Henry Mintzberg on Why Society Must be Rebalanced

Henry Mintzberg on Why Society Must be Rebalanced


this is Carl more for the globe mail
today I’m talking to my colleague henry Mintzberg and his new e pamphlet which
can download for free from his website mintzberg org so Henry I can’t help but
ask how did you get the black eye and what does the other guy look like I was
hoping you wouldn’t notice Carl but I was I was talking to some of the Tea
Party movement above my new pamphlet now now I was skating in good Canadian
fashion on a lake oven they will open the Laurentian sand I hit a bad patch of
ice landed right there I hope it’s not too bad now I own this helmet now okay
so Henry great ideas you’ve you’ve created any pamphlet where can people
get to see pamphlet and how much is it well I decided to put it up on my own
web site which is Mintzberg org and people can just click on it and see it
and download it for free will do it in book form but it but it’ll also be
available for anybody who wants that I’ve filled something like this should
be available for free in addition to any other way it’s it’s available so Henry
why any pamphlet rather than a book you’ve written a lot of books why did
you choose to use an e pamphlet the first of all pamphlets were the
tradition for political polemics about things that people were concerned about
the most famous one I guess being Tom Paine common sense which was written the
kind of it stimulated to some extent the activity in the American Revolution and
I think we’re at a point where we need to change some things dramatically and
so I call it a pamphlet but if you’re going to do a pamphlet these days and
give it away to people you do it electronically and put it on your
website you see it coming out as a book eventually yeah yeah I’ve already
discussed it with the publisher so what do you think that might be we haven’t
talked but a few months maybe ok some look forward to what is a central point
you’re making in your e pamphlet but society is out of balance in ways that
haven’t existed before at least Western societies much the way Eastern European
societies were out of balance except they were out of balance on the side of
their public sectors and we’re out of balance on the side of our private
sectors and it’s proving to these better but not
much better it’s getting worse all the time when we concluded in the West that
capitalism had triumphed when the Eastern European communist regimes
collapsed we were dead wrong capitalism capitalism didn’t try and fit all
balance triumph we were balanced back then in 1989 relative to now and we’ve
gone terribly out of balance ever since and it’s getting worse all the time so
when the Berlin Wall fell how did that change the balance in terms of the
Communist world well well for one thing well in the Communist world obviously it
change things dramatically but in the West communism and socialism served as a
kind of break to some extent on the excesses of capitalism because they
stood they stood there as a kind of alternative way of thinking about things
even though they were terribly terribly flawed but but ever since then because
the Eastern European governments were flawed we concluded in some sense that
all governments are flawed and we have to have minimum government of course
this was has always been pushed heavily by the economist’s certain economist
traditional economists and and with a model that’s really perverse in a way
that we’re all driven by greed and that and that anybody who can afford it can
buy anything they like and and all the externalities the economists talk about
that that if you can’t measure the consequences of the of the social damage
you’re doing then you don’t have to pay for it and all those things have built
up to a point where we’re we’re in deep trouble I think we’re in deep trouble in
Western societies and it’s because of the lack of balance and and and the
important thing is this isn’t a left right thing we have this kind of line
and and the extremes are each extreme is as bad as the other in some respects but
it’s not a question of finding a compromise in the center it’s a question
of sort of seeing things as a kind of circle and saying that there’s a there’s
government that has to be that to be respected there are markets that
have to be responsible and there’s and their communities that have to be robust
so I call it the public sector and private sector obviously and I call the
other the plural sector balance balances communities with markets and governments
why do you think we’re at a balance why is it gone too far in the market side
over the last 20 years in North American and Western Europe well III think
obviously there are tremendously powerful forces on that side and the
power of globalization which is not restrained in any way we we don’t have
global government that restrains global corporations the way we have domestic
governments that constrain domestic corporations we don’t have that instead
we have a series of powerful international agencies and the ones that
are powerful are all without exception economic like the International Monetary
Fund the World Bank and so on and the World Trade Organization and so on
they’re cheerleaders for global corporations and so there’s nothing
constraining a global corporations right now and they’re no worse than anybody
else potentially but give anybody the freedom to run and do what they like
those are the consequences one of the hot ideas is corporate social
responsibility won’t that solve the problem of too powerful businesses no I
think that’s dreaming I odd corporate social responsibility anybody who thinks
that corporate social responsibility will make up for the corporate social
irresponsibility that we’re seeing these days has his or her head in the sand
anybody who thinks that this kind of win-win scenario where companies are
going to do well by doing good I’m all in favor of that that anybody who thinks
