confusing a professional organization with a machine organization.

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of an organization with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on everything he had learned, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

Last week’s TWOG described four different species of organizations, and warned about mixing them up. This week’s TWOG provides a graphic example of doing just that: confusing a professional organization with a machine organization.

A young, enthusiastic MBA student was finally given the opportunity to apply his learning. He was asked to carry out a survey of an organization with which he was not normally familiar and submit recommendations as to how its efficiency could be increased. He selected as his target a symphony orchestra. Having read up on everything he had learned, he attended his first concert and submitted the following analysis:

a.  For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number of oboes should therefore be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole concert program, thus eliminating the peaks and valleys of activity.

b.  All twenty violins were playing identical notes. This would seem to be an unnecessary duplication, so the staff of this section should be cut drastically.

c.  Obsolescence of equipment is another matter warranting further investigation. The program noted that the leading violinist’s instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.

d.  Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver. If this were done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operatives more extensively.

e.   Finally, there seemed to be too much repetition of some of the musical passages. Therefore, scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.

If this student had instead chosen a factory, nobody would be laughing, perhaps least of all the people in that factory. In other words, this kind of mixing up is no laughing matter. So what to do? First, get your species of organizations straight (i.e., read last week’s TWOG). Second, beware of efficiency, as well as proficiency, innovation, and leadershipout of their natural contexts (also in last week’s TWOG).

© of the story: unknown, but published more or less as above in the mid 1950s, in an American professor’s bulletin, a Canadian military journal, and Harper’s Magazine, based on an anonymous memorandum that circulated in London and was probably published originally in Her Majesty’s Treasury of the Courts. With minor editing, this was first published here on 3 October 2014. Next week: The mythical manager as orchestra conductor.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

Species of Organizations

14 April 2016

There are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. A bear is not a beaver; one winters in caves, the other in wooden structures they build for themselves. Hospitals are not factories; advertising agencies are not fast food companies.

This may seem obvious, but while we recognize the different species of animals, we often mix up the different species of organizations. How often have management consultants come into one kind of organization and treated it like another—say tried to deal with a hospital the way they have just dealt with an automobile factory. (It might work in the cafeteria, but how about geriatrics?) Of course, we do use these kinds of words—hospitals, advertising agencies—but they designate industries, not the nature of their organizations.

There are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. A bear is not a beaver; one winters in caves, the other in wooden structures they build for themselves. Hospitals are not factories; advertising agencies are not fast food companies.

This may seem obvious, but while we recognize the different species of animals, we often mix up the different species of organizations. How often have management consultants come into one kind of organization and treated it like another—say tried to deal with a hospital the way they have just dealt with an automobile factory. (It might work in the cafeteria, but how about geriatrics?) Of course, we do use these kinds of words—hospitals, advertising agencies—but they designate industries, not the nature of their organizations.

Our vocabulary for understanding organizations is really quite primitive. We use the word organization the way biologists use the word mammal, except that we can’t get past it. Imagine if this was the case in biology.

Two biologists meet to discuss where mammals should spend the winter. “Obviously in a cave”, says the one who studies bears. “Are you kidding?” says the other who studies beavers, “Their predators will come in and kill them. They need to build protective lodges.” They talk past each other, just as does the manager of a hospital who might try to explain to a consultant that it is not a factory.

Years ago I set out to address this problem, in a book called The Structuring of Organizations (later issued in shorter form called Structure in Fives). It has proved to be my most successful book, for many years widely used in schools around the world. But not successful enough: the way we discuss organizations remains primitive. So let me offer my framework of four basic species of organizations.

The Machine Organization  Many organizations function like well-oiled machines. They are about efficiency, namely getting the greatest quantitative bang for the quantitative buck. Accordingly, everything is programmed, to the finest detail—for example how many seconds before a McDonald’s cook turns over a hamburger patty. This makes it easy to train the workers, but not to keep these workers: their jobs can be boring and the controls stifling. The machine organization is great at what it does well—we want that wake-up call in the hotel at 8:00, not 8:01—but not outside its own context. (Would you like to lift the pillow in your hotel room and have a Jack-in-the-box jump up and say “Surprise!” You are not there to be amused. But if you are in a movie theatre, beware of films made by machine-like film companies.)

The Professional Organization This second species is programmed too, but in an entirely different way. It is about proficiency more than efficiency. In hospitals, accounting firms, and many engineering offices, the critical work is highly skilled—it takes years of training—yet most of the time it can be surprisingly routine. (Imagine being wheeled into an operating room as a nurse says: “You have nothing to worry about: this is a highly creative surgeon!”) In the professional organization, sometimes people seem to work in teams, but in fact they are usually working largely on their own. Everyone in that operating room is carrying out his or her own procedures according to the predetermined protocols. More to the point, each of the musicians in an orchestra is playing to the notes written for his or her own instrument by Beethoven, more than responding to the conductor (as suggested in the photo above).

The Entrepreneurial Organization  Yet we venerate the orchestra conductor as if this is the epitome of leadership. Again, we are mixing up species. In the entrepreneurial organization, central leadership dominates, while in orchestras there is more going on than this, as suggested above (and as will be discussed in the next two TWOGs).  The best examples of this species are often found in entrepreneurial firms created by visionaries—as in the case of a Steve Jobs at Apple. Sometimes older organizations in crisis take on this form as they centralize power around their leadership to deal with the problem. And let’s not forget totalitarian political regimes, like Putin’s Russia. When the boss of an entrepreneurial organization says “Jump!” the response is “How high sir?” (When the executive director of a hospital says “Jump”, the doctors ask “Why?” In an orchestra, some of the musicians might have a tantrum.)

The Project Organization  This fourth species is different again. Here the work is also highly skilled, but the experts have to work in teams, to combine their efforts for the sake of innovation. Think about film companies, advertising agencies, research laboratories: this is found in many kinds of high tech industries. Here the experts work on projects, to create novel outputs—a film, an ad campaign, a new product. (Over the years I have called this species the Innovative Organization, and Adhocracy.) To understand the project organization, and if you are one of its managers not screw it up entirely, you have to appreciate that it gets its effectiveness by being inefficient. Without some slack, innovation dies.

Each of these species requires its own kind of structure, its own style of management, very different power relationships, and so on. I have no space to go into all of this here—an accessible reference, mentioned at the end, does that. Let me just add that these species don’t just HAVE different cultures; they ARE different cultures. Walk into different ones and you can almost smell the differences.

Yet if you read the popular literature on organizations with these species in mind, you will find that the vast majority of it is about machine organizations, without ever admitting or even realizing it. The bulk of this is about how to become more machine-like: get better systems, do more formal planning, measure everything in sight, tighten up, become more “efficient”. And the rest is about how to compensate for the worst effects of this species—how to make the workers happier, or at least less miserable. Harry Braverman has referred to the human relations (now human resource) people who try to do this as “the maintenance crew for the human machinery.”1

Of course, I have been discussing these species as if all organizations are one or the other. Of course not, although some organizations do come remarkably close—in the order presented, a McDonald's, a Mayo Clinic, Putin’s Russia, a creative film set. Yet even so, a machine-like mass producer can have its adhocratic product development team while a hospital has its machine-like cafeteria (not to mention the need for a creative team when something does go wrong in that operating room). And then there are the hybrids—for example, a pharmaceutical company with adhocracy in its research, professional in its development, and machine in its production.

Does that mean we cannot use this framework? Quite the contrary; we need such a vocabulary even more, so that we can talk more sensibly about what is going on—within our organizations as well as across them.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. The original book, The Structuring of Organizations (1979), is difficult to get and the shorter version, Structure in Fives (1983) is priced outrageously. Happily though, the best and most recent rendition is readily available and reasonably priced, as Part II (200 pages long) of my book Mintzberg on Management. The situation in other languages is different; all three have been translated into many languages, and may be more readily available. I hope to do a new edition of the book at some point. 

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

Next week, the result of treating a symphony orchestra like a machine, and the week after, challenging the metaphor of the manager as orchestra conductor. 


1 H. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The degradation of work in the Twentieth Century (Monthly Review Press, 1974:87).

 

Managing Scrambled Eggs

7 April 2016

Years ago I flew Eastern Airlines one morning from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, run by ex-astronaut Frank Borman, but soon to disappear.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called scrambled eggs. I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” She replied: “I know. We keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how can this be? If they were running a funeral home, I could appreciate not communicating with the customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter some awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder about the management. Is it running the business, or reading financial statements?

Years ago I flew Eastern Airlines one morning from Montreal to New York. It was the largest airline in the world at the time, run by ex-astronaut Frank Borman, but soon to disappear.

They served food in those days, well sort of—something they called scrambled eggs. I said to the flight attendant: “I’ve eaten some awfully bad things in airplanes, but this has to be the worst.” She replied: “I know. We keep telling them; they won’t listen.”

Now how can this be? If they were running a funeral home, I could appreciate not communicating with the customers. But an airline? Whenever I encounter some awful service, or a badly designed product, I wonder about the management. Is it running the business, or reading financial statements?

I guess that the financial analysts of the time were reading those statements too, and telling everybody about the problems of load factors, route structures, turnaround times, whatever. Don’t believe a word (or number) of it. Eastern Airlines went belly up because of those scrambled eggs.

Some years later, after telling this story to a group of mangers, one, from IBM, came up to tell me another story. Borman came running in at the last minute for a flight. First class was full, so they bumped a paying customer to put the boss where I guess he had become accustomed. But, apparently feeling guilty, he decided to speak to the customer. He asked a flight attendant where he could find economy class. (I made this part up, but the rest is reported as told to me.) Borman went back and found the customer. “I’m Frank Borman, president of Eastern Airlines,” he said. The customer answered: “I’m John Akers, president of IBM.”

Now the problem was not about who was bumped. Quite the contrary: status was the problem. Class counted for more than substance. Managing is not about sitting where you have become accustomed. It’s about eating scrambled eggs.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.

 

Judgment and Jack

31 March 2016

Remember judgment? It still appears in the dictionary (in my Oxford: “1 the critical faculty, discernment… 2 good sense”). Judgment used to be a key to managing effectively, even if hidden in the dark recesses of the human brain. And then along came measurement, in the dazzling light. It was a good idea, so long as it informed judgment. Too frequently, however, it replaced judgment.

In 1981, the Business Roundtable, a grouping of the chief executives of America’s leading companies, issued their “Statement on Corporate Responsibility.”

Remember judgment? It still appears in the dictionary (in my Oxford: “1 the critical faculty, discernment… 2 good sense”). Judgment used to be a key to managing effectively, even if hidden in the dark recesses of the human brain. And then along came measurement, in the dazzling light. It was a good idea, so long as it informed judgment. Too frequently, however, it replaced judgment.

In 1981, the Business Roundtable, a grouping of the chief executives of America’s leading companies, issued their “Statement on Corporate Responsibility.”

The shareholder must receive a good return but the legitimate concerns of other constituencies (customers, employees, communities, suppliers and society at large) also must have the appropriate attention. . . . [Leading managers] believe that enlightened consideration … will best serve the interest of [the] shareholders. (quoted in Beyond Selfishness; statement since removed from www.businessroundtable.org)

In 1997, the Business Roundtable issued another statement, entitled “Statement of Corporate Governance.” This one, about “Shareholder Value”, reversed the previous one, claiming that the paramount duty of management and boards of directors is to the corporations’ stockholders. It explained:

The notion that the board must somehow balance the interests of stockholders against the interests of other stakeholders fundamentally misconstrues the role of directors. It is, moreover, an unworkable notion because it would leave the board with no criteria for resolving conflicts between the interest of stockholders and of other stakeholders or among different groups of stakeholders. (www.businessroundtable.org)

No criteria indeed—except judgment! Somehow, between 1981 and 1997, America’s most prominent CEOs lost their capacity for judgment. If you want to understand what has been behind the problems of the American economy since then, here you have it, right from the horses’ mouths. (See mintzberg.org/enterprise.)

In 2009, Jack Welch, America’s superstar CEO (of General Electric, from 1981-2001), declared famously that “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.” But wait a minute Jack: you were a member of the Roundtable that issued that 1997 statement. In fact I have been told that you championed it (although this I cannot confirm, and you are presumably not telling).1

In any event, thank you Jack for your dumbest statement--after the damage was done, and continues to be done. Thank you on behalf of all the employees who were either “downsized” or shifted to lower wages, in the name of “productivity” (and so helped to bring on Donald Trump). Thank you on behalf of all the customers who have had to put up with appalling services and lousy products at higher prices since that 1997 statement. Thank you on behalf of all the decent companies that were destroyed so that a few CEOs could run off with “shareholder value.”

