Einstein was right.
Dov Seidman , named the “hottest advisor on the corporate virtue circuit” by Fortune Magazine,
is not right.
Will he be putting 1000 CEO’s on a false path?
A business partner send me the interview of Dov Seidman by Jo Confino in the Guardian. It is about where capitalism lost its way :
see interview here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/dov-seidman-un-global-compact
The title of the article struck my imagination.
” Why values need to be at heart of sustainable business transformation”
Reading the two first paragraphs of the introduction, I learned
- That Dov is the CEO of global corporate advisory services provider LRN,
- That he’s convinced that sustainable business transformation can come only as a result of values-based leadership.
- That he’s invited to give a speech later this month to more than 1,000 CEOs at the United Nations Global Compact leaders summit, about how capitalism lost its way and the importance of business reintegrating itself back into society if it is to flourish.
WOW, I said to myself, this will be worth reading!
It didn’t take long for disappointment to appear: more of the same?
Einstein’s words frames perfectly what I sensed:
“The specific problems we face cannot be solved using the same patterns of thought that were used to create them.”
What I read in this interview was that Dov Seidman, powerful and influential as he is, is not going to the core.
Why: Because his ideas stem from the same patterns of thought that was used to create the problems he says he denounces. Indeed, no radical, disruptive, new thinking emerges from his analysis.
Dov is aware of this, for sure. Otherwise he would not be in the position he is in. So the question is: Why doesn’t he not tell the full story.
Is it because he is part of the Consulting Industry, creating and selling the next management fad?
The world revenue generated by international management consulting companies is estimated by IBISWorld in 2011 at $313 billion, excluding information technology and computer consulting services. What effect did it have. Reading below, it might well be good for consultancy, bad for companies, and dramatic for society.
Let me reproduce a few statements that are worthwhile to reflect upon, from an article entitled, beyond management consultancy, by Gunter Pauly :
“The Accenture adline “One billion in savings for Unilever – Delivered” symbolizes the crisis the world is facing and the standard solution offered: cut costs at all cost. After more than three decades of cost-cutting and labor saving strategies, building on the core business – core competence philosophy, consulting companies represent one of the major forces that keep business in general and large multinational corporations in particular into this straightjacket of chasing growth, where cash flow is king and MBAs sway the scepter.
The consultancy industry epitomizes the economic model that measures success by financial results and market share, deploying strategies to pursue economies of scale, through outsourcing, supply chain management, distribution centers, mergers and acquisitions, to empower companies to compete in the globalized economy. This economic model was probably the best after the second world war, enabling societies to reconstruct devastated communities. Today this model is incapable
of delivering competitiveness, and certainly fails to empower management and employees to address key challenges like strengthening our capacity to respond to basic needs with what we have and address chronic youth unemployment through the creation of value.”
I don’t believe that LNR will bring any change in this state of affairs. Al least that’s my conclusion from what I read. In complex, open, adaptive systems with multiple non linear feed-back loops (what every social system or organization is) , good intentions, culture, high moral ground and ethical standards are not sufficient: even if it is important. Moreover, it is an illusion to think that culture can be shaped by external “consultants”, defined top-down.
New thinking understands that culture is an emergent process of interconnectedness of free people relating with each other. And that sustainable business transformation should be based on first on the autonomy of people to self-determine their lives and organizations, as self-determination theory states so clearly.
Moreover, single firms are embedded in a complex networked (eco-)system. If they want to become individually sustainable, they would be well advised to undertakes the system to be sustainable. Indeed, if in a system a part optimizes it’s position without taking the whole in account, it may well be working at the detriment of the whole, and itself.
This article, from Fritjof Capra, will unveil what is at stake here.
Modern science today has amply proven that our present-day problems, lives, world-views, beliefs, communities and institutions are based on inadequate, long outdated hypotheses.
New thinking is based on a new, generative, transdisciplinary science. It is based on looking at social organizations as living, complex adaptive systems. It shows, if need be, that fragmentation (whose origin goes back to Descartes) that has shaped our thinking for over halve a millennium, and brought us so many breakthroughs in the past, also pushed us in the Institutional/technological lock-ins that enslave us in all walks of life, at any level of society one considers.
