Blog: Imagine

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.

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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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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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.

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

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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.

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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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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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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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.

Win-Winning in a Collaborative World

18 June 2015

     We played collaborative baseball this weekend, with 17 members of the family, from 7 to 75. Tiny infielders and towering outfielders.  (That’s bubby at bat in the photo.) Two of the older kids organized the teams, but somehow everybody managed to organize everything.

Bubby at bat

     So who won? My goodness, we forgot to keep score. We shall never know. But that hardly matters because the teams got all mixed up. What we do know is that a good time was had by all.1 Winning didn’t spoil the game, or, more to the point, everyone won-won. Imagine playing life like this.

     We played collaborative baseball this weekend, with 17 members of the family, from 7 to 75. Tiny infielders and towering outfielders.  (That’s bubby at bat in the photo.) Two of the older kids organized the teams, but somehow everybody managed to organize everything.

Bubby at bat

     So who won? My goodness, we forgot to keep score. We shall never know. But that hardly matters because the teams got all mixed up. What we do know is that a good time was had by all.1 Winning didn’t spoil the game, or, more to the point, everyone won-won. Imagine playing life like this.

     You don’t need a big gang to play win-win. Let me suggest collaborative badminton, where the object is to hit the birdie back, not beat the other person. (Not recommended for experts.) Here you keep score by counting how many times the two of you hit back the birdie before it hits the ground. Hence boundaries don’t matter—just hit the thing back—but clever shots into corners are not sportsman-like (because they are hard to hit back). Imagine if playing together like this became habit-forming.

     Proper economists will be quick to point out that this isn’t the “real world.” That’s competitive, not collaborative, about self-interest. They even think that altruism is just disguised self-interest. You have to wonder what kind of mothers these people had.

     Unfortunately, mothers and bubbies aside, this is our real world, thanks to people in powerful positions who have to win at any cost. But can we continue to tolerate this in a zero-sum world with finite resources? Winning is spoiling the world. A bad time is being had by too many people

     Training our youth to be hyper-competitive may have served certain needs for development and protection. But in a world of nuclear weapons, on a planet that is warming, with infections that are spreading, we had better get co-operative before it’s too late.

     Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling for an end to competition, even if that were possible. What we need is an end to is the winner-take-all mentality—some people having to be bigger, faster, richer, more powerful at the expense of  many other people, and, ultimately, themselves. (I’ll do a TWOG on the “rich man’s burden” some other time.) We shall have to balance competition with cooperation. So let’s get real and play more win-win before we all lose-lose.

     Imagine collaborative politics. That sometimes happens in the face of a major threat: people pull together for the common good. Well now what we have in common are a host of major threats. So imagine collaborative globalization too—organizing the world like a family baseball game.

The collaborative baseball team

A different family outing on the same day (Shot by daughter Lisa in London)

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center (Berrett-Kohler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk)

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1 Word wanted me to change this to “All had a good time”!

Imagine the emba as engaging managers beyond administration

5 June 2015

Time to hit the refresh button.

The last two TWOGs (reminder: tweet2blog) discussed some of the worst practices of management today: killing the cultures and obsessing about the numbers. Blame short-sighted stock markets and disconnected leadership, but don’t forget about how we pretend to educate managers.

Management By Analysis

MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences. The people are too inexperienced; the ways are too analytic, the consequences are managers too disconnected. These programs may do fine training people in the business functions, for specialised jobs, but you cannot create a manager in a classroom. Management is a practice, rooted in craft and art, not a science or a profession.1

Time to hit the refresh button.

The last two TWOGs (reminder: tweet2blog) discussed some of the worst practices of management today: killing the cultures and obsessing about the numbers. Blame short-sighted stock markets and disconnected leadership, but don’t forget about how we pretend to educate managers.

Management By Analysis

MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences. The people are too inexperienced; the ways are too analytic, the consequences are managers too disconnected. These programs may do fine training people in the business functions, for specialised jobs, but you cannot create a manager in a classroom. Management is a practice, rooted in craft and art, not a science or a profession.1

So how about the EMBA?