Where has all the judgment gone?

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.


1 Three years later, in 2012, the Business Roundtable issued this third, lame statement: “[I]t is the responsibility of the corporation to deal with its employees, customers, suppliers, and other constituencies in a fair and equitable manner and to  exemplify the highest standards of corporate citizenship.”

 

The tricky task of measuring managers

24 March 2016

You are a manager; you want to know how you are doing. Other people around you are even more intent on knowing how you are doing. Especially if you are the chief executive. (If you want to know what you should be doing, you’ll have to read another TWOG, called “Celebrating the Flawed Manager.”)

There are lots of easy ways to assess how you are doing. Beware of them all. The effectiveness of a manager can only be judged in context. Notice: not just measured. This may sound easy enough, until you take it apart. Here we do so in seven subpropositions. (Bear with me—I’ll explain later why we need so many.)

You are a manager; you want to know how you are doing. Other people around you are even more intent on knowing how you are doing. Especially if you are the chief executive. (If you want to know what you should be doing, you’ll have to read another TWOG, called “Celebrating the Flawed Manager.”)

There are lots of easy ways to assess how you are doing. Beware of them all. The effectiveness of a manager can only be judged in context. Notice: not just measured. This may sound easy enough, until you take it apart. Here we do so in seven subpropositions. (Bear with me—I’ll explain later why we need so many.)

(1) Managers are not effective; matches are effective. There are not so much good husbands and good wives as good couples. Well, how about managers and their units? There may be managers who fail in all managerial jobs, but there are none who can succeed in all of them. Success depends on the match between the person and the unit, in the situation at the time, for a time. Hence a flaw that can be tolerable in one context—even be considered a positive quality, such as a compulsive focus on cost reduction—can prove to be fatal in another. Thus (2) There are no effective managers in general, which also means (3) There is no such thing as a professional manager—someone who can manage anything.

Of course, managers and their units succeed and fail together. So (4) To assess the effectiveness of a manager, you also have to assess the effectiveness of the unit being managed. But not only that: (5) You also have to assess the contribution the manager made to that effectiveness.

Some units function well despite their managers, and others would function a lot worse if not for their managers. So beware of assuming that the manager is automatically responsible for any success or failure of a unit. History matters; culture matters; markets matter; even weather can matter. How many managers have succeeded simply by manoeuvring themselves into favorable jobs, making sure they did not screw up, and then taking credit for the success? (See the photo!)  

To further complete matters, (6) Managerial effectiveness also has to be assessed for broader impact, beyond the unit and even the organization. What use is a manager who makes the unit more effective at the expense of the rest of the organization? For example, sales sold so much product that manufacturing could not keep up, and so the company went into turmoil. Blame the sales manager? For doing his or her job? Shouldn’t general management be held responsible for managing the whole? Believe this, exclusively, and you may be part of the bureaucracy that has brought down so many organizations.

All organizations are flawed: unexpected problems can arise anywhere. Effective organizations deal with such problems in their own time and place, by whoever is best able to respond. No organization can afford to have managers put on blinders to do their jobs, refusing to look left or right.

Imagine if more organizations were to assess the performance of their units and managers together, with regard to their contribution to the whole. To repeat what I think cannot be repeated enough, a healthy organization is a community of engaged human beings, not a collection of detached human resources.

Moreover, what is right for the unit and even for the organization might be wrong for the world around it. For example, bribing customers may be effective for making sales, but is this the kind of effectiveness we want? Mussolini, the fascist dictator, was famous for making the Italian trains run on time.  In that respect, he was an effective manager. In others, he was a monster.

Put all these points together, and you have to ask: How can anyone who needs to assess a manager possibly cope with all this? The answer here, too, is simple—at least in principle: (7) Managerial effectiveness has to be judged and not just measured. (We’ll get to judgment in a later TWOG, maybe next week.) We can certainly get measures of effectiveness for some of these things, especially unit performance in the short run. But how are we to measure the rest? Where is the composite measure that answers the magic question?

If you think that so many points to assess managerial effectiveness is excessive, then think about the excessiveness of efforts that have ignored most of them. Think, for example, about executive bonuses based on measuring the increase in the price of the stock. The effectiveness of executives has to be assessed over the long run, but since we don’t know how to measure that, at least as attributable to any specific individual, executive bonuses should be eliminated. Period.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016.  Adapted from Chapter 6 called “Managing Effectively” of my book Simply Managing. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

The Board as Bee

17 March 2016

My book, Power in and around Organizations, first issued in 1983 and out of print for many years, is now available, free of charge. So this week I draw on a basic point about how bees bite, in a chapter that describes “The Board of Directors”. Read this here in the unlikely event that you don’t want to plough through all 700 pages.

Under the label “governance,” boards of directors have been getting a good deal of attention in recent years.  This may be more than they deserve because there is often more status than substance in what boards do. Boards have several useful service roles to play in organizations, but only one—rather limited—of real consequence, about control.

My book, Power in and around Organizations, first issued in 1983 and out of print for many years, is now available, free of charge. So this week I draw on a basic point about how bees bite, in a chapter that describes “The Board of Directors”. Read this here in the unlikely event that you don’t want to plough through all 700 pages.

Under the label “governance,” boards of directors have been getting a good deal of attention in recent years.  This may be more than they deserve because there is often more status than substance in what boards do. Boards have several useful service roles to play in organizations, but only one—rather limited—of real consequence, about control.

Among the beneficial services that board members can provide, those with wide experience can offer advice to the management, or simply be there as sounding boards. Directors who are well connected can help raise funds for the organization. And the very presence of influential people on the board can enhance the reputation of an organization as well as connect it to important centers of power.

The board as overseer The real influence of the board, however, is in its responsibility to act as overseer of the activities of the full-time management. This starts with the appointment of the chief. (I use the word chief rather than CEO, to include the heads of non-business as well as corporate organizations.) Then there is the assessing of this person’s performance, and replacing him or her if need be. Sometimes board members must also act temporarily in that person’s place when he or she becomes incapacitated. All of this is tricky, because boards may not be particularly adept at doing it well.

The board does not control the organization; it appoints the chief who does that, and then appropriately backs off. Chiefs have axes, boards have gavels. Don’t be fooled by the noise that gavels can make. Of course, if a board lacks confidence in its chief, it has to replace, not second-guess, him or her. The tricky part is that the board cannot do this often.

Think of the chief of an organization as someone picking flowers. There’s a bee hovering around—that’s the board—so the chief had better be careful. But that bee can only bite once. So it had better be careful too! Of course, nothing stops a board from biting more than once—replacing one chief after another—except concerns about the perception of its own competence. Most of its members probably appointed the person being dismissed.

The board apart   The trickiest part of all this is that board members, who attend only occasional meetings, and with very different responsibilities of their own, are often quite removed from what goes on in the organization. How can they even know when to replace the chief, given that their main channel into the organization is through that very same chief?

Compounding the problem of selection, assessment, and replacement is that board members typically have higher social status than most other people in the organization. That cannot help in their assessment of internal candidates for the job of managing those people. Indeed, it can introduce a bias toward selecting outsiders. Moreover, high-status people may be inclined to select people in their own image, whether other elites or at least people especially concerned with their status. Board members may relate easily to such people, but do these people themselves necessarily relate to the people they are supposed to manage? (See the TWOG called “The Harvard 19” on the bleak performance of one sample of high-status corporate CEOs.)

There is a label for people who relate well to “superiors” and badly to “subordinates”: “kiss up and kick down.” They’re great at hob knobbing with elites but lousy at working with people who are not elite. (I touched on how common this has become in an earlier TWOG, which suggested that choosing managers could be significantly improved by seeking the opinions of people who have been managed by the candidates.)

If choosing a chief sounds tricky, think about having to assess his or her performance from the outside. Next week I will discuss the tricky task of assessing managerial performance. Suffice it at this point to say that, in the absence of deeper knowledge, relying on convenient numbers—in businesses for example, profits or stock price—can be short-term and superficial.

Beware of the buzz  Of course boards vary in their practices, depending on the nature of the organization. The discussion above applies especially to widely-held corporations. But for companies closely-held by a dominant outside owner, the board may exercise considerable control on that person’s behalf—unless he or she chooses to do so personally. (But again, the management has to manage.) As for entrepreneurial companies, managed by their owners, the service roles become the main ones for the board.

As for the boards of non-business organizations—NGOs, universities, hospitals, and so on—their directors may be even more distant from the basic operations. At least the directors of businesses are usually businesspeople themselves. But what happens when businesspeople sit on these boards? If they come with the belief that business knows better, they can be a menace, posing a double danger: they may be more inclined to meddle and to appoint businesspeople to run these non-business organizations. Businesspeople may know no more about education or health care than educators and physicians know about business.

These not-for-profit organizations are different. They have more complicated stakeholder relationships; their performance targets are less easily measured; and their employee relationships tend to be more engaging. These days, the prevailing practice of the management of business is not “the one best way”, not even the best way for many businesses themselves

So what is the non-numeric bottom line for all this? Boards are necessary but problematic. They have to have an acute sense of what they don’t know, and how to find it out. And they need variety in their membership, to overcome the limitations of mislaid status. Beware of their buzzing even more than their biting.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

Futebol (and other sporting things)

10 March 2016

Back from Brazil, why not a TWOG about futebol (as they call it there, and me here, to distinguish it from American football, which is barely about feet, and is, after all, Canadian)? I know almost nothing about futebol, but why should that stop me? So here I introduce a new category of TWOG, called “An ignorant take on…” (which you may feel is not new at all). Let’s start with ignorance itself (about which I do know quite a bit), then a few thoughts about futebol, next about the names of sports teams, and finally about the ownership of such teams.

First: An ignorant take on ignorance   Why should the experts be the only ones to comment on things, especially when they so often get it wrong? Ignorance may not always be bliss, as the saying goes, but it can be beneficial.

Back from Brazil, why not a TWOG about futebol (as they call it there, and me here, to distinguish it from American football, which is barely about feet, and is, after all, Canadian)? I know almost nothing about futebol, but why should that stop me? So here I introduce a new category of TWOG, called “An ignorant take on…” (which you may feel is not new at all). Let’s start with ignorance itself (about which I do know quite a bit), then a few thoughts about futebol, next about the names of sports teams, and finally about the ownership of such teams.

First: An ignorant take on ignorance   Why should the experts be the only ones to comment on things, especially when they so often get it wrong? Ignorance may not always be bliss, as the saying goes, but it can be beneficial.

Someone once defined an expert as a person with no elementary knowledge. But elementary knowledge can sometimes help to see things differently—like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen story who saw that the emperor was wearing no clothes. Well, sports often wear too much conventional clothing, restricting those who know them well from seeing what might be changed. Ignoramuses like me can see the elementary things, and thus can be hit on the head by something besides a ball─an idea, for example.

Now: An ignorant take on futebol   I want to suggest one idea in particular that might help to make “the beautiful game” more beautiful. This is a team sport, right—I know that much—10 on 10, with one more player in each goal. So why end a tie game with 1 on 1, especially when 1 of the one is so much more likely to score than the other 1 is to stop it.

Corner kicks are exciting, so why not alternate corner kicks instead? The odds of scoring can be changed by trying different numbers of players—for example 8 on 6. (In hockey now, we end a tie game with 3 on 3 in the overtime, instead of 5 on 5. It’s fascinating how much this changes the dynamics of the game.)

And how about entering the 21st century and looking at replays to distinguish whether a player was tripped or took a dive. Such calls often prove to be too important to leave to the peripheral vision of a referee.  Indeed, this would give the fans at home time to go to the bathroom, and would give beer companies’ time to send them there.

And something must be done about the scoring. Between the 0-0 of futebol and the 141-121 of basketball is, for example, the 4-2 of hockey. One goal every 10 minutes, instead of one every 10 seconds, or one every 10 days.

Next: An ignorant take on the name of teams  Why is it that sports teams have such boring names while rock groups have such interesting ones? European futebol has its Chelsea Blues, Liverpool Reds, and Real Madrid Whites. U.S. football has its Panthers, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Rams, and Colts, etc. Just a bunch of animals. Baseball is for the birds: Cardinals, Blue Jays, Orioles.

Hockey in Canada is no better. Montreal has its Canadians, Vancouver its Canucks, Toronto its Maple Leafs.  (Ever seen a blue maple leaf off the ice?) You know why Edmonton has the Oilers? Because they drill for oil out there. Oilers on the ice? No wonder they do so badly.

Here is my idea. Sports teams should take their inspiration from rock groups. Manchester City, cross-town rivals of Manchester United, could be called the U-2s, or U-toos. A curling club could be called the Saskatchewan Sliding Stones. How about the Boston Beatles in foofball? Or the New York Rush? Just give us a chance in Montreal to call our hockey archrivals, who have been doing even worse than us, the Toronto Grateful Dead.