And that, in the US in particular, big business and big finance, in coalition with Big Government and Big Congress, advised by big consultants, has secured itself a vested interest position and joyfully reaps ever huger benefits from this position, at the detriment of the many and all democratic principles. This unsustainable situation is increasingly denounced by ever more people from different walks of life. The latest in date was Robert Reich in a Bill Moyers interview. Worthwhile viewing, digging further, and reflecting upon this dramatic evolution.
Dov Seidman should know this. He surely does. In his own way he is also caught in the lock-in. But this should not be a reason for searching so much public attention with outdated ideas? I wonder to what extent such behavior can be denounced as deeply unethical.
Here’s another, most interesting way of looking at this problem, this time from the angle of Company Law. Showing that new and radical, maybe controversial, thinking is needed.
In the first paragraph of the abstract of her article, “Companies, Society and the Environment”, Beate Sjåfjell undertakes a normative analysis of the Objectives of EU Company Law.
She does that by asking three questions:
Do companies have a role beyond the maximization of profit for shareholders?
May human and environmental interests be discussed in the realm of company law?
Does company law have a role in furthering sustainable development?
Her answer, controversial, is affirmative to all three questions. Thereby she goes to the very core of the ongoing debate on the function and future of European Company Law.
I saw her presenting her ideas recently at the European Parliament Earth Overshoot Day. I got very hopeful to see how at the highest European level, EU commissioners and Members of the European Parliament are considering very seriously the work of the “Sustainable Companies Project” and the European Corporate Governance Institute. It indeed indicates that “company law” also should be “designed” with broader objectives in mind, in order to achieving overarching societal goals. This because they should be taking into account the general (normative) objectives of EU Law as THE framework. But that this possibility is not used, why.
For me an eye opener, and again an indication of the necessity of thinking at a higher level also in the law making process.
Just imagine the effect if all individual companies would be incentivized to act for the common social, environmental and economic good! You can see a great number of initiatives popping up everywhere, two examples being initiatives like B-Corp or Social Venture Network.
Here’s another example of higher level of thinking, in Monetary Architecture.
It is to be found in the work of my friend Bernard Lietaer, who after years of being ignored, sidelined, neutralized, at last received a late recognition for his life work in proposing radical new thinking in the area of Monetary Systems Architecture, by receiving a Honorary Doctorate from the University for the Common Good in Antwerp.
His ideas on Complementary Currencies, especially currencies that are designed for creating community, cooperation, abundance, jobs generation, are spreading. But, save very few exceptions, his ideas were never seriously considered by mainstream actors, despite their being applied in thousands of cases in the World, by grass-root movements.
The present monetary system, everyone knows, is yet another of the institutional/technological lock-in blocking us in an unsustainable order of things. Another paradigm, another sacred cow, where vested interests are preventing every change.
Seeing evolution and live, including human and social evolution as a cooperative phenomenon, is yet another area where a higher level of thinking has emerged.
Our perceptions, thinking, values, mindsets are indeed still dominated by the idea of Competition. Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism, claiming that evolution is the result of genetic variation through “single point random mutation” or “transcription errors” (leading to the survival of the fittest paradigm) is still by far the dominating paradigm.
This paradigm remains at the heart of our thinking despite the fact that Lynn Margulis, already in 1970, showed that evolution, since life appeared on earth, evolved through cooperation. She found out that living beings can acquire the genomes of bacteria that they host. According to her theory, this process, known as “lateral gene transfer” (LGT) was considered to be the major source of genetic variation. She was dismissed, did not even find a journal to publish her result. It was only in the 1980s that genetic analysis confirmed her theory, and biological textbooks had to be re-written. More, it was only in 2011, weeks before her untimely death in November, that Margulis was named one of the most influential scientists in the world. If interested: More on this here
Towards Systemic Design Thinking:
This new thinking is precisely what has been developed at the Politecnico de Torino. Their systemic design method is unique in the world for initiating business models based on multiple cash-flows, stemming from full use of all resources, without waste or emissions. Business models moreover that promote Local Economic (and social) Development (LED). This leads to the creation of networks of interrelated entrepreneurial businesses, acting at local level, transparently cooperating together and with all other components of the local system, developing and strengthening local community, responding to the basic needs of all, the whole evolving as an autopoïetic system, while using smartly what is locally available.
