Is it time to start over?

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Tom Paine, in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense.

Is this true? Can a new world rise like a phoenix from the present state of affairs?

I was fortunate to attend a thought provoking lecture at the UCT Graduate School of Business recently. The GSB launched its Social Innovation Speaker Series with a talk by Henry Mintzberg – controversial, groundbreaking author and Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University (Montreal).

He was launching his new study, Rebalancing Society: Radical renewal beyond Adam Smith and Marx and it certainly provided me with lots of food for thought. Mintzberg believes that there is a critical imbalance threatening our societies – and unless it is addressed in a new, practically relevant way, the world’s economies are doomed. He says that the state of democracy is diminishing. We are living in a society where greed is good, the markets are sacrosanct, property is sacred and governments are suspect.

For Mintzberg, the problem lies in the fact that we have been focusing only on the public and the private sectors. He pointed out that the two are not just on opposite ends of a linear progression, but are joined in the centre by community-driven projects.

It is that centre that is the most important for a balanced society. Without the heart that community provides, we are left with a society built on dogmatic, polarized principles. All human societies have a number of needs… and most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For Mintzberg, the basic needs of affiliation and self-actualisation can only be met by a healthy social or community sector.

He warned against swinging the pendulum too far and allowing any one sector to dominate, calling for:

  • Rebalancing the sectors
  • Respecting the public
  • Responsibilising the private sector
  • Recognise the Plural sector (NGO’s, PBO’s, Not for Profits etc)
  • Redistributing across the sectors.
  • Relating across the sectors.
  • Reinvigorating Organisations
  • Effectiveness = efficiency + equality + quality
  • Engaging people
  • Engaging institutions ( the role of judgement and collaboration)
  • Engaging management ( beyond leadership)
  • Engage community

So what is the way forward? Is a world with a heart within our grasp?

I was left pondering some of the questions that Mintzberg posed:

  • How do we build more robust and responsible organisations? (selection of managers, governance, scale, leadership, community-ship, social entrepreneurship.)
  • How to sort out appropriate roles for public private and plural sectors?
  • How to recognise and enhance the plural sector? (Engage forums like CSI engage, TASP and others )
  • How to achieve true social responsibility in the private sector?
  • How to gain greater respect for the public sector?
  • How to achieve a truly level playing field internationally?

What do you think? Which way from here I’d value your views.

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