Finally: An Ignorant Take on the Ownership of Teams   What to do if you’ve got tons of inherited money, a yearning for fame, and not a single idea in your head? That’s easy. You overpay for a famous sports team. You know nothing about management, so you hire a famous coach, whom you mistrust, and together you spend obscenely on players, to try and buy your way to a championship. (Your team should be called The Mercenaries.) And as soon as your Mercenaries start losing, you fire your famous coach. (Just two or three times. After that you lose interest in the whole thing, and let the team die.) On the rare occasion when the strategy does work, you kill the sport instead.

It’s interesting how many legendary teams have been community-owned: by the fans. This remains true of Real Madrid and of Barcelona, the latter probably the greatest futebol team in the world today. (It used to be true of Manchester United too, when it was the greatest.) The most legendary team in football, the Green Bay Packers, is the only one in the NFL owned by its fans (and named for something real, since Green Bay is a center of the meat packing industry; when you think about it, this is a perfect name for a football team!). And then there’s the greatest sporting legend of all, with a terrific name—from little New Zealand comes the great big All Blacks. (The name is all in the All.) Who owns them? Nobody.

OK, enough of my ignorance—for this week at least. But beware of the ignorance of other people. For this I offer you two final words: Donald Trump.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more of this nonsense, please follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

…for the networking of sustainability

3 March 2016

As this TWOG goes up (usually posted Thursdays at 2 am in Montreal, to appear early in Europe), I will be in Brazil, soon to give a keynote address at the launching of Marina Silva’s Sustainability Network, which is intended to change the politics of the country (as discussed in last week’s TWOG). Despite their problems (discussed the week before), I believe that Brazilians may be the ones to show the way forward in this unbalanced world. With limited time this week to prepare a regular TWOG, I draw on my collection of favourite quotes to help inspire the Network.

Quotes on how we have lost direction

“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” (John Maynard Keynes)

As this TWOG goes up (usually posted Thursdays at 2 am in Montreal, to appear early in Europe), I will be in Brazil, soon to give a keynote address at the launching of Marina Silva’s Sustainability Network, which is intended to change the politics of the country (as discussed in last week’s TWOG). Despite their problems (discussed the week before), I believe that Brazilians may be the ones to show the way forward in this unbalanced world. With limited time this week to prepare a regular TWOG, I draw on my collection of favourite quotes to help inspire the Network.

Quotes on how we have lost direction

“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” (John Maynard Keynes)

Elector, n. “One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambroise Bierce, 1906)

Past, n. “That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we have a slight and regrettable acquaintance. …the Past is the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of tomorrow. They are one—the knowledge and the dream. (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambroise Bierce, 1906)

“It is the dead who govern. Look you, man, how they work their will upon us! Who have made the laws? The dead! Who have made the customs that we obey and that form and shape our lives? The dead! And the titles to our lands? Have not the dead devised them? …. And all the writers, when they would give weight and authority to their opinions, quote the dead; and the orators who preach and lecture¾are not their mouths filled with words that the dead have spoken? Why, man, our lives follow grooves that the dead have run out with their thumbnails!” (M. Davisson Post, in Uncle Abner)

“In theory, you’re trying to find out what the future is going to be like. That’s difficult when the past keeps changing.” (Martin Zimmerman, Chief Economist, Ford Motor Company)

Quotes on our state of imbalance

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” (The Talmud)

“I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” (Daniel Boone)

“The mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” (Paul Shepheard, in What is Architecture)

“Be sure you choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don’t choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very credible one, will choose you.” (Robertson Davies, The Manticore)

“If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” (Jack Welch)

“It wasn’t a crisis at all; it was the end of an illusion.” (Gerald Weinberg)

Quotes on how to change direction

"lligitimus non carborundum." (loosely translated from the Latin: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”)

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue¾that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.” (John Maynard Keynes)

“I’ll see it when I believe it… [Croire c’est voir]) (Karl Weick)

"It’s all so simple, Anjin-san. Just change your concept of the world." (James Clavell, in Shogun)

Quotes on getting to balance

“Dare to be naive.” (R. Buckminster Fuller)

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why Not?’”  (George Bernard Shaw)

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Warton)

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable [woman].”  (George Bernard Shaw)

"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” (Emerson)

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

“We are much more likely to act our way into a new way of thinking than to think our way into a new way of acting.” (Karl Weick)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

“All change seems impossible, but, once accomplished, it is the state you are no longer in that seems impossible.” (Alain)

And a special quote for Marina

I am now at my full height, which is not very imposing… Fortunately, these are houses of debate where the measurement is from the shoulders up, rather than from the shoulders down. (Tommy Douglas in the Canadian House of Commons)

Collection © Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

Why not Brazil?

24 February 2016

Marina Silva was born in a village in the Amazon rain forest. Until the age of 16, unable to read or write, she worked as a tapper on a rubber tree plantation. Sickness took her to the state capital, where she found her way to a convent, and education, in return for cleaning. There she connected to the Liberation Theology movement, and by the age of 26, was leading demonstrations against deforestation. At 36, she was elected to the federal senate, where she became the champion for sustainable development in the Amazon region. Nine years later she was named minister of the environment in the Lula government.

Marina (Brazilians call their politicians by first name) has run for the Brazilian presidency twice, in the hope of being the first black woman of poor origins to attain that office. In the last election, she garnered 22 million votes, but lost to Dilma Rousseff, who has since been mired in scandals. Marina has become something of a legend in Brazil, with views that break with the traditional politics of the country. Many prominent Brazilians believe she will be the country’s next president.

In October, I gave a speech in Sao Paulo. I was unaware that Marina was in the audience. She came up afterward, introduced herself, and asked if I would give the opening keynote for the launching of her Sustainability Network (she finds the term political party too narrowing). “Why not?” I replied. This is going to happen next Thursday.

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why Not?’”  (George Bernard Shaw)

In 2012 I published an article with Gui Azevedo about the “Why not?” people of Brazil (see also the TWOG of 7 May). There is something about the spirit of the country, its history and peaceful pride, large size with linguistic isolation, that has fostered a kind of “Why not?” mentality among the people. As Gui and I wrote, “Brazil is a civilization-under-construction, full of freshness and brashness, much like the United States of earlier times.”

For two centuries, the United States was the “Why not? country of the world. It remains so economically. But politically and socially, it has become more of a “Why?” country, as private sector interests have come to dominate so much of American social and political life. As other countries have followed suit, this has been fostering a dangerous imbalance throughout the world.1

Brazil is remarkable for its many imaginative social initiatives. Participatory municipal budgeting, started in Porto Alegre, has been adopted in many municipalities; there is a prominent landless workers movement that works unoccupied farmland; the favelas have provided affordable housing for many poor people2; and the country dealt remarkably with its HIV/AIDS crisis, challenging pharmaceutical prices and the international agencies that supported them. (See the photo of a famous ad, modeled after the one for the movie “American Beauty”, displayed at Carnival to encourage men to use condoms.) These days, when I hear about a really interesting new social initiative, the first question I ask is if it started in Brazil—because so many do!

We desperately need rebalancing in this world, and I believe this will require a “Why not?” attitude, socially and politically. Beyond our obsessiveness with exploiting resources, including ourselves as “human resources,” has to come the exploration of our human resourcefulness. I can think of no people more inclined to show the way than those of Brazil, just as soon as they get past their scandals and recognize their substantial strengths. So why not go to Brazil next week?

© Henry Mintzberg 2016.  Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here (link fixed).


1 See a number of these TWOGs, under “Rebalancing Society”, also my book by that title. When I read the Manifesto for Marina’s Sustainable Network, I understood why she invited me.  It is remarkably like my book Rebalancing Society.

2 While housing in some of the major cities of the world has become unaffordable for many of their own residents (e.g., London, Vancouver), thanks to foreign money using that housing as investments at the top end of the market, which pulls up prices in the rest, the favelas may have been having exactly the opposite effect, by taking considerable demand out of the bottom end of the market.

 

Which country is more corrupt: Brazil or the United States?

18 February 2016

I have Brazil on my mind, since I will be giving a major speech there in two weeks (which I will explain in next week’s TWOG). The country has been experiencing a serious scandal in recent years, centered around Petrobras, the national oil company, with many prominent people in government and business having been accused of bribery. The economy has been suffering, and Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, is in danger of being impeached.

The question I wish to raise early in my talk is this. Which country is more corrupt: Brazil or the United States? This may sound irreverent, but I believe that in one critical respect, the answer is obvious, and it’s not Brazil.

The corruption in Brazil is criminal, and can be prosecuted. In fact, it is being prosecuted. Over a hundred people, including a former prominent executive of Petrobras and a former senior minister of the government, have been sentenced to prison terms.

I have Brazil on my mind, since I will be giving a major speech there in two weeks (which I will explain in next week’s TWOG). The country has been experiencing a serious scandal in recent years, centered around Petrobras, the national oil company, with many prominent people in government and business having been accused of bribery. The economy has been suffering, and Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, is in danger of being impeached.

The question I wish to raise early in my talk is this. Which country is more corrupt: Brazil or the United States? This may sound irreverent, but I believe that in one critical respect, the answer is obvious, and it’s not Brazil.

The corruption in Brazil is criminal, and can be prosecuted. In fact, it is being prosecuted. Over a hundred people, including a former prominent executive of Petrobras and a former senior minister of the government, have been sentenced to prison terms.

The contrast with the United States is stark. The most significant corruption facing the country is legal, and its perpetrators cannot be prosecuted. The  “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 threw the doors wide open to private donations—institutional and personal—in public elections and that is having a devastating effect on the country’s renowned democracy. The Supreme Court legalized bribery, and it has spread throughout the political process and is having dangerously effects in the society. The most evident manifestation of this has been the repeated refusals of Congress to legislate on gun controls, thanks to the money its members receive from the gun lobby.

Meanwhile, in September the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that donations from private legal entities to electoral campaigns were no longer allowed. Eight of the eleven justices considered such private financing to be in direct violation of the country’s constitution.

For two hundred years, the United States stood as the world’s model for progress and democracy. Might Brazil now assume this role? It is in pursuit of the answer to this irreverent question that I will be going to Brazil.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here (link now fixed).

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (Scalia has since passed away)The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (Scalia has since passed away)

A prosecutor and justice of Brazil (as depicted by fans at Carnival)

 

 

 

Do we really need stock markets?

11 February 2016

Last week’s TWOG on family business included some comments on sustaining the spirit of the enterprise by staying off the stock market. This week’s TWOG opens that discussion up more widely.

You have an idea and lots of energy. So you create a company. It works. Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, even the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

But as the company grows, you become concerned.  What if you get hit by a truck, and your kids are still playboys and playgirls?  Or you wish to retire in the manner to which you have become accustomed. Or you want to grow faster than your own resources will allow. Your financial friends tell you to do an IPO—an Initial Public Offering: cash out, or get the cash in. So you do, and it becomes a turning point. Was it a mistake?

Last week’s TWOG on family business included some comments on sustaining the spirit of the enterprise by staying off the stock market. This week’s TWOG opens that discussion up more widely.

You have an idea and lots of energy. So you create a company. It works. Your customers are delighted, your employees are engaged, you feel great, even the economy benefits. Everybody wins.

But as the company grows, you become concerned.  What if you get hit by a truck, and your kids are still playboys and playgirls?  Or you wish to retire in the manner to which you have become accustomed. Or you want to grow faster than your own resources will allow. Your financial friends tell you to do an IPO—an Initial Public Offering: cash out, or get the cash in. So you do, and it becomes a turning point. Was it a mistake?

Companies are usually formed in the fire of entrepreneurship. Someone is driven by a compelling idea to create an enterprise. He or she may wish to make a lot of money, or become celebrated, or avoid having a boss. But often, especially in the best of cases, there is something more: a sense of building something exciting, by serving people in some new way. And that can result in a truly engaging enterprise. There’s a sense of purpose, of community, of breaking new ground together that engages everyone involved.

Then comes that IPO, often with the realization that you have cashed out spiritually. There’s a different feeling in the place, not quite the same sense of engagement. The market analysts are hovering, the day traders are manoeuvring, and those reports have to be issued every quarter. Now you are supposed to see the world—customers, employees, suppliers, everybody and everything—through $-colored glasses. Was that IPO worth it? Even for you, let alone for your employees and customers? And how about your community, the economy, and society?