that’s going to sweep in like a win-win Wonderland also has their head in the
sand there’s too many companies that are doing well by doing bad and there are
too many companies that are doing well by sticking to the letter of the law
which is not socially responsible so we’re looking at you saying that the
third leg of the stool is is the one that’s the one that we don’t put in a
focus on communities or plural society what what is the plural society to you
well the I called the plural sector the the plural sector to me are all these
kind of institutions and activities that are neither public in the sense of
state-owned public doesn’t just mean you know everybody has a stake in it public
means owned by governments and the private sector is owned privately
obviously whether companies are widely held or narrowly held what I put into
the plural sector which people call civil society and NGOs and third sector
and there’s all these bad labels i think plural sector works better our number
one cooperative organizations organizations that are owned by their
members whether it’s a church owned by its members or a co-op business owned by
its members what I call non-owned organizations a lot of our most famous
organizations are owned by nobody nobody else Harvard nobody owns McGill nobody
owns Greenpeace nobody owns the Red Cross those are all in the plural sector
and then I include also mass movements like Occupy Wall Street or what you saw
in Tahrir Square and and and what I call what many people call social initiatives
which would be things like the Grameen Bank and you know Meals on Wheels
activities and so on where people get together to solve some local or national
or international problem what makes them so strong I wouldn’t say strong they’re
prominent there’s a great many of them there’s a huge number of those I mean
the number of coop men memberships the United States is massive it’s the size
of every adult American there’s multiple memberships in some ways it’s huge so
they’re they’re prominent but they’re not strong and in one respect in the
main respect and that is the whole debate between left and right and
markets and governments has left out the plural sector as if it doesn’t exist
when we say pppps PPP’s public-private partnerships we leave out the plural
sector we assume it’s business government when we say nationalization
or privatization we’re always thinking of bouncing back and forth between
governments and markets we forget about the plural sector you know candidly us
are two extremes in health care very socialized in Canada very private in the
u.s. in fact our hospitals in Canada are almost all plural sector they’re funded
by the government they’re not owned most of them are not owned by government so
our main hospital almost all our hospitals are not-for-profit
organizations that are government-funded in the US they call them voluntary
voluntary hospitals seventy percent of American hospitals are in the plural
sector they’re not owned a anybody what is the plural sector what strengths or
does it have that brings that brings the table is different than markets or
governments what is it that we like about them well for one thing they’re
potentially more engaging for people partly because often they have very
noble kind of missions like Greenpeace or like you know uh Meals on Wheels
activity and so on Grameen Bank helping poor women you know to bring themselves
up and so on so it’s partly that it’s also the fact that when you’re working
for a corporation especially with these views of shareholder value which are
very destructive that they exist only for the shareholders then you’re an
employee you don’t count you’re supposed to work for a shareholder you never met
that shareholder could have bought the stock yesterday and is selling it
tomorrow day traders or two day traders but you’re supposed to be working for
them and that companies is for you you may have 30 years in that company and
you don’t count so it’s hard to get motivated for that and in government
there’s kind of so many pressures and bureaucratic forces and measurements at
nauseam and so on that it’s very hard for many many people can do it but it’s
harder when you’re working for Greenpeace you have a sense of what your
role is in there and you’re in your position in there or for Harvard so if
we rebalance these three sectors what would be the positive result in the
world would what good would happen if we
bounced it more well I think the sector’s would keep each other in check
in fact one of my sort of favorite parts of this pamphlet is what I call
completing the American Revolution the American Revolution had checks and
balances but they were all within government they were checks and balances
between the different parts of government between the judiciary and the
legislature and the executive and so on to balance them what America and the
rest of the world now desperately need our checks and balances on the private
sector we need checks on the private sector in order to balance the three
sectors you talk about a three-phase way forward what are those three phases well
the first would be to reverse the worst behaviors okay and there are all kinds
of things going on now there are trade pacts many trade pacts it’s set up
tribunals that give private companies the right to sue governments for loss of
profit even if the government legislated on environmental issues or health issues
or cultural issues corporation can say that that legislation harmed our profits
and we’re suing you for that the big tobacco companies have been bullying
very poor countries in Africa around tobacco and round cigarette legislation
that we’ve taken for granted for years like packaging and so on and they’re
bullying them because those countries can’t afford the legal costs of fighting
back those things have to be stopped immediately the idea that a corporation
is a person in the law and therefore has the right to to to don’t make political
