I Like Nordic Capitalism

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported the 2016 Economic Freedom Index, which I found very interesting. The index was created in 1995 by the Heritage Foundation and the WSJ to “measure the degree of economic freedom in the world’s nations.” According to the report the United States is ranked 11th in the world, which is up one spot from the 2014 number.

When I saw the report I immediately looked at who was in front of us? Who would be considered more economically free than the United States? In the number one spot was Hong Kong. I found that very interesting because several years ago, 1997, Hong Kong, which was a part of the United Kingdom, was aligning with main land China. The debate involved whether Hong Kong would lose its economic freedoms, which according to this report Hong Kong is just as free as the past. In second place is Singapore, which is no surprise. In third place is New Zealand; fourth, Switzerland; fifth, Australia; 6th, Canada; 7th, Chile; 8th, Ireland; 9th Estonia; and 10th the United Kingdom. Following close behind the United States is Denmark at number 12.

The next thought I had was, what does this measure? “The creators of the index took an approach similar to Adam Smith’s in The Wealth of Nations,” in other words, it looked for nations that support “the liberty of individuals to pursue their own economic interests that result in greater prosperity for the larger society.” In 2008 the Heritage Foundation defined economic freedom as providing “an absolute right of property ownership, fully realized freedoms of movement for labor, capital, and goods, and an absolute absence of coercion or constraint of economic liberty beyond the extent necessary for citizens to protect and maintain liberty itself. The index itself measures business freedom, trade freedom, monetary freedom, government size and spending, fiscal freedom, property rights, investment freedom, financial freedom, freedom from corruption, and labor freedom.

The next thought I had was focused on Hong Kong, Ireland, Canada, and Denmark. Each of these has very different tax systems and social programs. Hong Kong has a flat income tax of 15 and 16 percent. All people who are employees are taxed 15%. All corporations of business owners are taxed 16%. However, the gap between those that have and those who have not is huge. The government provides health care, education and housing. “The health care system, which provides high-quality standard services, is accessible to the entire population.” The health care system is not free, but it is subsidized and low-cost. Probably the biggest reason they continue to be successful is their high quality education system free to children up to the age of 15. Then it must be paid for, but is subsidized by the government.

Ireland’s situation is a little different. Its per capita income is around $39,250. It has been said that Ireland’s economy is the fastest growing in the Euro zone. The top personal income tax rate in Ireland is 41%, and the corporate tax rate is 12.5%. One report I read about Ireland is that half of its population is on welfare. When my wife and I visited Ireland many people we talked to were receiving a child benefit that could equal $45,000 (US) per year. Business owners I talked to were struggling with government intrusion into how their businesses were run. Ireland has socialized medicine, but those who can afford it can jump to the head of the line.

Then there is our neighbor to the north. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Canada has a very interesting combination of private and public enterprises. The public enterprises include strong social and welfare programs to deal with the economic inequities associated with Capitalism. Its economy is strongly aligned with the United States. Canada has a single-payer healthcare system, which the doctors I have talked to did not like. However, the government is trying to prevent an Irish system that allows those with more resources to jump to the front of the line. Canadian tax rates for 2016 are 15% on the first $45, 282, 20.5% up to $90,563, 26% between $90,563 and $140,388, 29% from $140,388 to $200,000, and 33% over $200,000.

Then there is Denmark, and I will lump all of the Nordic economies into this discussion. The Economist in 2013 reported that Nordic Countries are the next supermodel. They are saying this because Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland “are doing rather well.” In fact, The Economist says we may want to become Vikings, and not the football team.

After reading this article, I must say I think the Scandinavians are just good managers. They stepped up to the plate and hit a homerun by creating a lean Nordic model. “The idea of lean Nordic government will come as a shock to both French leftists who dream of socialistic Scandinavia and to American conservatives who fear Barack Obama is bent on Swedenisation.” To accomplish this several steps were taken.

Government spending in Sweden was cut by 18% points; which demonstrates how serious the government was with improving the country’s economic situation. This spending level is now lower than France. The corporate tax rate in Sweden is 22%, which is lower than the United States. I guess what the Swedes have done is balanced the books. “While President Obama and Congress dither over entitlement reform, Sweden has reformed its pension system. Its budget deficit is .3% of GDP,” ours in 2013 was 7%. The article goes on and mentions other elements of the Nordic improvements, but the last paragraph sums up my point of this discussion.

“The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Swede pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he gets decent schools and free health care. The Nordics have pushed far-reaching reforms past unions and business lobbies. The proof is there. You can inject market mechanisms into the welfare state to sharpen its performance. You can put entitlement programs on sound foundations to avoid beggaring future generations. But you need to be willing to root out corruption and vested interests. And you must be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum.”

Nothing demonstrates this reality in our country more than our Congress. Rather than finding solutions to our problems, they continue to dither and navel gaze. I agree with our English cousins when they say the Nordics get something out of their taxes and we don’t. I know that is a huge generalization, but think about our increasing gap between the wealthy and the working class. Think about how our educational performance continues to decline. We need our government to be better managers like the Nordics. I really like the balance they have struck in their economies. So when I say I like Nordic Capitalism I am embracing a system that works.