Carcinogenic Growth   Some entrepreneurs push too hard for growth and bankrupt their companies. Others are in less of a rush, perhaps because they want to work things out carefully, or just savour the growth.  But the stock markets may have none of that. They are about more, more, more—now, now, now. Relentless growth is the game, one-dimensional, to drive up the share price. Publicly traded companies have to keep feeding the beast.

In March of 2015, a deranged pilot flew a Germanwings airplane into the face of a mountain, murdering 150 people. Just over a month later, a New York Times article reported from a shareholders’ meeting that “at a time when Lufthansa faces urgent commercial challenges…many shareholders expressed concern...that the Germanwings tragedy risks detracting management from its turnaround efforts.” One portfolio manager claimed that Lufthansa management “will have to come back to reality.” The murder of 150 people was apparently a distraction; reality is getting back to managing value for the shareholders.

One-dimensional corporations, like one-dimensional people, are pathological: they are an invasive species that have no business in a healthy society. Why build compelling enterprises and then jettison their engagement? What kind of a society, let alone economy, does that render? Look around. Someone once likened this kind of growth to that of the cancer cell. Have we created a malignant world for ourselves?

Stock markets could help themselves. They could discourage the nonsense of reporting quarterly earnings. Can anyone really believe that a sizable enterprise exhibits perceptible change every three months? And they could support the taxing of trades to dampen the wild swings of short-term investing. Somehow we now find ourselves with day traders technically owning the companies while employees who have dedicated their lives to these companies count for nothing at all. There are other ways to own and finance enterprises, quite a variety in fact.

Finding Patient Capital   One is to find investors who are not in a hurry, but are willing to go with the natural pace of the enterprise. Sure they want to make money, but not by turning it over quickly, or pressuring an entity that needs time to develop. Warren Buffett has taught us a thing or two about patient capital.

Establishing a Trust  How about being on the stock market but keeping the analysts at bay by issuing a different class of voting shares? Tata in India and Novo Nordisk in Denmark have created family trusts to hold the voting shares.

Converting to a Cooperative   If you are feeling generous, you can pass the ownership on to the employees: turn the company into a cooperative. If this sounds funny, think of it this way: preserving your fortune will do you no good after you die, but how about preserving your legacy? Spedan Lewis, son of the founder of a major retail business in the U.K., did this in a remarkable way. In 1950, he turned it into The John Lewis Partnership. Now almost 90,000 employees own the chain of highly successful department stores and supermarkets. 

Being a Benefit Corporation   My own publisher announced in October: “Now Berrett-Koehler is the first book publisher in the world to go beyond B Corp certification to also become a Benefit Corporation. Whereas B Corp certification is a voluntary process, becoming a Benefit Corporation puts the force of law behind Berrett-Koehler’s longstanding social mission values, practices, and objectives. A Benefit Corporation is a new class of for-profit corporation based on laws recently enacted in 30 states, including California.” The company has not done an IPO. When it wished to raise money it turned to its own authors, as well as customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Over 200 bought shares, including nearly 70 of us authors.

Using crowdfunding   What Berrett-Koehler did resembles crowdfunding. Initially the idea was to use the Internet to invite many people to help fund good causes. But it has also become a way to offer shares in an enterprise without going to the stock market. When many people each buy a little bit of ownership, a company can raise a good deal of capital.

How about bartering?   Here you get your customers or suppliers to invest money that you would otherwise have to spend to start or grow the enterprise. We have a company called CoachingOurselves.com that enables groups of managers to develop themselves in their own workplaces. Needless to say, we have done no IPO, nor do we have any investment capital. We have used a good deal of what is called “sweat capital”—the time of the owners—especially that of Phil LeNir, who runs the company. But he has done something else too: avoided some investment spending by using willing customers to do what we would have had to do instead. When a client wanted to use our material in French, Phil said: Sure, you can have it for free, if you do the translation, which we can then sell to other clients.

Beginning as a cooperative or social enterprise   Social entrepreneurs create businesses that are owned by members or by no-one. Members of cooperatives can be customers (as in mutual banks), suppliers (as in farm coops), or employees (75,000 of them in the Basque Mondragon Federation, with 260 cooperative enterprises and total sales of €12 billion). The United States alone has more cooperative memberships—about 350 million—than people! Social enterprises are businesses that are owned by no-one. In fact, many well-known NGOs have business activities alongside their more prominent social activities. The Red Cross does, after all, sell swimming lessons, and in Kenya has built commercial hotels to support its beneficial activities.

A healthy society is sustained by a robust, responsible, and diverse economy, not one driven by the mercenary forces of one-dimensional growth. Its enterprises enhance the democratic nature of the society by balancing social needs with economic ones, and helping to ensure a reasonable distribution of wealth. Stock markets are not about to disappear but, as currently conceived, they have done enough damage. The developed societies have created immense wealth. When do we get to cash that in for healthier and more decent lives?

© Henry Mintzberg 2016 Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.

...about family business

4 February 2016

I am a fan of family business, if only it could resolve its problems of succession. I have suspicions about sons who follow their fathers into the business and even greater suspicions about fathers who insist that a son take over the helm. (I am writing from my personal experiences about this, which go way back, when mothers and daughters were rarely in the picture. I’ll get back to this below.) Family businesses need to cast their succession nets widely, but not into the stock market.

Following the father  My father was an entrepreneur, not a major one but successful enough. He built a business in the garment industry that kept us comfortable. I came out of the womb claiming I would never work for my father. So when the time came, I became an academic and he eventually sold the business.

I am a fan of family business, if only it could resolve its problems of succession. I have suspicions about sons who follow their fathers into the business and even greater suspicions about fathers who insist that a son take over the helm. (I am writing from my personal experiences about this, which go way back, when mothers and daughters were rarely in the picture. I’ll get back to this below.) Family businesses need to cast their succession nets widely, but not into the stock market.

Following the father  My father was an entrepreneur, not a major one but successful enough. He built a business in the garment industry that kept us comfortable. I came out of the womb claiming I would never work for my father. So when the time came, I became an academic and he eventually sold the business.

Many of the kids I grew up with were also raised in entrepreneurial families, but came out of their wombs differently. They went to work in their family businesses, almost automatically. A few did fine, and the occasional one grew the business substantially. But most either sustained the business for as long as they could or else dragged it down. And no few encountered rivalries with relatives and left the business, to settle into a life of investing whatever remained of their inheritances. All told, the record was not good: out of all the businesses I knew about when I grew up—some of them quite prominent—few remain.

The most prominent of all followed a well-known trajectory: the first generation makes it, the second generation sustains it, the third generation blows it. Sam Bronfman of Montreal built a fortune in whiskey (Distillers Seagrams); he was reputed to be the richest person in the world at one time. His son Edgar took the heart of the business to New York, where he sustained it until his son, the junior Sam, enamored of film-making, blew it in an ill-considered merger with a company called Vivendi.

Being born to a business genius, let alone inheriting the wealth of one, has never made anyone a business genius. Nor does it necessarily bestow the ingenuity and energy necessary to run a vibrant company. But being surrounded by sycophants well aware of the wealth has turned many an offspring into an arrogant failure. I do, however, have great respect for the real entrepreneurs, the ones who build and love their businesses.

Now here comes Fred. He contacted me out of the blue, to visit from Singapore and talk about management. When I discovered Fred to be the third generation head of the family’s big shipping company, I thought: Oh oh, not another one of those.

In good family fashion, Fred arrived with his daughter and brother as well as an assistant. As soon as I saw him, my impression changed: he didn’t look the third generation part. We hit it off immediately, dining, going off for cake, marching around to buy some of Montreal’s famous bagels. Fred’s a fun guy. We became friends. So what’s the story?

Fred too was determined not to work for his father. So as a young man he borrowed some money, went off to Malaysia, made his own money, and came back: to buy every one of the family businesses, one by one! That’s an entrepreneur!! Fred was not about to go through a whole process with his siblings, he told me, so in effect he bought them out—through his father.

Blame the father?  Now let’s consider succession from the other side. Why are so many clever entrepreneurs so dumb when it comes to succession? Why are they determined to pass the baton on to their own kids, usually a son? This is like playing Russian roulette with 5 bullets in the 6 cylinders.

A study some years ago suggested that entrepreneurs often develop in families with strong mothers and weak fathers—the latter ne’er-do-wells, or drunkards, or simply absent. This is certainly not always true, but it does seem to be rather common. Perhaps the son becomes the surrogate father at home, strong and responsible—not bad traits for an entrepreneur. So when I meet an entrepreneur intent on being succeeded by his son, I ask: “Was your father a great businessman?” Often not. “So what makes you think your son is?”

Casting the net widely  What I like about family business is the spirit that is often present, the soul of the place, and a certain respect for the customers and the employees. This is certainly not always true—some entrepreneurial firms are the worst in these regards—yet it is true often enough. But the question of succession has to be resolved, and these days the IPO (Initial Public Offering, on the stock market) is a lousy solution, at least if that spirit is to be carried forward. Surely we have enough mercenaries in stock markets running around killing decent company cultures. There can be something precious about a family legacy, for the family to be sure, but also for the economy.

Don’t get me wrong: there are sons who are natural successors—to sustain the legacy and grow the business—if only the fathers can distinguish the ones who truly are. Learning the business from a devoted parent can be a profound form of training. And increasingly these days, there are daughters who are natural and interested successors too, maybe more so because of a different relationship with their fathers. (For one thing, the fathers may be more inclined to listen to them! Does this suggest that sons may be the more natural successors to entrepreneurial mothers?!)

The net can also be cast wider. Cousins were significantly responsible for DuPont’s great success. They offer more choices for succession. And it was a son-in-law who made Marks and Spencer’s a great company. (Perhaps some daughters are inclined to marry a man in the fathers’ image.)

And how about family trusts for large firms, as have been created for Tata and Novo Nordisk? Both companies have shares listed on the stock market, yet keep voting control in the trusts. The family spirit might be retained while the choice of who runs the company next is widened. Indeed, the offspring may be better suited to overseeing the family trust (as other offspring often end up doing anyway).

A vibrant economy is developed by people who build, not hang on. A democratic society is reinforced by people who succeed by their own wits, not some birthright. We need people who chart their own course, even if that means coming back to buy their family’s own businesses.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.

Natural and Unnatural Managerial Jobs (thinking outside the boxes)

29 January 2016

Imagine managing cheese in India for an international food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal. Sounds petty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you did so well in India that the company wants you to manage cheese for all of Asia. How about that? Or in Montreal, the government wants you to manage another hospital too—to run back and forth between them, or else stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails like John Wayne with a couple of six-shooters.

Imagine managing cheese in India for an international food company, or running a general hospital in Montreal. Sounds petty straightforward, right?

Now imagine that you did so well in India that the company wants you to manage cheese for all of Asia. How about that? Or in Montreal, the government wants you to manage another hospital too—to run back and forth between them, or else stay in an office somewhere and shoot off emails like John Wayne with a couple of six-shooters.

Actually the true story in Montreal, as told in the TWOG of January 6, is that, in reorganizing heath care services in Quebec, the government clustered them so that, in one region for example, it designated a position in charge of a hospital plus eight other institutions—a community clinic, rehabilitation center, palliative care unit, various social services, and so on. It actually eliminated all nine positions heading up these institutions, and expected this one manager to manage the whole works.

Unmanageable Managing  Some managerial positions are rather natural and others are not. Cheese in India is probably OK, but cheese in Asia? One hospital sure, but two together (which, when you get past the chart, are actually two apart), let alone nine different institutions?

Why are we tolerating so many unmanageable managerial jobs? Years ago, conglomerates were all the rage among corporations. If you knew management, you could manage everything—say a filmmaking studio plus a nuclear reactor plus a chain of toenail salons. That era passed, thankfully—now it’s fashionable again to manage coherent businesses—but we have passed into an era of internal conglomeration: many managers have to manage perplexing mixtures of activities

Perhaps this is happening because drawing charts is a lot easier than selling cheese. Sit in some central office attached to no other activities in the organization; cluster its various activities together, each with a lucid label (Central Montreal, Cheese in Asia, whatever); put a box around each of these clusters on a piece of paper; join them all with lines to show who is the real boss; and email the tidy result to all concerned, leaving them to deal with any catastrophic consequences.[1] Cheese in Asia: what could be simpler than that? Or more complicated?

That category called Asia  They eat a lot of cheese in India, but hardly any in Japan. What in the world is “Asia” anyway? Any continent that contains both India and Japan can’t be serious: I know of no two countries that are more different.

Have a look at a map of the world: Africa looks like a continent geographically, even socially to some extent. So does South America, and especially Antarctica. But Asia? It’s just a figment of some mapmaker’s lack of imagination.

