Blog: Getting it together

PPPPs for Climate Change

8 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collision or Consolidation?

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

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

Figure 1: Collision between the sectors

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

Figure 2: Consolidating across the sectors

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

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

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

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Porterian and Peterian Performance

13 July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark

17 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going public with my puzzle

21 December 2017

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

Recently, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was told I would love, as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. Look, I’m a word guy who goes blank in cross-word puzzles (although I delight in inventing words, like TWOG).

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

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

Recently, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was told I would love, as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. Look, I’m a word guy who goes blank in cross-word puzzles (although I delight in inventing words, like TWOG).

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

So let’s call these pat puzzles, to compare them with another kind of puzzle, defined in my dictionary as “a difficult or confusing problem.” These we can call puzzling puzzles. They are not about breaking the rules so much as creating new rules to get around old rules that are broken. To do this, we have to be playful rather than pat. Puzzling puzzles require solutions that are outrageous—until they turn out to be obvious.

In a pat puzzle (jig-saw):

1. The pieces are supplied.
2. Each is clean-cut.
3. They fit together perfectly
4.  To make the picture shown on the box.

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

In a puzzling puzzle

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

(I took this photo of my work table at home, exactly as I had left it earlier, while puzzling over this TWOG. Notice the fragments at the front, loosely connected.)

Pat solutions for puzzling problems?

Why are we so enamored with puzzles that are pat. Sure they can be fun, even useful for problems that are pat. But how about problems that are not? Pat solutions can no more resolve puzzling puzzles than can Monopoly develop entrepreneurs or chess model guerrilla warfare.

We used to play more open-ended puzzles at home. Remember charades—that was playful.  And how about LEGO? It used to let the kids build their own thing, instead of assembling 3-dimentional jig-saw puzzles. Here in Canada, kids used to learn hockey on some local pond. Now they are marched off to a designated arena where a designated coach teaches them the designated way to play. No wonder novelty has declined in professional hockey.

As for adults, look at how much of medicine, management, politics, and life has succumbed to pat programming. Get the patient or the problem into a category, a box where clean-cut pieces can be connected correctly. As a physician, diagnose that disease to apply the proper protocols. As a captain of industry, buy and sell businesses the way you bought and sold Monopoly hotels. In the affairs of state, treat diplomacy like a game of chess. And in life, find a partner on a dating site that lists categories of compatibility.

Some of this is fine when an existing category fits. Hail to those protocols and marriages that work. But problems fester when there is a misfit, or a forced fit, or no fit. A patient falls between the cracks of medical specialties. A merger or marriage proves incompatible beyond the categories. Diplomacy discovers that chess isn’t much of a model when faced with guerrila warfare.

Why do we have this propensity to use pat programming for puzzling problems? Sure, it’s easier. But just as surely, it’s fruitless. Has pat schooling killed our capacity for discovery? Or is it all those convenient apps we use on our phones?  Click and go—no novelty required. (Siri does the thinking.) Do we play too many games that come in e and cardboard boxes, or watch too many sitcoms on that big black box? Maybe we have simply become irrationally rational, thanks to centuries of privileging thinking over seeing and doing.

Our profound puzzle

Now we face a number of particularly difficult and confusing problems—puzzling puzzles that are foreboding, yet continue to fester. These include global warming, income disparities, and declining democracy. I see them as the fragments of a single profound puzzle, which in various TWOGs and a book I attribute to a basic imbalance in society. Narrow economic forces, encouraged by rampant individualism and unrestrained globalization, have been overwhelming our collective and communal needs as human beings. 

What can we do about this imbalance? We can start by putting seeing and doing ahead of thinking. We need a compelling image of what we are facing that can suggest concerted action, so that we can begin to think differently. This is the puzzle that engages me now: how to form that image—a comprehensive picture to see our way to a rebalanced society.

As I probe around—by meeting, reading, testing, tweeting—the fragments of ideas come at me, left and right, in no particular order. (I list some below—in a box of all things!) Imagine the image I am trying to construct as a map on which the fragments can be positioned and connected, to locate ourselves in the territory and construct possible routes to a better place.

Each new fragment contributes to the image that is forming in my mind. So please stay connected as I post the play of this profound puzzle.

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Some fragments for rebalancing society

Some of these fragments have been mentioned in TWOGs, as indicated; others are ideas in progress.

