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.

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.

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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.