All the continents end by the sea, except Europe. But Europeans, who I imagine designated the continents in the first place, could hardly be left out; let alone lumped into Eurasia, even if that is what the maps clearly indicated. But where to draw the line between Europe and Asia, with no sea in sight and the countries blending into each other culturally, from Ireland all the way through to Japan (Ireland to England, Iran to Afghanistan, Korea to Japan)?

So the mapmakers simply sliced Russia in two and designated a mountain range within it as the place where Europe ends and Asia begins. A line was drawn where no line existed so that Europe could be a continent too. (By this logic, Chile should also be a continent.) People who used to make such maps now design organization charts.[2]

The most dangerous manager  Let’s get back to business. You are managing cheese in Asia, except that people in some parts of  Asia eat lots of cheese and others don’t. So how are you to manage that, especially when the person who took your old job is already managing cheese in India perfectly well, thank you?

If you are smart, you wouldn’t even try. But that won’t get you a bigger job—say to become the Big Cheese for all of food in Asia, let alone Chief Executive Officer for the whole world, to sell cheese and kimchi and harissa and poutine everywhere. So manage cheese in Asia you must.  

And that’s when the problems begin. Doing nothing in a job where there is nothing to do may make perfectly good sense. But don’t expect this from any self-respecting manager. These are energetic people—that‘s one reason they got to be managers in the first place. And the more senior they are, the more energetic they tend to be.

Remember this: Nothing is more dangerous than a manager with nothing to do. Put one into an unnatural job and he or she will find something to do. Like arranging summits where the cheese managers from India and Japan, China and Vietnam, can search for “synergies”—ways to help each other sell product to people who don’t want it.

Otherwise, it’s boring sitting there in the regional office in Singapore (the center of the Asian non-continent). So into an airplane goes our energetic manager—better to Japan than India—not to micro-manage, mind you. (Control went out of fashion in the last quarter.) Just to have a look. I’m just the boss, in charge of cheese for Asia, says this manager to the manager in charge of cheese for Japan. But do let me ask you a few questions: How come cheese is not moving in Japan? Isn’t the job of business to create a customer? They eat Korean kimchi here, don’t they, just like they eat Indian chutneys in England and Indonesian Rijsttafel in Holland. Why not Swiss cheese in the Ginza?

Beyond the Boxes  A hospital all in one place is a natural entity. Selling cheese in India also seems natural enough—there may be different kinds, but at least it all uses milk.[3] But expecting people to work together because someone somewhere drew some boxes on a piece of paper doesn’t have to be natural at all. Categories do matter, especially when they need to be ignored. Why must the working lives of people be thrown into turmoil when they could instead be selling cheese or treating the ill? Surely we can organize ourselves outside the boxes.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Sections of this are drawn from my book Simply ManagingFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.


[1] One victim of the Quebec effort wrote to me recently about the consequences in another hospital: “I have been through many reorganization efforts and transformations since I have been a ‘medical administrator’, but none came even close to being so destructive and dehumanizing…. What is amazing is that we are all paralyzed. A few of us have spoken up, but our words have no impact. The silence and passivity are frightening.” Sound familiar?

[2] The problem persists, to the detriment of the European Union. It had no-where to draw the line between Western Europe and the rest—no mountain range, not even a place where cheese consumption ended (they eat Feta in Greece). So the EU kept pushing eastward, and now it has become the European Disunion.

[3] There is a famous exchange between Churchill and de Gaulle during the war when Churchill told him that any country with 300 different cheeses can’t possibly be governable, and de Gaulle replied that France had 350.

 

“Canada is back!” perhaps for a better world

21 January 2016

If you are Canadian, this is my take on our new prime minister and government. If you are not Canadian, please read on because what is happening here could suggest a different way forward elsewhere.  (This TWOG is adapted from a blog that appeared last week in huffingtonpost.ca.)

In 1962, Saturday Night, the quintessentially Canadian magazine, was bought by a right-wing zealot who immediately shifted the content. He could change the script but not the institution, and so, in a year, the magazine was collapsing. As the previous editor resumed control, he opened the next issue with the line: “Before I was so rudely interrupted…”

If you are Canadian, this is my take on our new prime minister and government. If you are not Canadian, please read on because what is happening here could suggest a different way forward elsewhere.  (This TWOG is adapted from a blog that appeared last week in huffingtonpost.ca.)

In 1962, Saturday Night, the quintessentially Canadian magazine, was bought by a right-wing zealot who immediately shifted the content. He could change the script but not the institution, and so, in a year, the magazine was collapsing. As the previous editor resumed control, he opened the next issue with the line: “Before I was so rudely interrupted…”

Capital “L” Liberalism—the reign of the Liberal Party of Canada—was certainly rudely interrupted this past decade. It deserved to be, with its scandals and backroom deals. But did our small “l” liberalism, for which the country had been distinguished, deserve to be rudely interrupted?

Hardly. Has not the world been seeing enough of the bullying of big office by the likes of Bush, Cheney, Netanyahu, Putin, el-Sisi, and Erdogan, with more all the time? Did Canada really have to chip in too? And within the country, did we really need an intensification of the mindless dogma that is now creating so much havoc across the world, with its presumptions that greed is good, markets are sacred, governments are suspect, and all the resulting entitlements are necessary?

The world needs quite the opposite, and Canada had been one of the countries bucking the trends that have been undermining democracy. So it’s good news that “Canada is back!” as the new prime minister put it on the podium election night in October. At home and abroad.

Of course, that particular Canada never really left; it just hunkered down. Thanks to our small “l” liberal democracy, at the end of the Harper decade the CBC remains a model to all of what non-corporate media can be; our Supreme Court remains as progressive as is the American one regressive; and only one of our ten provincial governments can be called conservative.

Now Justin Trudeau is defining Canada, at home and abroad. But of course, Canada has defined Justin Trudeau. It is difficult to imagine anyone who is more quintessentially Canadian, in his open, thoughtful, and thoroughly bilingual style. Leadership does not turn us into something that we are not, but it can bring out the best that is within us. In Canada, that has been to look out with compassion and good sense, in the pursuit of balance in a world that now so lacks it.

The new prime minister is off to a good start. Just look at his cabinet—half of it female, a turban atop the head of Canada’s new minister of defence. (When asked why he selected so many women, Trudeau replied: “Because it’s 2015.”) 

Can he keep this up? Time will tell. But there is one especially encouraging sign: interesting ideas are bubbling out of this administration. How refreshing: we have a creative politician at the helm! How many other countries can claim that? After enduring all those lawyers, economists, academics, and corporate types for decades, now we have a schoolteacher running the government. Have we not always prided ourselves on our diversity?

Justin Trudeau had a hard time early in the election campaign. Too many people were taken in by the Conservative propaganda that he is a lightweight—including a corporate press that lives in mortal fear of the private sector losing its entitlements. Even an old Liberal friend told me a couple of years ago that the Party will be doomed when people discover the truth about Trudeau. Well, during the long election campaign enough Canadians discovered the truth about Trudeau! Now the rest are.

Of course the honeymoon will soon be over. The devotees of democratic capitalism (notice what’s the noun), having failed to stop the surge, are waiting in the trees, like panthers, ready to pounce—to take Canada back. They will find reason, whether or not justified. Balance between social and economic needs is not high on their agenda.

I wrote in last week’s TWOG that people in positions of authority are flawed, like the rest of us. They succeed when these flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. So we shall have to wait and see. Some people succeed despite their flaws, while others are brought down by their flaws (as was our last prime minister).

As noted, Justin Trudeau took to the stage on election night to announce that “Canada is back!” Not a moment too soon. Small “l” liberalism is back, and the world may well benefit. To paraphrase from our national anthem, we need to keep our land glorious and free, so that thee, O Canada, can stand on guard for a better world.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.

Celebrating the Flawed Manager

14 January 2016

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”, a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

What makes a manager effective? The answer awaits you on all kinds of little lists. (Who would take dozens of items seriously?) For example, in replying to “What Makes a Leader?”, a University of Toronto EMBA brochure listed: “The courage to challenge the status quo. To flourish in a demanding environment. To collaborate for the greater good. To set clear direction in a rapidly changing world. To be fearlessly decisive.”

The trouble with these little lists is that they are always incomplete. For example, where on this one is basic intelligence, or being a good listener? Fear not—these appear on other lists. So if we are to trust any of these lists, we shall have to combine all of them.

This, for the sake of a better world, I have done in a table, included at the end of this TWOG. (Read the footnote if you wish to be especially amused.) It lists 52 qualities from various lists that I have found, including a few missing favorites of my own. Be all 52 and you are bound to be a terribly effective manager. Even if not a human one.

The Inevitably Flawed Manager

All of this is part of our romance of leadership, that puts ordinary mortals on pedestals—“Rudolph is the perfect person for the job: he will save us!”—and then allows us to vilify them as they come crashing down—“How could Rudolph have failed us so?” Yet some managers do stay up, if not on that silly pedestal. How so?

The answer is simple: Successful managers are flawed—we are all flawed—but their particular flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. (Superman was flawed, too—remember Kryptonite?). Reasonable human beings find ways to live with each other’s reasonable flaws.  

Fatally flawed are those superman lists of managerial qualities, because they are utopian—and often wrong. For example, who can argue with managers being  “fearlessly decisive”? For starters, anyone who watched George W. Bush lead (but not manage) the American march into Iraq. Or how about Osama Bin Laden, who “had the courage to challenge the status quo”? Ingvar Kamprad, who built IKEA into one of the most successful retail chains ever, needed fifteen years to “set clear direction in a rapidly changing world.” Actually, he succeeded because the furniture world was not changing rapidly; IKEA changed it.

Choosing the Devil you had better get to know

If everyone’s flaws come out sooner or later, then to avoid failed managers, not to mention failed marriages, sooner is better. So managers, like spouses, should be selected for their flaws as much as for their qualities. Unfortunately we have this tendency to ignore the flaws and focus on the qualities, often just one: “Sally’s a great networker” or “Joe’s a visionary,” especially if the failed predecessor was a lousy networker or devoid of strategic vision. (As for marriages, when meeting a possible new mate, the usual refrain is: “Thank goodness he/she is not [fill in whatever was wrong with the last one].” In actual fact, he or she will prove to have some remarkable new flaw that you could never have imagined.)

There are really only two ways to grasp a person’s flaws: marry them or work for them. But who among the people who select managers—board members for chief executives, “superior” managers for “subordinate” ones (what awful terms)—have ever worked for the candidates, let alone been married to them? What can they possibly know about these candidates’ flaws? The consequence is that many of their choices end up as “kiss up and kick down” managers: smooth-talking and overconfident, great at impressing “superiors” but hardly leaders in managing whomever they see as subordinate.

What, then, are these “superiors” to do? That’s easy: get past their superiority, and themselves, to the people who know the candidates best. They can’t exactly ask the candidates’ partners, because spouses will be biased and ex-spouses will be more biased. But they can get the opinions of people who have worked for these candidates.

I’m not one for simple prescriptions in management, but if one change could improve the practice of managing monumentally, it is giving voice in selection processes to those people who know the candidates best, namely the ones who have been managed by them.

As for your personal choices, fear not. Just choose, with great care, your fabulously flawed job, your forbiddingly flawed boss, and your faithfully flawed spouse.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016; first posted, with minor differences, 21 October 2014. This TWOG has been adapted from the last chapter of my book Simply Managing (Berrett-Koehler and Pearson, 2013).

References: Meindel, J.R., Ehrlich, S.B., & Dukerich, J.M. (1985). The Romance of Leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, 78-102.

Gowin, E.B. (1920). The Executive and His Control of Men: A Study in Personal Efficiency. New York: Macmillan.

Composite List of Basic Qualities for Assured Managerial Success
  • courageous
  • committed
  • curious
  • confident
  • candid
  • reflective
  • insightful
  • open-minded/tolerant (of people, ambiguities, and ideas)
  • innovative
  • communicative (including being a good listener)
  • connected/informed
  • perceptive
  • thoughtful/intelligent/wise
  • analytic/objective
  • pragmatic
  • decisive (action-oriented)
  • proactive
  • charismatic
  • passionate
  • inspiring
  • visionary
  • energetic/enthusiastic
  • upbeat/optimistic
  • ambitious
  • tenacious/persistent/zealous
  • collaborative/participative/cooperative
  • engaging
  • supportive/sympathetic/empathetic
  • stable
  • dependable
  • fair
  • accountable
  • ethical/honest
  • consistent
  • flexible
  • balanced
  • integrative
  • tall*

Source: Compiled from various sources; my own favorites in italics.