• Focusing corporate social responsibility on the causes of problems, not just their conditions (CSR 2.0)
• Liberating enterprises from the tyranny of the stock market
• Shifting production and consumption away from MORE, toward better
• Encouraging Indigenous development from the inside up
• Putting economic globalization in its place, namely the marketplace (forthcoming)
• Challenging illegitimate trade tribunals in national courts
• Building up the social economy
• Using progressive protests (1 hour longer each day) for impact
• Collaborating among prominent NGOs for common cause, beyond institutional causes
• Establishing a Peace Council (see pp. 92-93) for security instead of insecurity
• Developing a worldly strategy for the global climate (with Dror Etzion and Saku Mantere, submitted for publication)

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This last one may be the start of a map, with key roles of the three sectors located around a circle: grounded engagement in the plural sector, autonomous venturing in the private sector, and orchestrated planning in the public sector. The fragments listed above can be placed near each, but we conclude that real progress will depend, not on a collection of such efforts, but a consolidation of them around the circle.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. My thanks to Dulcie and the gang, Dulcie for the idea of the map, Gavin and Lorraine for the puzzles, and David for explaining why there may now be less novelty in professional hockey.

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Confronting Socially Transmitted Epidemics

2 September 2016

Today this TWOG is 2. On 2 September 2014, I wrote: “Welcome to my TWOG—Tweet2Blog. Rousing reflections in a page or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in a sentence or 2.” So maybe it’s time to look back and ask myself what all this has been about.

Mostly, I have decided, these TWOGs have been about socially transmitted epidemics: pathological practices in society that spread like wildfire, causing considerable devastation. We need to see each of these for what it is, and to get it by reframing it so that we can do something about it.

Today this TWOG is 2. On 2 September 2014, I wrote: “Welcome to my TWOG—Tweet2Blog. Rousing reflections in a page or 2 beyond pithy pronouncements in a sentence or 2.” So maybe it’s time to look back and ask myself what all this has been about.

Mostly, I have decided, these TWOGs have been about socially transmitted epidemics: pathological practices in society that spread like wildfire, causing considerable devastation. We need to see each of these for what it is, and to get it by reframing it so that we can do something about it.

Seeing it   These socially transmitted epidemics range from mismanaging (including organizing defectively, measuring excessively, and training mistakenly) to the mother of them all, imbalance in society (the domination of private sector forces). In between are executive bonuses and income disparities, pharmaceutical pricing, gun control (in the U.S. at least), climate change, and others.

Getting it   We may see most of these epidemics, but that doesn’t mean we get them, in our souls, and behaviors. For example, most of us see climate change, and do get it—in our heads. But how many of us get it in our practices? (That’s inconvenient.) We may see mismanagement all around us, but how many of us understand its full consequences, let alone its causes. I have railed on about the dysfunctions of conventional management education, which I see as a main cause of this mismanagement, and have backed this up with a study of Harvard’s superstar graduates, most of whom failed as CEOs. This raised not a single alarm bell. Do we not want to get it?

I am amazed at the extent to which these epidemics fester. How, for example, do we tolerate pharmaceutical pricing for one day longer? Likewise, why is it that the more outrageous is executive compensation, the worse it gets?

Reframing it   Hence I have devoted considerable attention to reframing—attempting to shift our understanding of these epidemics so that we can get them. To understand gun control in America, ask yourself if people there have the right to bear nuclear arms. To face the defects of globalization, think worldly. To reverse mismanagement, understand its separation from leadership on one side and from communityship on the other. Appreciate that effective managing is about scrambled eggs more than bottom lines.

To challenge pharmaceutical pricing, recognize that a patent is a monopoly, granted by a government. (How can any government allow its citizens to die for want of available medicines that could be affordable? That’s manslaughter.) 1 To understand the imbalance that enables such pricing, appreciate that the Berlin Wall fell on us. Capitalism has triumphed since then, not before that. To do something about this imbalance, recognize that there are three sectors in society, not two, and that the forgotten one—the plural sector, of you, me, and our communities—will have to galvanize our governments and businesses into serious action.

Doing something about it   This is where TWOGs stop. They are collections of electrons, from my e-thing to yours, hopefully having passed through my brain and into yours, so that they can reach our hands and our feet, for action. When a medical epidemic is recognized, the progressive world goes into action. Well, here are all kinds of social epidemics causing untold damage; they need attention. At the ripe young age of 77 (Happy birthday to me!), after years of being the good academic, now I am active. Maybe you are too; otherwise I can assure you that it’s not too late.

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I wrote in my first TWOG that “I intend to do this at most weekly, to avoid doing it at worst weakly, feeding the beast with all sorts of provocative and profound fun.” I have been true to that, skipping just one week in two years. It has been fun, for me and I hope for you too. But to avoid doing it weakly, I think I should stop doing it weekly. Time to confront the beast. So look for these TWOGs about every other week. Both of us already have quite the agenda of epidemics awaiting out attention.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. My special thanks to Simon Hudson, who has been the rock between the place of hard data and my soft ideas.