These paradigm shifting ideas have been further developed and implemented by Gunter Pauli.
Since 1994, The United Nations University and Tokyo University, entrusted him a research mandate; ample funding and 81 researchers, to prepare an overview of the most promising paradigm changing ideas and business models with a potential to curb Climate Change. This overview was to be presented at the COP meeting in Kyoto in 1997. Technological/institutional lock-in also is the fate of such international bodies, as Gunter experienced when his report was ignored.
Persisting with what he had discovered, creating ZERI Foundation as a platform for working, he started following and supporting the most promising initiatives.
ZERI today is a global network of creative minds seeking solutions to world challenges. The common vision shared by the members of the ZERI family is to respond to the basic needs of all with what is locally available. Embrace innovative business models that generate multiple benefits, increasing productivity while generating jobs.
The work of ZERI is remarkable. Blue Economy is ZERI’s philosophy in action. Indeed action is the basis of ZERI’s work. Systemic Design it’s intervention method.
Today, 3000 scientists are part of the ZERI network, more than 180 paradigm changing business models are operating, scattered everywhere the World.
ZERI and the Blue Economy networks are flourishing, intervening, low key, wherever they feel that local communities or enlightened leaders are ready to embrace the effort to rethink even long-held assumptions and embrace new behaviors with the aim of “unleashing creative energies to make systemic changes and reclaim our future as a species, as part of the earth family” (quoting Vandana Shiva’s words in her 3 pages short essay “Bringing People Back into the Economy“)
It would go beyond the scope of this blog to go deeper, More can be read from the ZERI and Blue Economy websites
I wanted to bring this up here, because it seems to me that this is the kind of uncompromising, truly paradigm changing, action oriented initiative, that are conductive to bringing forth the change we all want to see in the World. Moreover, this new thinking can be conductive to solve the lock-in situations and hence allow change to happen in gradual, constructive manner. And it is based on the concept of abundance, rendered possible by being inspired by nature’s workings.
Solutions exist, and trying to implement them it is what drives my live.
The way forward however is difficult, and dangerous. Machiavelli said it beautifully:
“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.” Nicolo Machiavelli (The Prince)
But then, I find meaning while listening to William the Silent, who said this rather ambiguous words:
“One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.”
especially when I combine these ideas with those of Vaclav Havel in the quote,
“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity. . .”
In the end, the only thing that will work, is doing them. That’s what commands my life, and that of my partners in ZERI, the Blue Economy, Cities as Forces for Good, and in complementing the current scarcity based monetary system with one based on abundance and interconnections. So I hope, one day, my grandchildren may quote, as Nelson Mandela did:
My conclusion is a message to DOV:
I understand you may feel trapped in a systemic lock-in.
Please, do consider that there are ways to escape your prison.
I’m talking to the Human in you, the father maybe, or even the grandfather (I do hope you will become one).
I’m using Vandada Shiva’s words again, to support me asking you:
” Climate chaos, brutal economic inequality, and social disintegration are jointly pushing human communities to the brink. We can either let the processes of destruction, disintegration, and extermination continue unchallenged, or we can unleash our creative energies to make systemic change and reclaim our future as a species, as part of the earth family. We can either keep sleepwalking to extinction or wake up to the potential of the planet and ourselves.”.
An increasing number of people are waking up to the challenge. You will be speaking to 1000 CEO’s at the United Nations Global Compact leaders summit. Instead of telling them the story I read in the Guardian, please convey to them that it is not in their best interest to keep on doing like they are doing. That fundamental shifts in thinking and behavior are indispensable and possible. That they should use their power to modify the rules, for them to escape their golden prison.
“Please wake them up to the potential of the planet and themselves”.
A message in a bottle, sent in the spirit of
“One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.”
Thank you, Dov.