*This item appeared on no list that I saw. But it might rank ahead of many of the other items because studies have shown that managers are on average taller than other people. To quote from a 1920 study, entitled The Executive and His Control of Men, based on research done a lot more carefully than much of what we find in the great journals of today, Enoch Burton Gowin addressed the question “Viewing it as a chemical machine, is a larger body able to supply a greater amount of energy?” More specifically, might there be “some connection between an executive’s physique, as measured by height and weight, and the importance of the position he holds?” (1920:22, 31). The answer, in statistic after statistic gathered by the author, is yes. Bishops, for example, averaged greater height than the preachers of small towns; superintendents of school systems were taller than principals of schools. Other data on railroad executives, governors, etc., supported these findings. The “Super-intendents of Street Cleaning” were actually the second tallest of all, after the “Reformers.” (The “Socialist Organizers” were just behind the “police chiefs” but well up there.) Musicians were at the bottom of the list (p. 25).

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing at mintzberg.org/blog.

Who can possibly manage a hospital?

6 January 2016

Great debates continue as to who should manage hospitals and other health care institutions. For example, should the head be a physician? a nurse? a professional manager? The physicians know cure, the nurses know care, the professional managers know control. But who knows all three? Is there thus good reason to reject all these candidates? I reject the question itself.

Professional managers so called, namely people who believe they are qualified to manage everything because they sat still in an MBA or MHA classroom for a couple of years, have been the target of several TWOGs here. Being educated in the abstractions of administration prepares no one for the cauldrons of practice.

Great debates continue as to who should manage hospitals and other health care institutions. For example, should the head be a physician? a nurse? a professional manager? The physicians know cure, the nurses know care, the professional managers know control. But who knows all three? Is there thus good reason to reject all these candidates? I reject the question itself.

Professional managers so called, namely people who believe they are qualified to manage everything because they sat still in an MBA or MHA classroom for a couple of years, have been the target of several TWOGs here. Being educated in the abstractions of administration prepares no one for the cauldrons of practice.

Management, unlike medicine, uses little science: hence it is not a profession. Or to put this another way, because illnesses in organizations, and prescriptions for their treatment, have hardly been specified with any reliability, management has to be practiced as a craft, rooted in experience, and an art, dependent on insights. Visceral understanding counts for a lot more than cerebral knowledge.

Well then, if not professional managers, how about physicians? Surely they have the visceral understanding of the operations, plus the status to be heard. Moreover, are hospitals not fundamentally about medicine? Yes to all of the above questions. But there is a lot more to managing health care than knowing medicine. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the practice of medicine is antithetical to the practice of management.

Physicians are trained mostly to act alone, individually and decisively. Every time one sees a patient, an explicit decision is made, even if that is to do nothing. Decision making in management is not only more ambiguous, but also more collaborative. A cartoon appeared some years ago showing several surgeons around an anesthetized patient, over the caption: “Who opens?” In management, that is a serious question! Add to this the facts that medicine tends to be interventionist, mostly about episodic cures, rather than continuous care; that it usually focuses on parts, not wholes; and that it strives to be scientific and evidence-based, and you have to worry about physicians running hospitals.

This leaves the nurses. Their practice is often more visceral, more engaging, and arguably closer to concern about the whole patient. Moreover, their jobs are ones of continuous care more than intermittent cure, plus they are inclined to engage in more teamwork. So some nurses at least should be rather more suited to managing hospitals.

Sure―but how to get the doctors to accept management by the nurses?

So the conclusion appears to be evident: no-one can possibly manage a hospital! Running even a complicated corporation must seem like child’s play compared with managing a general hospital: the strident doctors, the beleaguered nurses, the sick patients, the worried families, the demanding funders, the posturing politicians, the escalating costs, the accelerating technologies―all embedded in cases of life and death.

Yet people do manage hospitals and other health care institutions, sometimes with rather astonishing effectiveness. So beyond the evident answer to our question is the obvious answer: People, not categories, have to manage health care institutions. I have encountered physicians who were renowned as heads of hospitals. (One of Montreal’s most respected hospital directors was an obstetrician with an MBA.) Likewise have I seen some awfully impressive nurses managing hospitals―and imagine how many more there would be if given the chance.

My own preference is for people who have worked in the operations before moving into the management, whether that be in nursing, medicine, physiotherapy, or social work, etc. In fact, the wider the net is cast, the greater the chances of success.

That is not to conclude that training in management is irrelevant, only that it should follow experience on the job, and build on it. That is what we have been doing at McGill since 2006, with great success and delight, in our International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), for people from all aspects of health care all over the world.

Now for the ultimate bit of administrative engineering

In a recent TWOG on managing the care of health, I discussed a number of dysfunctional forms of administrative engineering—mergers, measures, reorganizations, etc.—that are meant to fix health care where it is not broken. Some weeks ago I underwent a bypass operation in a Montreal hospital that had been administratively engineered in a particular way.

Our hospitals in Canada are mostly non-owned―they are independent trusts. But that has not necessarily stopped the provincial governments that provide most of their funding from treating them like government departments.

Last year in Quebec, the prime minister and his minister of health, both physicians, solved the problem of who should manage hospitals by deciding that no one should. They eliminated the positions of director general—head of the hospital--and indeed of most of the health care institutions in Quebec. In effect, they fired them all, and combined all these institutions into regional agglomerations, each with its own single président-directeur général (the French term for CEO).1

This is not Alice in Wonderland. In the teaching hospital where I was treated, with its 637 beds, there is no longer anyone in charge. The former directeur général was kicked upstairs—transformed into a PDG―to manage the whole agglomeration. This comprised nine (yes 9) separate institutions, across acute, community, rehabilitative, palliative, and geriatric care, etc. Think of all the money our government has saved. Think too of all the chaos that is to come.2

So I have a terrific idea. Do we really need all those government ministers? Health, Justice, Culture, Finance, Education, Agriculture, Mines, and eighteen or so more. Why don’t we just agglomerate them all, and have the prime minister run the whole works himself. Think of how much more money we could save.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Partly drawn from my forthcoming book Managing the Myths of Health Care.

Follow me on Twitter @Mintzberg141. You can also receive the blog directly in your inbox by subscribing to mintzberg.org/blog.


1 This is an unfortunately excellent example of ignoring the importance of the plural sector in society. Because of its power over funding, this government has in effect nationalized the hospitals. (The chart it drew even shows a solid line from this PDG to the minister of health, and a dotted one to the board of directors of the hospital. Dots have deep significance for bureaucrats.) As I argue in my book Rebalancing Society, professional services often attain their high levels of quality by functioning with a certain degree of independence in the plural sector, rather than the public or private ones. So much for that idea in this case.

2 Their timing might just prove to be impeccable—for the opposition parties. As I noted in my TWOG on efficiency, the cost savings of such administrative engineering show up immediately; while the negative impact on services appear later—perhaps just in time for the next election. 

 

Reflecting On Doors

31 December 2015

Here’s a little gift—a change of pace for your happy holidays! For some years I have been writing short stories—thirty in all by now. Not fiction, mind you: almost all are about personal experiences (which of course can be fictionalized). One day I hope to publish a collection of them, under the title “Reflections from the Window.” This onea short, short storyis intended to go first, because it explains the title of the collection.

The fellow who introduced himself as a public entrepreneur―a creator of advocacy groups―persisted. “You didn’t get my point,” he insisted, although we did. Ian was one of the presenters in the session, a no-nonsense South African. “You’re knocking on an open door,” he replied, a little impatiently. Such an apt metaphor: funny that I never heard it before.

Here’s a little gift—a change of pace for your happy holidays! For some years I have been writing short stories—thirty in all by now. Not fiction, mind you: almost all are about personal experiences (which of course can be fictionalized). One day I hope to publish a collection of them, under the title “Reflections from the Window.” This onea short, short storyis intended to go first, because it explains the title of the collection.

The fellow who introduced himself as a public entrepreneur―a creator of advocacy groups―persisted. “You didn’t get my point,” he insisted, although we did. Ian was one of the presenters in the session, a no-nonsense South African. “You’re knocking on an open door,” he replied, a little impatiently. Such an apt metaphor: funny that I never heard it before.

Funnier still how metaphors converge.

An hour later, in another session, I was presenting and Ian was listening. (We scratch each others’ backs in academe, although sometimes we draw blood.) The conference was at the Harvard Business School, and the facilities were impeccable. Why, then, did that door have to slam so loudly every time a person came into the room. “Could someone please fix that door to stay open,” I asked, and carried on.

Don was the commentator in our session. He and I see things differently. As I put it later in responding to his criticisms, drawing on another apt metaphor I heard somewhere, Don is a “mirror” person while I am a “window” person. In fact, I wondered out loud whether it was fair for a mirror person to be criticizing a window person, at least for missing the reflection.

Don mostly ignored the content of my presentation, to draw on the experience at hand. He wanted the door closed, he said, preferring the feeling of intimacy, while there I was, exploiting my position at the front to keep the door open. He didn’t use that favorite mirror label for us window people―“insensitive”―but his point was clear enough.

Well, I think he had it reversed.

You see, the trouble with mirror people is that they often fail to see past their own reflection. (Of course, the trouble with window people is that we often have to hide behind some glass—a camera or another pane.) In that room, I thought I was the sensitive one. I actually preferred the door closed, being aware of the same intimacy. But I noticed the effect on the audience every time that door slammed, while Don apparently did not―too busy consciously reflecting, I guess.

But it didn’t seem appropriate to point this out to him. Why knock on a closed mirror?

© Henry Mintzberg 1989, with revisions 1992 and 2014-15. See some other stories on www.mintzberg.org/stories.

Reframing the managing and organizing of health care—toward a system

24 December 2015

This is the third in a set of three TWOGS based on a book I am completing called Managing the Myths of Health Care. The first TWOG introduced two myths: that health care is a “system” and that it is failing. In fact it is succeeding, astonishingly (at least where it chooses to focus its attention, namely on the treatment of acute diseases rather than chronic conditions). It’s just that this is expensive, and we don’t want to pay for it. So we intervene with all kinds of administrative fixes, that were the subject of the second TWOG: measures, markets, and mergers, heroic leadership, relentless reorganizing, and making health care more like a business. Arguably, these are the causes of the perceived failures. In this TWOG I discuss some basic ways to reframe certain key practices of health care, to render it more like a system.

This is the third in a set of three TWOGS based on a book I am completing called Managing the Myths of Health Care. The first TWOG introduced two myths: that health care is a “system” and that it is failing. In fact it is succeeding, astonishingly (at least where it chooses to focus its attention, namely on the treatment of acute diseases rather than chronic conditions). It’s just that this is expensive, and we don’t want to pay for it. So we intervene with all kinds of administrative fixes, that were the subject of the second TWOG: measures, markets, and mergers, heroic leadership, relentless reorganizing, and making health care more like a business. Arguably, these are the causes of the perceived failures. In this TWOG I discuss some basic ways to reframe certain key practices of health care, to render it more like a system.

Clearly we need administrative engineering to keep the lid on the costs of health care. But that does not mean, to quote from a flamboyant article in the Harvard Business Review, that hospitals need to be seen as “focused factories”, doctors as “industry players”, and patients as “customers” and consumers” who carry out “one-stop shopping” for their services.

Beyond being a patient, I am a person. Beyond being part of some population, we are members of communities. Practiced properly, health care is not a business at all, but a calling. Can anyone possibly believe that most physicians, nurses, and other professionals would work as conscientiously as they do, in the face of so much pressure and frustration, in order to maximize the  “value” of some shareholders they never met?

There is thus a compelling need to proceed differently in health care, with scalpels instead of axes, out of the administrative offices and into the operating rooms, of all kinds. What looks good on paper can wreak havoc in practice because administrative prescriptions are often simple and reality is often complex. So ways have to be found to combine the efforts of dedicated professionals with those of engaged managers.

In the final section of my book Managing the Myths of Health Care, I discuss reframing across various key aspects of health care. Those concerning managing and organizing are discussed here. We do not have the space to get into three others: Reframing Scale—to make the default position human scale rather than economic scale; Reframing Ownership—to recognize the key role that common ownership has to play in this field beside public and private ownership; and Reframing Strategy—as venturing, not planning (which is touched upon here). I may discuss these in later TWOGs.

Reframing Management: as distributed beyond the “top”

Most everywhere, an essential problem in health care lies in forcing detached administrative solutions on to practices that require informed and nuanced judgments. In a 1994 article on health care reform, Donald Berwick put it: “Only those who deliver care can, in the end, change care…. The outsider can judge care; but only the insider can improve it.” Clinicians should, therefore, “stop feeling battered” by the reforms and begin to do something about the problems. Bear in mind that it was clinicians who developed day surgeries: one of the great advances of health care in recent times, that both cut costs and improved qualities dramatically.