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


1 On Tuesday, an article in the New York Times reported that “The raging debate over EpiPen pricing has offered a surprisingly wide window into the complicated world of prescription drug pricing…” Are you kidding? There is nothing complicated about this scandal at all. 

 

Coalescing around Climate

17 August 2016

(Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library, CC BY 2.0)

I hate to harp on the same themes, but I do need to to get this right. For some time, I have been blogging about imbalance in society, about climate change, and about the plural sector (civil society) and how to get its collective act together. Last week, after participating in several related activities at the World Social Forum in Montreal, including a panel discussion that gave rise to two insights, these themes began to coalesce into a coherent framework for action. I summarize it here as a work-in-progress:

(Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library, CC BY 2.0)

I hate to harp on the same themes, but I do need to to get this right. For some time, I have been blogging about imbalance in society, about climate change, and about the plural sector (civil society) and how to get its collective act together. Last week, after participating in several related activities at the World Social Forum in Montreal, including a panel discussion that gave rise to two insights, these themes began to coalesce into a coherent framework for action. I summarize it here as a work-in-progress:

THE ISSUE: The world is dangerously out of balance. The private sector is dominant; much of the public sector is coopted by it; and the plural sector is obscure, marginalized by our obsession with left versus right, namely public sector governments versus private sector markets, with no room for the communities of the plural sector in between.1 Many of the difficulties we face now—for example, income disparities, lop-sided globalization, and global warming (intensified by our relentless production of more and more)—derive from, or are exacerbated by, this imbalance.

THE IMPERATIVE: The plural sector will have to take the lead in restoring the balance. The private sector will not cede its established dominance, nor will the social responsibility of businesses compensate for all the the social irresponsibility we now experience. And how many governments are prepared to challenge the private interests that coopt them domestically alongside the economic forces that overwhelm them globally?  This leaves but one sector to take the lead in driving the radical renewal we require—the plural sector.

THE PROBLEM: The plural sector is too plural, and disorganized, to get its collective act together. This is the sector of NGOs, cooperatives, community groups, social movements, social initiatives, and other associations that are owned neither by the state or by private investors. (They are owned by their members, or else by no-one. Who, for example, owns Greenpeace?) The World Social Forum itself made clear last week how eclectic and vibrant is the plural sector, also how much difficulty it has getting itself organized. (Compare this with the World Economic Forum in Davos, and business lobbying in general. Private sector businesses get their collective act together rather effectively when, for example, they wish to lobby for lower taxes.) Can our future be ceded to whatever force in society happens to be the most organized?

FIRST INSIGHT: The plural sector will have to focus on some central challenge. At a panel we ran at the Forum about the sector getting its act together, someone in the audience made the point that, to make headway at this point, the plural sector will have to focus its energies on one central theme. Rebalancing society is perhaps too broad and abstract a theme, at least for getting started. The obvious theme on which to focus is climate change. Pledges by governments, as at the COP 21 conference in Paris last December, will not deal with it. ( See the TWOG of 12 May, “Saving the planet from governments and markets.”) And business initiatives, however beneficial—for example, related to cap and trade, electric vehicles, and alternate forms of energy—are not going to suffice. (See the TWOG of 22 January 2015, “Can the World Economic Forum deal with the world’s social problems.”) We need 0°, not +2°, and cannot count on government or business alone to get us there. Once we recognize the urgency of stopping global warming, not just slowing it down, we will be able to face the underlying problem of balancing our societies.

SECOND INSIGHT: The plural sector will have to channel the power of its plurality—to make constructive use of its own dis-organization. Alex Megelas of Concordia University made an important point on the same panel: that the strength of the plural sector lies in its plurality, namely its messiness. How then are we to reconcile these concurrent needs for organization and dis-organization at the same time? By organizing around a central theme and then tackling it with a whole host of different efforts. We need to swamp the problem of climate change with all kinds of clever initiatives. So the issue reduces to:

THE QUESTION: How to channel the power of the plural sector, which includes that of ourselves, to move the public and private sectors toward profound action on climate change, and ultimately, on the imbalance we face? We are the plural sector, on the ground: you and I. We create, staff, use, and support its associations, in our communities and beyond. Moreover, we vote, we buy, and we march. Individually, we can refuse, we can reduce, and we can replace. And together, as consumers, citizens, and actors, we can drive our governments and businesses to face their responsibilities, as we must face our own. The plural sector will cease to remain obscure when the good folks of the world come to realize the potential of their power, and become the force needed to address the future of this planet and our progeny. After all, what major social change ever began without a groundswell of concerned human energy?

