Confronting Socially Transmitted Epidemics

17 July 2020

I posted this TWOG on 2 September 2016, quite auspiciously, and not only because it was the birthday of my blog (2 years old) let alone myself (older). I wrote that “maybe it’s time to look back and ask myself what all this has been about.” Or forward now, to ask what in the world is going on. Here was my answer in 2016, with minor editing now.

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

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

Getting it   We may see most of these epidemics, but that doesn’t mean we get them—in our souls, and our 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 see it in ourselves, and understand its full consequences, let alone its causes. I have railed on about conventional mismanagement education as a main cause of this mismanagement, backed up with a TWOG on MBAs as CEOs that has 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 executive compensation becomes, the worse it gets?

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

To challenge pharmaceutical pricing, recognize that a patent is a monopoly, granted by government. (How can any government allow its citizens to die for want of available medicines that could be affordable and reasonably profitable? That’s manslaughter.) To understand the imbalance that enables such pricing, notice 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 your e-thing, hopefully having passed through both our brains, so that they can reach our hands and our feet, for action. When a medical epidemic is recognized, the progressive world goes into action. [A TWOG to come later on this.] Well, here are all kinds of social epidemics causing untold damage that need our attention.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016, 2020.

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