In fact, eliminating the word “outsider”, as well as the vocabulary of “top” and “middle”, would also help, by challenging the artificial gaps between levels of administrative authority as well as those of professional status. Everyone who works in this field contributes and therefore deserves the full respect of everyone else, so long as they return that respect.

There are three ways to close the artificial gaps between administration and operations: One is to bring “down” this “top” by wooing those people concerned with administration―managers, administrative engineers, government officials, and so on―off their hierarchical pedestals and into more direct contact with the operations. A second is to bring the base “up” by involving the providers of the services in the administrative practices (without necessarily having to become managers). But most important may be eliminating the formal levels between administrations and operations—for example by favoring smaller institutions and regions in the first place.

Concerned and committed people in all kinds of unexpected places can improve the practice of health care, much as so many people are changing Wikipedia every day. (Think of this as open source strategizing.) A policeman in receipt of dialysis treatment helped reorganize the scheduling for everyone’s benefit. “Let a thousand flowers bloom” could thus be the motto for driving effective changes in health care.

Reframing Organization: as collaboration transcending competition

There is no doubt that we are all competitive beings, from which can spring good and bad. But we are also cooperative beings, from which can spring a lot more good, especially in health care, where we already have too much competition. In the name of that competition, health care suffers from individualization: every recipient, every provider, every institution for him, her, or itself. So enough of professionals grinding in their own mills, apart from managers who try to remote control them, let alone apart from each other who believe they can coordinate everything on automatic pilot. There are no management problems in this field, separate from medical problems or nursing problems or prevention problems, etc. There are only health care problems. 

Reframing the Practice of Managing: as caring before curing1

Instead of leaders who don’t manage, health care needs managers who lead. Such managers are part and parcel of their institutional community; they do not sit “on top” of it.

In response to a newspaper commentary I published about heroic leadership, a retired manager of nursing wrote to me about her experiences with people “not skilled in understanding the work of front-line staff… [they] managed from a meeting, from their offices, or from their home computer”:

In health care today, the vertical monopoly structure is leaving the front-line point-of-care team questioning where is the support, where is the leadership, where is the inspiration, where are the coaches, who really cares? I do not believe there is a shortage of staff; there is a lack of retention of staff. The idealistic, intelligent, youth are not satisfied with mediocre leadership and turn to other professions to have their dreams fulfilled.2

Health care institutions—and businesses too these days—need something quite different: managing as convincing more than controlling, demonstrating more than directing, inspiring more than empowering, above all managers who engage themselves in order to engage others. Put differently, in health care managing itself should be about dedicated, continuous, holistic, and pre-emptive care more than interventionist, episodic, narrow, and radical cures.

How to get to this? Managers can start by purging their organizations of the corporate vocabulary—“CEO” and all the rest. On the ground, they can experience people beyond patients, providers beyond professionals, communities beyond populations. And by the same token, the providers can be reaching out sideways, to communicate with each other more effectively for the sake of continuous care.

As discussed in the TWOG of the week before last, a cow is a system: its parts function harmoniously. Why can’t health care work like that?

© Henry Mintzberg 2015, Have a look at our International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), where mid-career people from all aspects of health care the world over get together for five 11 day modules to consider all this and much more.


1 See my book Managing (Mintzberg, 2009), which discusses a day in the lives of 29 managers, including seven in health care―from a head of the NHS in England to a head nurse of a surgical ward (with full descriptions on www.mintzberg-managing.com). Simply Managing (2014) is a shorter version of this book.

2 Barbara Carroll of Kelowna, British Columbia, in personal correspondence, 25 March 2009, used with permission

 

Rescuing Capitalism from Itself

16 December 2015

I’m still recovering from bypass surgery. The third TWOG on managing health care is intended to appear next week. In the meantime, I post here a piece that was originally published on HBR.org last week and is adapted from my book Rebalancing Society…Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center (Berret Koehler, 2015). Ive TWOGed several times on this, but I feel that this version says it best.

I’m still recovering from bypass surgery. The third TWOG on managing health care is intended to appear next week. In the meantime, I post here a piece that was originally published on HBR.org last week and is adapted from my book Rebalancing Society…Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center (Berret Koehler, 2015). Ive TWOGed several times on this, but I feel that this version says it best.

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell alongside communism in Eastern Europe, pundits in the West proclaimed the triumph of capitalism. The American historian Francis Fukuyama even declared “the end of history,” writing in National Interest‘s summer 1989 issue that he saw “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

It has not worked out that way. Since 1989, the United States has experienced some alarming changes, for example the massive infiltration of corporate money into public elections, disquieting levels of corruption in business, rising income disparities, and the decline, of all things in this country, of social mobility. America is having a tea party all right. It’s for large corporations, under the slogan “No taxation with representation.”

Meanwhile problems across the globe continue to fester, with turmoil in the Middle East and numerous democracies on the wane after years of being on the rise. And then there’s global warming.

Of course, many people recognize these problems. In the United States, the inclination has been to fix capitalism, mainly with proposals for what I call adjectival capitalism: Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, and others. The assumption seems to be that if only we get capitalism right, all will be well with the world. Fukuyama’s end of history will finally be realized.

No doubt capitalism needs fixing, and we can certainly do with greater corporate social responsibility. But let me ask this question: how did a word coined to describe the funding of private enterprises become the be-all and end-all of human existence?

The Problem With a Two-Legged Stool

What I believe needs fixing is our perception of society. In a sense, we have been seeing it as sitting on a two-legged stool. One leg represents public sector governments and the services they provide for the common good, such as education, defense, and a transport infrastructure. The other leg represents private sector businesses and the resources they mobilize for the provision of our commercial goods and services.

But no stool can balance itself on two legs, let alone one, whether public or private. Even the democratic countries are experiencing increasing political dysfunction: either pendulum politics, namely the fruitless swinging between left and right, or else paralysis in the political center. Both abet the current imbalance.

Society needs a third leg for balance. I call it the Plural Sector. You may know it as “civil society,” or the third sector, or the home of NGOs and not-for-profit organizations. But if it is to take its place alongside the other two sectors, it requires a label that fits with theirs: public, private, plural.

The plural sector comprises all those associations, many community-based, that are owned neither by private investors nor by the state itself. Some are owned by members, others by no-one.

Consider all the member-owned cooperatives. The U.S. alone, with 320 million people, has 350 million cooperative memberships. As for non-owned, consider the Red Cross, or Greenpeace, or any of America’s most respected hospitals and universities.

Also prominent in this sector are social movements, for example the Salt March that eventually led to Indian independence, and the social initiatives that are driving so many constructive changes these days, from the Grameen Bank for the micro-financing of the poor to the Khan Academy for the extension of free education. It is quite remarkable how inclined people are to organize voluntarily, in order to share their common interests and pursue their common dreams.

The Plural Sector

The concept of the Plural Sector has an interesting pedigree. In the early 19thCentury, Alexis de Tocqueville, the perceptive European observer of the emerging United States, described the propensity of Americans to band together in what he then called associations, both formal and informal. He believed that these associations were a key element in the emerging democratic nation: “if men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must improve.”

Has it? It has certainly grown: today the plural sector is huge, and probably prominent in your own life. How many of its associations have you interacted with in the past week alone: shopping at a local co-op, driving the kids to a “private” school, playing on a local sports team or joining a group to bring in a refugee family?

Yet this sector gets lost amidst the great debates over left versus right: private sector markets versus public sector governments. This has to change for the sake of balance in society.

In a healthy society, each of the three sectors cooperates with the other two while helping to keep them in check. When one sector dominates, society suffers. Too much power in the public sector results in state despotism, where public officials constrain private freedoms. Communism tried to sit on this one leg, and collapsed. An unfettered private sector results in the kind of income disparities and corporate social irresponsibilities that we are now seeing in the United States and other countries. And an overly powerful plural sector can create a populist tyranny where one community group overpowers all others.

The United States long balanced itself on all three legs: this has been central to its remarkable success. Indeed, the major progress in the four decades following World War Two — social and political as well as economic — was accompanied by significant welfare programs, high personal taxes, and a rather egalitarian distribution of income.

Then the Berlin Wall fell, and America has been going steadily out of balance ever since. You see, capitalism didn’t triumph in 1989: balance did. The Eastern European countries were utterly out of balance, on the side of their public sectors, while the U.S. was relatively balanced. But a failure to understand this has been throwing the county out of balance ever since, on the side of its private sector. Capitalism may not have triumphed in 1989, but it has been triumphing ever since.

Finding Our Balance

How then to restore balance, in the U.S. and so many other countries that have followed suit? Certainly necessary is restored respect for the role of government in society, not least from its own elected officials, as well as greater corporate social responsibility. But these alone will not do it.

I believe that in a world with private sector forces so influential, especially in the global arena, and with so many governments overwhelmed by this, the plural sector has to play the central role in the restoration of balance. It has to push governments and corporations to act dutifully while waking all of us up to the dangerous realities that we face: the degradation of our environments, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves.

We have hardly lost our propensity to associate: consider all the community-based social initiatives that we see around us right now. And then there are all those formal associations that have the autonomy, the energy, and the inclination to drive necessary changes: GreenpeaceAmnesty International, Doctors Without Borders.

Yet Robert Putnam has characterized contemporary American society as tending to “bowl alone.” And that, arguably, includes the associations of the plural sector. Greenpeace concerns itself with the environment, Amnesty International with human rights, and Doctors Without Borders with health care. In this respect, like businesses, they differentiate themselves into many missions.

When it comes to common cause, however, businesses get their collective act together. For example, they use their chambers of commerce to lobby for tax cuts. Associations of the plural sector are less inclined to do so. Compare the influence of the World Economic Forum with that of the World Social Forum. (Have you ever even heard of it?) Or compare the international cooperation in 1987 that generated the Montreal Protocol to address the ozone layer with the lack of progress on global warming in recent years.

And so, despite all the good that some of these associations do, society continues its dangerous march toward imbalance. These plural sector associations do have common cause: to challenge the imbalance that is at the root of many of the problems that they address. What they need now is common organization. But that too will not suffice.

What, then, can we do about this? This is the right question, because the plural sector is not “them.” It is you, and me — each of us and all of us. More to the point, it is we — as engaged actors, not passive subjects. We “human resources” have the capacity to act as resourceful human beings.

We may work in the private sector and vote in the public sector but much of our lives are lived in the communities and associations of the plural sector. Grand global conferences may play a role, but real change will have to begin at home, and from there, thanks to the new social media, spread across the globe, to mobilize our efforts for the sake of our planet and our progeny.

In his 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine declared to the people of the American colonies that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Paine was right then. Can we be right again now? Can we afford not to be?

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Working like a Cow by Walking like a Cow

10 December 2015

I’m sorry, but the third TWOG in this series of three on Managing the Care of Health is delayed because I’m doing some unexpected participative research. I’m in the hospital waiting for bypass surgery. The good news is that when I do post, it may be better informed.

In the meantime I’m posting an earlier TWOG that in fact leads into what I will be posting in the upcoming.

First posted 5 February 2015

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I’m sorry, but the third TWOG in this series of three on Managing the Care of Health is delayed because I’m doing some unexpected participative research. I’m in the hospital waiting for bypass surgery. The good news is that when I do post, it may be better informed.

In the meantime I’m posting an earlier TWOG that in fact leads into what I will be posting in the upcoming.

First posted 5 February 2015

Below is one of my favourite ads, at least about managing organizations.

This is a very serious question. Think about it. Cows have no trouble working like cows. Nor do each of us, physiologically. So why is it that when we get together, in social organizations, we have so much trouble working like a cow? Could it be because we have organizing all wrong—all this obsession with charts, namely who sits on top of whom?

I use this ad when I speak about organizations, including in our International Masters in Practicing Management. In an earlier TWOG, which discussed the Worldly Mindset of the IMPM, I recounted an anecdote about the frenetic traffic of Bangalore—another world, for westerners at least.

Then during the week, serendipity struck. A colleague at McGill, Dora Koop, just back from attending that module, recounted another story about cows, concerning crossing the streets of Bangalore. (If you think driving in that traffic is a feat, try crossing the streets.)

The first day we were told that when we crossed the street in India we had to “walk like a cow.” The whole group had to stay together and we were warned not to do anything unexpected. So we just moved slowly across the street and the traffic went around us. Throughout the whole program people used this metaphor [recalling the one about “working like a cow”, introduced in the pervious module]. Whether we were walking in small groups or large groups, we stayed together...did not run...and walked like a cow as we crossed the busy streets.

Picture this: a mass of people—all as one, in conjunctive harmony—advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like chaos. Now imagine your organization likewise, advancing steadily and collaboratively through what looks like the chaos around it.