I want to end this TWOG here. After all, as James Thurber claimed: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” Here at least is one of the questions. But can I just stop now, without explaining what has to happen next? This is the question I get every time I push these ideas one step further: “Yea, but what do we do now?” The answer lies in we, beyond me.

Social change in the thirteen American colonies began with a sudden tea party in the Boston harbor. The civil rights movement in the U.S. began with an act of civil disobedience, by a woman who boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. People on the ground take the steps that cause chain reactions to change the world.  As a work-in-progress, this effort has to engage many of us, with a plurality of ideas that can evoke all sorts of determined actions, to overwhelm what now overwhelms us. So let me ask you to suggest what can come next, with the spark of compelling ideas that can take us to a decent climate: on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

We don’t have it right yet, but we are getting there!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more on the central theme, please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left right and center, available in the usual places, but also for free downloading as a PDF.

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1 For an all-too-pointed example of this, see last week’s TWOG on how Montreal’s English-language daily focussed its coverage of the Forum around two Israeli-Palestinian incidents, as if the thousand other activities never took place.

 

Citizenship, Communityship, Ownership & Leadership

19 May 2016

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

Between citizenship at the collective level and ownership and leadership at the individual level is another kind of experience that deserves far more attention. Just think of how much of our lives are lived in our groups and communities, quite apart from conventional citizenship, ownership, and leadership. Yet this level doesn’t even get a single …ship. So some years ago I gave it one: communityship.1 Communityship designates how we pull together to function in our personal relationships.

Of course ownership too exists at the collective and community levels. It's just that these take on quite different forms. Public ownership—what is owned by our government—is technically owned by you and me. But do we feel the same sense of proprietorship that we feel for our house or our car? (“I’m flying from MY airport”? These are MY VERY OWN tax collectors”?)

Ownership at the community level is called common property, or “the commons”2,  and where it does exist, we can feel quite attached to it, as do farmers that share water for irrigation.

The bad news is that common property is less common than it used to be. Take a walk on the “Boston Common.” This is where the landless people of that town used to graze their cows. (Some Bostonian should try that today! The sign at the entrance doesn’t even explain the name.) The good news is that the commons is making a comeback. Even, maybe especially, on the Internet. Take a walk on Wikipedia—it’s ours in common, technically owned by no one and therefore socially owned by everyone. It is ours to use, and to change. Walk too around our community gardens, and look at the research findings of our universities. Thankfully, these are all in the commons.

To drive home the idea of these three levels and four …ships, here are a few quotes to go with each, together with corresponding photos.

Citizenship

“The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” (Flaubert, from Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes)

Elector, n. “One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

We are the unwilling,
Led by the unqualified,
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful
(U.S. troops in Vietnam).

Communityship

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

“The mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” (Paul Shepheard, in What is Architecture)

“Scout bees…fly out from the bivouac in all directions in the search for a new permanent nest site. When a suitable site is found…the scouts return and signal the direction and distance of the find…Different scouts may announce different sites simultaneously and a contest ensues. Finally the site being advertised most vigorously by the largest number of workers wins, and the entire swarm flies off to it…”(Edward O. Wilson)

Leadership

Queen bees “never participate in the ordinary duties of the hive such as cleaning cells, tending the young, or gathering food. After performing their nuptial flights, queen honeybees function as little more than egg-laying machines…” (Thomas D. Seeley, Honeybee Ecology) 

“Management is the delusion that you can change people. Leadership is deluding other people instead of deluding yourself.” (Scott Adams, in Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel)

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw)

“Unhappy is the land that has no heroes,”’ sighed Andrea in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. “No,” contradicted the astronomer, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.”

Ownership

“I had reached the end of my journey. Everything that surrounded me seemed to be my own property. I was the King of Mont Blanc—the statue of this tremendous pedestal.” (Jacques Balmat, on being the first person to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, 1786)

Corporation, n. “An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

“We sold the patent for insulin to the university for one dollar. And come to think of it—I don’t believe I ever saw that one dollar.” (Charles H. Best, medical researcher, quoted by George Gamester in the Toronto Star, 22 July 1975)

To close, I believe that we shall have to reclaim democracy from private individualism at the expense of collective citizenship and cultural communityship. (See MY book Rebalancing Society, which is yours to have too, in the commons on mintzberg.org.)