donations in the United States is crazy it’s gone completely completely nuts if
corporations are persons they should go to jail when they commit a crime which
means if Pfizer commits a crime it’s happened in the pharmaceutical industry
if Pfizer commits a crime then it should go to jail for a year or two which means
it shouldn’t be allowed to trade now no company is going to accept that so let’s
get rid of this charade of corporations as persons it’s nonsense and it’s very
damaging there’s lots of things like that to reverse and the second stage
is is is the development of more and more social initiatives to replace
behaviors that a dysfunction which behaviors that are positive if the banks
in in Bangladesh didn’t want a loan to poor women then Eunice came along and
created the Grameen Bank in order to do it notice he he went around the banks he
didn’t confront them or anything he just simply created another Bank that did it
there are huge numbers of social Nicias in the world today all kinds of
wonderful things everything I’m not sure it’s such a big deal but earth hour in
Australia where everybody turn lights out for an hour to get to remind
themselves of the use of electricity there are all kinds of things like that
we need many many many more and then the third is reforms more systemic reforms
that can be driven by responsible governments and responsible corporations
to make major changes and that will happen only i think when the first two
happened because right now governments are so co-opted or overwhelmed by
private forces by all the lobbying is going on and all these trade things that
talked about a minute ago and so they’re so overwhelmed by that or so co-opted by
that that they can’t do much and as i said corporations despite corporate
social responsibility there’s much more Coco corporate social irresponsibility
right now so Henry for the person who’s engaged with these ideas what do you
want us to do what are you suggesting we do practically well one of the things I
say in the pamphlet is if you want to see I talk a lot about exploitation and
the difference between exploration and exploitation and we’ve got a society
that exploits we exploit the environment we exploit the each other we exploit the
rich countries exploit the poor countries we exploit in all kinds of
ways and I’m saying in place of that exploitation we need more exploration
not of human resources which is a horrible economic term but but our human
resource fulness our creativity our human creativity that that’s what we
need much more of and one of my favorite sentences in the pamphlet is if you want
to see an exploiter look in your own mirror
we’re all exploiters every time we drop the trash down the chute we’re
exploiting how it goes we don’t have to pay for it out of sight out of mind and
so on we’re all exploiters you know maybe we drive little car little car
pollutes to not just a big car you’re worried about the tar sands the tar
sands is is is created by the government or is encouraged by the government’s we
vote for and the fact that we are prepared to drive that kind of fuel so
so so we’ve got to they are not going to do it they whoever there they are not
going to do it you’re going to do a Carl and I’m going to do it and everybody
else is watching this and better be doing it to you as an individual what
are you doing I mean you’re writing a pamphlet but what do you do at a very
family level to make the world a better place that’s a dirty question that’s a
it’s obviously a fair question I mean I’m very conscious of of what I’m doing
and how I’m using things and how I just in my own life are doing things and then
I have to look at sort of you know where I exploit okay and and and they’re all
kind there’s so many things that we can do without the wouldn’t change our the
comfort of our life one iota you know there’s so many things we could be doing
so easily and of course the major thing I’m doing is I’ve been devoting years I
started working on this pamphlet in the 1990s and since nineteen since 2009 I’ve
been working full out on this not one hundred percent of the time but probably
forty thirty to forty percent of my time since 2009 so that’s that’s my sort of
major contribution but as I say it’s in everybody’s life to where do you see the
plural sector working in the world what are some examples where it’s it’s
working out and you can see the future there there’s a book called the Blessed
unrest that the toxin that that has a hundred and ten page appendix of each in
on each page is several initiatives described and
I think this never i can remember but but there are a lot of initiative
described in that appendix everywhere everywhere you turn everyone you know is
involved with it every bus are involved with it is enormous numbers of things
involved somebody interviewed me actually was just a call from the
government doing a survey and they asked me you know am i involved in in charity
type organizations and I thought yeah but I mean thumb but not a lot and then
I realized voluntary these the word you know do I volunteer and then I realized
that every time I give a talk for free and most of all eighty percent something
like that in my talks are for free to a to an NGO or to some group or whatever
it is and working with those groups I’m volunteering in a sense in that sense I
do an awful lot of that as I said every country has initiatives and wonderful
ones in the most obscure places the country I find the most interesting is
Brazil of the ones I know they’re probably others I’m sure but the ones I
know Brazil is really interesting first of all brazil has a certain balance
because it’s got very strong government in fact it’s got one of the few
governments that had the courage to stand up to the international community
on a lot of issues it’s got strong good interesting businesses and it’s got a
very vibrant plural sector very very vibrant plural sector they the