EMBA programs train the right people in the wrong ways with potentially wrong consequences. The people may be experienced (if not Executives), but most EMBA programs replicate the regular MBA programs. Take Wharton, for example, which has one of the best-known programs. For years it has claimed on its website that its EMBA students get the “same curriculum” as in its regular MBA. Imagine Wharton boasting that they do no more for managers in their EMBA than for MBAs who have not managed. This, in a nutshell, is the state of “management” education today.

Time for the emba

So how about training the right people in the right ways with the right consequences? How about an emba that engages managers beyond administration? We can do wonderful things in a classroom that draws on managers’ own experience. Real experience, deeply felt. (Cases are other people’s experience, in small, disconnected doses. Harvard has been running ads recently for executive education showing a businesswoman exclaiming: “We studied four companies a day. This isn’t theory, this is experience.” This is nonsense.)

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 of experience. A classroom of practicing managers has centuries of experience, good and bad. Imagine giving them the opportunity to reflect on it and share their insights with each other, in the light of the best concepts we have.

Of course, sitting managers in nice neat rows to face some “instructor” hardly encourages this. But if they sit in small groups at round tables, they can engage in such discussions easily: no need to “break out”.

With this as a starting point, a world of possibilities opens up. For example, tables can be dedicated to entrepreneurs, or people from particular industries or companies, who can spend time delving deeply into their concerns. Instead of training people to become consultants, imagine using these tables for “friendly consulting”: the managers bring in issues of major concern which their colleagues help them think through. And they can take their learning back to their organizations, to share it with colleagues in “impact teams” and explore the implications for consequential change.

Of course, it makes no sense to organize all this around the functions of business. Marketing + Finance + HR etc. does not = Management. So imagine organizing it around the mindsets of managing—for example collaboration, action, worldliness.2 The object is not for managers to become cookie-cutter global, but more distinctively worldly. So why not host these mindsets in modules of a week or two each around the world—not to look in from the outside, as business voyeurs, but to share the classroom with colleagues from these places?

Doing it

All of this is not only possible, but natural. This form of “social learning” is a powerful pedagogy, and managers relish it. Finally some respect for their experience; finally a break for managers from listening to the professors or pronouncing on companies they barely understand—four new ones every day.

We know about this because we have been doing all of the above for years, with great success—in our classrooms at least. Outside of them, this is one of the best kept secrets in management education. Congratulate us for our design and execution but not for our marketing.

Now we have decided to change this. We called the program the International Masters in Practicing Management (impm.org) to distinguish it from the MBA. Try going up against the MBA “brand”! So if we cannot beat them, we shall join them—after a fashion. We are labelling the IMPM “the managers’ emba”, meaning that we are engaging managers beyond administration.

Here comes the disclosure

As you may have guessed, I am hardly neutral in all this. I co-founded the IMPM and remain active in its classrooms. I care deeply about it. But I must further disclose that in doing this TWOG, I have nothing personal to gain, financially at least. I write it for the same reason that I have written many of the others: to change how management is practiced. Many managers, middle and senior (including CEOs) are at a crossroads: stuck in orthodox practices, if not in their careers. Here is a way forward—for them and for the practice of management.

Refreshment Day: 25 October!

Technology forecaster Paul Saffo claimed that it takes 20 years for a new technology to become an overnight success. The IMPM is an important new technology. Therefore it will have to become an overnight success on October 25th, when my colleagues and I welcome our 20th class. Please join us, here and elsewhere, progressive managers and concerned professors, in changing how management is practiced. Dare to supersede the MBA. Hit this Refresh button!

© Henry Mintzberg 2015

 

1 See my book Managers not MBAs (2004), also earlier TWOGS on Jack’s Turn, about case studies as a wrong method, and on The Harvard 19, about the wrong consequences from a majority  of the CEOs on one list of Harvard superstars.

2 See Gosling and Mintzberg. (November 2003). The Five Minds of a Manager, Harvard Business Review. See also the TWOG Global? How about worldly?