You see, in walking like a cow, we have a secret to working like a cow: it’s about walking and working together. This goes beyond charts, about who sits on top of whom—that sacred cow of leadership—to what I like to call communityship—who walks next to whom. Tune in for more about this next week.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg In fact, one of the participants in the IMPM, shortly after my TWOG, published this commentary on the same experience in The Economist online.

How not to fix health care

3 December 2015

Last week’s TWOG, the first in a series of three, discussed two myths of health care: #1 that it is a system, #2 which is failing, In fact this non-system is succeeding, brilliantly, at least in the treatment of diseases that are acute more than chronic.  The problem is that it is doing so expensively, and we don’t want to pay for it. So we try to fix it, in all kinds of dysfunctional ways, and herein lies the failure. This week’s TWOG looks at the most popular of these fixes—five more myths.

Last week’s TWOG, the first in a series of three, discussed two myths of health care: #1 that it is a system, #2 which is failing, In fact this non-system is succeeding, brilliantly, at least in the treatment of diseases that are acute more than chronic.  The problem is that it is doing so expensively, and we don’t want to pay for it. So we try to fix it, in all kinds of dysfunctional ways, and herein lies the failure. This week’s TWOG looks at the most popular of these fixes—five more myths.

Myth #3: Health care can be fixed by measuring like mad.  Administrative engineering marches on: when in doubt, measure. As a senior official in the British health department replied when asked why they measure so much: “What else can we do when we don’t understand what’s going on?” (How about leaving your office to find out what‘s going on?) The fallacy here is the assumption that we can measure everything that matters. Another is that doctors can be incentivized like Pavlovian dogs.

Myth #4: Health care can be fixed by relentless reorganizing. This fix is popular because it’s so easy. Shuffle people around on pieces of paper, and off you go. The fallacy here lies in the assumption that hierarchy is organization: change who reports to whom and people magically coordinate with each other. Does all this reorganizing make a difference where managerial authority is so easily trumped by medical sovereignty? Actually it does: it drives all the providers to distraction. Patients beware!

Myth #5: Health care institutions can be fixed by making them bigger. There may be economies of scale in assembly lines, but the patients and providers of health care are not automobiles. We care about how we are treated. We prefer intimacy. Yet the problems of health care institutions are frequently dealt with by making them bigger–the institutions I mean, although usually the problems too. A corollary of this myth is that mergers are magical: combine one happy health care organization with another happy health care organization and together they will be blissful.  

Myth #6: Health care institutions, not to mention the whole non-system, can be fixed with more heroic leadership. Sure leadership matters, especially when it replaces a leadership that was worse. But how can some leader siting on “top” render more effective all those people working on the ground–unless, of course, he or she gets off that pedestal, to find out what’s happening on that ground. But that means forsaking heroic leadership for engaged management.

Myth #7: Health care can be fixed by making it more competitive. Health care? It already has too much competition, thank you, albeit among physicians fighting over beds and administrators fighting over budgets. How about a little more cooperation guys and gals, for the sake of the patients, who are, after all, people? As for market competition, I have three words: American health care.1 And as for the related myth, that health care can be fixed by running it more like a business2, I have three words for that too: American health care. Beware of caveat emptor when the seller knows a lot more than the buyer. That’s why the best of health care is a calling, not a business.

So what can we do?  For starters, we can recognize that the real failure of health care may well lie in these fixes: mergers, measures, and markets, leading, organizing, and businessing. Remember that if we always do as we always did, we will always get what we always got. Tune in next week to hear about doing differently.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015  HM is the Founding Director of the International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), which brings  together people from all over this field and this world to get beyond such myths.

Follow me on Twitter @Mintzberg141. You can also receive the blog directly in your inbox by subscribing to mintzberg.org/blog.


1 The United States has the most expensive health care costs in the world, by far, and outcomes that are mediocre compared with other developed countries (see Davis et al., Commonwealth Fund, 2010, also Nolte and McKee in Health Affairs 2008). As for administrative costs, the U.S. spends about twice the percentage as Canada, which has more government controls and so less market competition (Woolhandler et al. in the NEJM, 2003). An article in The New York Times attributed this higher cost to excessive competition: “Duplicate processing of claims, large numbers of insurance products, complicated bill paying systems and high marketing costs [plus all the “paperwork required of American doctors and hospitals that simply do not exist in countries like Canada or Britain”] add up to high administrative expenses” (Bernasek, NYT, 2 January 2007).

2 In a Harvard Business Review article, Regina Herzlinger referred to “one-stop shopping” for health care, to hospitals as “focused factories”, to the “customers” and “consumers of health care” for whom “the passive [term] ‘patient’” seems anarchistic”, and to physicians as “industry players” (HBR, May 2006:59).

 

Two Myths: that the system of health care is failing

26 November 2015

Longer ago than I care to remember, I started a book called Managing the Myths of Health Care. This week I finished a draft of it suitable to submit for publication. So here, and for the next two weeks, are some excerpts from the book. This one is about two of the major myths.

Myth #1: that health care is a system.   Calling something a system does not make it a system where it matters, namely in the consolidated delivery of its services, on the ground. In health care, mostly we have a collection of disease cures, or at least treatments, often the more acute the better. Overall, we favor cure over care, acute diseases over chronic ones, and the treatment of diseases in particular over the prevention of them and the promotion of health in general.

Longer ago than I care to remember, I started a book called Managing the Myths of Health Care. This week I finished a draft of it suitable to submit for publication. So here, and for the next two weeks, are some excerpts from the book. This one is about two of the major myths.

Myth #1: that health care is a system.   Calling something a system does not make it a system where it matters, namely in the consolidated delivery of its services, on the ground. In health care, mostly we have a collection of disease cures, or at least treatments, often the more acute the better. Overall, we favor cure over care, acute diseases over chronic ones, and the treatment of diseases in particular over the prevention of them and the promotion of health in general.

It is certainty important to treat people who are ill, but it is also politically advantageous: they are an aggressive lobby, in the hospitals and governments, to spend as much as necessary to get them well. The many more people who will be getting these diseases, but don’t know it yet, hardly lobby at all in comparison. (That would take a systems perspective.). So we spend the lion’s share of our money treating diseases, whereas more on preventing them would actually increase our longevity!1

Myth #2: this so-called system is failing.  If there is one general area of agreement in health care, it is that this “system” is failing, all over the world. Users and providers alike complain bitterly about their services.

At a party in Montreal a few years ago, I got into a conversation with a young radiologist who went on and on about how bad health care was in Quebec. “You did your residency in the United States,” I finally intervened: “How about that?” She threw her hands in the air: “Don’t get me started on the American system!” Some time later I was in Italy, with some people working in the field who were likewise putting down their health care. So how does Italy compare with other countries, I asked. Oh, they replied, in the latest ranking by the World Health Organization (2000), Italy ranked second best in the world. I guess second best is not good?

Quite the opposite. In most places in the developed world, the treatment of disease is succeeding―albeit expensively. And where health care does not focus, in preventing illness in the first place, there have still been improvements, for example in the promotion of better eating and more exercise. It is just that here the pace of improvement has been much slower, and the resources expended for this are shamefully low (this in the face of a perpetual battle with so many forces that promote poor eating and sedentary living).

On some of the broadest measures of health, such as life expectancy and infant mortality, performance in most countries has been steadily improving. For example, a World Health Report found that Chilean women in 1998 could expect to live to age 79 on average, 46 years longer than their predecessors of 1910. Indeed, they could even expect to live 25 years longer than women in 1910 whose countries had the 1998 Chilean level of income.2 The report concluded that access “to new knowledge, drugs, and vaccines appears to have been substantially more important” than improvements in food intake and sanitation. Health care has its problems, to be sure, but it has been making remarkable progress—where it cares.

Imagine that you have chest pains and are offered the following choice. (1) Health care circa 1960: Your GP comes to your house, gets you straight into a hospital with attention from many sympathetic doctors and nurses, who eventually send you home to rest and hope for the best. Or (2) Health care now: No doctor will come to your house. You get yourself to an overcrowded emergency room, eventually to get to cardiac surgery, where a stent is installed—with perhaps no personal attention at all—so that you can be sent home the next day, in rather good shape.

The problem: We don’t want to pay for this success.  Let me repeat: In most places in the developed world, the treatment of disease is succeeding―albeit expensively. We just don’t want to pay for it. And herein lies the great problem in health care today: this field is suffering from success more than failure.

Medicine has been practically brilliant at developing expensive new treatments, and pharmaceutical companies have been particularly clever at getting away with pricing their innovations obscenely.3 Who among us is prepared to forego one of these needed to save our life?

Of course, as the costs of treatments go up, so too must the expenditures to cover them, whether in the form of taxes, insurance premiums, or personal payments. If we want more, we have to pay more. But in this age of consumptive greed, we want to pay less―or at least not that much more.

For the most part in the field of health care, we are not buying services so much as the possibility of needing services (i.e., insurance). Why, then, should I pay for you, who is sick, while I am healthy, and probably invincible at that? In other words, while the ill act as a concerted force for spending more individually, the healthy act as a general lobby for spending less collectively.

This is not a happy combination: it makes the field of health care sick. It encourages us to intervene in all kinds of dysfunctional ways, not directly and clinically, but indirectly and administratively. And that often drives clinicians literally to distraction. To cite two common examples, we reorganize them relentlessly and measure their behaviors obsessively.

Next week I wish to discuss a number of these popular ways not to fix health care, and the week after that, to propose a different way to think about dealing with this problem.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015


1 How much, for example, do we spend on researching the causes of breast cancer, compared with developing treatments for it? One physician/researcher in the field gave me her estimate of that figure: 1%. So the next time you make a donation, bear in mind that a penny for prevention can be worth a pound for cure.

2 World health Organization (1999) The World Health Report 1999: Making a Difference

3 See my article “Patent Nonsense” in the Canadian Medical Association Journal http://www.cmaj.ca/content/175/4/374.full.pdf+html

 

Some quotes to consider after the horrible events of Paris

19 November 2015

1.    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

2.    “Seek simplicity and distrust it.” (Alfred North Whitehead)

3.    “We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

4.    “They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness. It looks very well, and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot, and went on.” (Duke of Wellington)

5.    BUT BE CAREFUL OF:  “When in doubt, use a bigger hammer.” (Dobbin’s Law)

6.    “If everyone is thinking alike, then no-one is thinking.” (Benjamin Franklin)

7.    We had the experience but missed the meaning.” (T.S. Eliot)

8.     “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” (Lao Tzu)

1.    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

2.    “Seek simplicity and distrust it.” (Alfred North Whitehead)

3.    “We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

4.    “They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness. It looks very well, and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot, and went on.” (Duke of Wellington)

5.    BUT BE CAREFUL OF:  “When in doubt, use a bigger hammer.” (Dobbin’s Law)

6.    “If everyone is thinking alike, then no-one is thinking.” (Benjamin Franklin)

7.    We had the experience but missed the meaning.” (T.S. Eliot)

8.     “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” (Lao Tzu)

9.     “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem in my opinion to characterize our age.” (Albert Einstein)

10.  “Man must remember if he is not to become meaningless, and must forget if he is not to go mad." (McGlashan)

Collection © Henry Mintzberg 2015

The Trains to Hope

12 November 2015

by Henry Mintzberg and Wolfgang Műller

HM:  I have been writing in these TWOGs about the role of the plural sector in rebalancing society: first to recognize that it must take its place alongside the sectors called public and private (hence calling it “plural”, rather than civil society), and second to realize that the restoration of such balance will depend especially on this sector. The private sector is too powerful these days and the public sector overwhelmed by that power.

by Henry Mintzberg and Wolfgang Műller

HM:  I have been writing in these TWOGs about the role of the plural sector in rebalancing society: first to recognize that it must take its place alongside the sectors called public and private (hence calling it “plural”, rather than civil society), and second to realize that the restoration of such balance will depend especially on this sector. The private sector is too powerful these days and the public sector overwhelmed by that power.

Some people don’t get the idea of the plural sector, perhaps because it has been so marginalized by the great debates over left versus right—private sector markets versus public sector governments. Where to put the plural sector, comprising all these community-based and other associations that are neither public nor private? NGOs, clubs, churches, unions, mass movements, social initiatives, and so on? Wolfgang Műller, Chief of Operations of the City of Vienna, who had read my book about Rebalancing Society, got the idea—in principle. Then he experienced it in action.

I met Wolfgang last Wednesday when he organized a workshop I did with his colleagues at the City of Vienna, before I attended a conference in that city. He recounted a story about how this understanding in principle suddenly became an understanding in practice. I asked him to write his story down.

WM:  On Friday September 4, I was sitting in my office in Vienna City Hall when I learned on twitte