________________

Text © Henry Mintzberg 2016. Photos © Lisa Mintzberg. If you need some creative photography visit lisamintzberg.comFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also started a new Facebook page to disseminate these TWOGs. 


1 In “Community-ship is the answer", Financial Times, 23 October 2006; see also "Rebuilding Companies as Communities” in the Harvard Business Review, and the TWOG of 12 February 2015.

2 See J. Rowe, 2008. The parallel economy of the commons. jonathanrowe.org/the-parallel-economy-of-the-commons, also E. Ostrom 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press. 

 

Evidence and Experience in Management, Medicine, and more

20 August 2015

Let’s start and end with some evidence and experience about “more”—first about bicycling and last about global warming—with that about management and medicine in between.

On the right side of the handlebar of your bicycle, you see a little number—let’s say 4—which tells you what gear the back wheel is in. This is evidence. Experience is what you live while cycling in that gear—perhaps that the pedals are going around too quickly for the flat terrain you are on. Evidence is what we’re told; experience is what we feel.

Let’s start and end with some evidence and experience about “more”—first about bicycling and last about global warming—with that about management and medicine in between.

On the right side of the handlebar of your bicycle, you see a little number—let’s say 4—which tells you what gear the back wheel is in. This is evidence. Experience is what you live while cycling in that gear—perhaps that the pedals are going around too quickly for the flat terrain you are on. Evidence is what we’re told; experience is what we feel.

A couple of weeks ago, in our health care management program, we asked the participants, mostly physicians, to plot their work on a diagram from evidence to experience. Despite all the hype about “evidence-based medicine”, they put themselves across the whole spectrum, with few at the extremes. Out of the subsequent discussion came a consensus that in medicine as well as management, some kind of balance is needed between the use of evidence and experience. (One physician in an earlier cohort proposed that the term above should be “evidence-guided medicine.”)

Medical training achieves this by combining evidence-based lecturing in the classroom with experience acquired during clinical rotations and internships. But conventional management education—really business education, in the MBA and EMBA—is not balanced. It tilts heavily to the use of evidence, and away from experience. When the students are given a lecture in finance, or are taught some technique in strategy, the focus is on theory, research, and data, not on lived experience.

And don’t think case studies are any different. The experience in question is three-times removed from the students: it happened in some company, was later described by some case writer, and has finally been orchestrated by a professor before it gets to the students, many of whom lack significant experience of their own.

Thus do business schools graduate people who are more comfortable analyzing evidence than learning from experience. No wonder so many of them gravitate to jobs in finance, marketing, and consulting, instead of sales, production, and initially managing itself.

It needn’t be this way. Truly management education becomes significantly impactful when it draws on the lived experience of practicing managers. That is why we have a 50:50 rule in our classrooms (imhl.org for health care and impm.org for business managers): our mid-career participants, who sit at small round tables, spend half the class time discussing their concerns, sharing their experiences, and generally learning from each other. The other half is for us, as faculty, to maintain the balance by introducing broader evidence in our lectures and exercises. It thus becomes natural for the participants to carry this blend of experience with evidence back into their organizations. (See the earlier TWOGs under “Developing Managers.”)

But what do the graduates of conventional business school education carry into their workplaces, especially the ones who do eventually get into significant positions of management? Too many manage as they were taught, by favoring evidence over experience. They disconnect: managing by the numbers, relying on techniques, and overemphasizing leadership at the expense of communityship. (See also the earlier TWOGs under “Simply Managing” and “Simply Measuring.”)

Such imbalanced managing has been dragging many of our organizations down. Or else, when detached strategizing emanating from the executive suite fails, their inclination in many large organizations these days is to favour political strategies. They merge to reduce competition, lobby to get from governments what their strategies cannot get from markets, trash their brands to exploit their companies’ established reputations, and so on. And this has been having destructive effects on our societies, and on the state of this planet. (See the earlier TWOGs under “Rebalancing Society.”)

This brings us to global warming, for which the evidence is now overwhelming. So why are we doing so little about it? One reason is that many powerful institutions are benefiting from it: better to maintain the bonuses of energy company executives than to save the planet

But a more significant reason may lie in our own behaviors. While we hear plenty about global warming, most of us have hardly lived its consequences. Like those disconnected managers, we know the evidence but lack the experience. So we carry on as usual. (“Somebody ought to be doing something about this.”) After all, really “getting it” is a nuisance, actually doing something about it is an inconvenience. On television we see the devastating effects of typhoons and tornados, fires and floods, without feeling these effects firsthand.

Shall we wait until we all do?

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. I presented some of these thoughts at the Academy of Management Conference in Vancouver last week.