Brazilians are kind of why not people yeah sure what the hell is strike and
and they do they have a lot of pppps public-private plural partnerships the
way they tackled hiv/aids for example is really fascinating and and so so it’s a
country they’ve got their problems I mean there’s a lot of income inequality
and so on at least it’s getting better not worse in other countries getting
worse in Brazil is getting better so so they have their own problems for sure
but they have the creativity in the initiative to really show what can be
done one of the debates we have is you know occupying Wall Street the one
percent 99 what’s your take on that well there’s
certainly I mean the the data are pretty clear the 99 percent is you know it’s
probably twenty thirty percent of the 99 that are doing perfectly fine but it is
true that the income inequalities are atrocious in many places and are getting
much much worse that figures for the United States are absolutely dreadful
you know the worst figure for the United States is social mobility I mean America
was the mother of social mobility this is the country that everybody looked to
you emigrated to the United States because your children or you can have a
chance to go up the figures on social mobility in the United States now are
dreadful way behind even Canada not that Canada was ever bad but but but the US
has dropped badly if your parents are wealthy of a much higher chance of being
successful in the US then then it used to be Henry you run two great programs
the IM p.m. the IM hl1 for business more business and ngos one more for health
how does this tie in your e pamphlet well you know the the one of the key
themes i mean it’s a whole different pedagogy though the way we work in small
groups with experienced people in the classroom they spent half the time
discussing with themselves and working out their own issues one of the key
themes of both they’re both masters programs and one of the one of the key
themes is the sense of community both the sense of community in the class and
encouraging them to see organizations the way i put it a healthy company or a
healthy healthcare organization is not a collection of human resources it’s a
community of human beings and that whole sense of community both within the
classroom and in their organizations that go back is very strong in that
program and to me that’s how you how you really create healthy organizations in
addition the IMHO the international masters for health leadership we
described as a forum for the for the in enhancement of health care worldwide and
so people really come to that program with a sense of how can I make
healthcare better not just how can I make me better not how can i make my
hospital better but also how can we contribute it as a class to making
healthcare stronger around the world it seems like appealing to our better
natures is a central thing that you’re having a sense of purpose and meaning
beyond just ourselves well you know the way I describe the economic Dogma is
greed is good and you’ve heard that often enough markets are sufficient
property is sacrosanct and governments are suspect I mean that’s a you know the
way I put in the pamphlet is as one view of human nature that may make some sense
as the view of human nature it’s nonsense it’s absolutely nonsense it it
caters to our basest worst side who can be intrinsically happy you know with
that kind of a thing I I quote Eric Hoffer the famous longshoreman
philosopher who said you can never get enough of what you don’t really need and
too many of us are striving to get more of what we don’t really need as opposed
to really trying to build a better world it’s not just building a better world
it’s the world isn’t is is in dire straits it’s it’s you know there’s a
whole debate about how long we’ve got for global warming I think that’s the
wrong question for two reasons number one if we don’t know how long we’ve got
then why bother doing anything but number two is how long did the Filipinos
have with their recent storm zero years it’s not a question of how long we’ve
got some people have already got zero through late for them other people are
going to get it next year or the year after there’s not going to be a big bang
in 2050 there’s just going to be increasing storms and other things
increasing exploitation and we have to stop that or we’re doomed i think as a
civil as a human civilization you know carlot as i was doing this it struck me
that that the United States and the world
they’re having a tea party all right but this one this time it’s being hosted by
sølve not being hosted by the sovereigns by the sovereign corporations
under the motto no taxation with representation you know in the Boston
Tea Party was no taxation without representation now it’s no taxation with
representation that that that in the US Congress particularly if you look at the
recent gun law votes and all kinds of things corporations are dreadfully
over-represented and yet they pay less and less tax so ironically what the
United States is suffering from now is precisely the opposite of what those
people were in Boston throwing that tea into the ocean where there for Henry you
your password we might be considered the normal retirement age but you seem very
youthful by many standards how do you manage to keep youthful in terms of your
attitude in your approach to life well kind of a bit of what I just said the
pamphlet kind of energizes me but I kind of live well I think I you know eat well
and uh we skated 30 kilometers on a lake on a rink on a lake this weekend in two
days so so just try and be active and energetic and and I also think that when
you have a positive outlook on things you you’re healthier

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

2 thoughts on “Henry Mintzberg on Why Society Must be Rebalanced

  1. Completely agree – unchecked power is dangerous…. its a corporate dictatorship of a sort.

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