And that is my thought for the day!

Greetings From Sam Washington (An Allegory)

Hi, my name is Sam Washington. You may have seen pictures of me. I am a tall slim older gentleman with bushy hair and a white goatee. I usually wear clothing made up of some combination of red, white, and blue colors with stars. I am Caucasian, but I have adopted children of all colors, races, and religions. I am a very wealthy person, but there are times when I reflect on my history and realize that some of that wealth was earned by doing some not so nice things. I may not sound familiar to you, but all of my friends call me Uncle Sam. I really like that name, and I am proud of what I have done with my life.

Some people are saying that I am having a nervous breakdown. I am older now, but my family is kind of crazy. Even though I am wealthy I have a lot of debt, but I do have a lot of income. At this point in time in my life I am trying to figure things out a bit. I have two natural children, and many adopted children. I’d like to tell you about them.

The names of my natural children are Demi Crat Washington and Ree Publican Washington. Both of them love me, but they really look at things so differently. Demi is my second child, and has changed over the years. I used to think she was from the Southern part of my business. She used to be very angry because I adopted some children she didn’t like, but now she is much more inclusive. She does like to spend money though and really doesn’t care how she gets it, which may be because of her new boyfriend Bernie.

Ree used to be more like Demi, but now I am not too sure what he is doing. He is my oldest child, but seems to be hanging out with some very crazy people. Ree tells me he believes certain things, but his actions tell me something else. I think his new friends are a bad influence on him. Their names are Rush, Glenn, Ted and Donald (I will tell you I really don’t like those boys) and are filling Ree’s head with nonsense. Neither one of my children really care for my adopted children. Demi says she does, but she only says she does because she wants to make Ree look bad. And Ree, who knows what he is thinking, seems like he just doesn’t care.

Let me tell you about my business. I have been in business for a long time. I have been very successful; my business has a revenue stream of about $17 Trillion. I feel pretty good about that, but I also have about $19 Trillion in debt. I don’t feel very good about that, but I am not too sure what to do about it. I was hoping Demi and Ree would come up with some good ideas but they are too busy hating each other. As a result many of my other children are suffering.

I was reflecting the other day about how my business got to this point. Some of it I am quite proud of, but other parts of my business model were not so good. There was a time when I actually owned people. I am really not too proud of that, and some of my children experience high levels of guilt over the situation. I want everyone to know I care about the one’s I used to own and have adopted them as my children. However, some of my other children didn’t like that so they worked with others to exploit my new children. This has had an on going effect that continues to have a negative effect on those children.

I have to admit in my past I was very competitive. When I was just starting out there was huge potential in the North American market. There were other competitors fighting over North American resources. There were English, French, Spanish, and Mexican companies fighting over the land. However, I believed I had a manifest destiny to increase my hold over those resources. I defeated my competitors and sent them packing. Some think I took advantage, but I feel I was just doing what I was supposed to do.

However, as this was occurring there were human beings who didn’t enjoy the competition. These were indigenous resources that were overrun by my managers. My managers did not think they could do the work we wanted them to do, so we sent them to different parts of our company that were less important. We have kept them there, hoping they’d quit and go somewhere else. However, their working conditions just get worse and worse. I actually feel pretty bad about that, and feel my managers took advantage of them. I’d like to adopt them as my children, but they don’t trust me. I wonder why?

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it seems my friends throughout the world think I am having a nervous breakdown. I believe they feel this way because of my children Demi and Ree. Actually, I am telling you this because I am reflecting about my life. I want to figure out how to repair my relationship with my adopted children who I once owned and now want to help. I also want to adopt those indigenous resources so they can experience a better family life. I want all of my children to have equal opportunity.

I really think I am experiencing the eighth stage of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development model. According to Erik when people reach a certain age they are considered mature, and at this point there is a crisis that is experienced. He actually called this the wisdom stage. The existential question of this time in life is “is it ok to have been me?” I think that is the question I am wrestling with right now. I am looking at the good and bad of my accomplishments and trying to figure out how to reconcile my actions. I did good and I did bad. I have feelings of contentment and I have feelings of disgust.

What appears to others as a nervous breakdown is nothing more than trying to figure out where my family needs to go from here. I have no doubt we will figure it out, and I trust my children to sit down and discuss this. However, I think Demi and Ree need to see a counselor. I think they are nuts right now. Ree needs to stop talking to Glenn, Ted, Donald and Rush. Demi needs to quit playing with Bernie because he is bad for her and my family. However, I think the biggest culprit is Jimmy Olson the news reporter. He is a sensationalist, and I think he likes the conflict. It sells more of his papers.

I hope you don’t mind the musings of an old man. I love my family and I know we will figure this out. Tell everyone Uncle Sam says hi.

And that is my thought for the day!

Business Education: The Progression Of Thought

Over the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity of being observed in my classes by my mentor. After watching me profess in the classroom, my mentor and I would go have a cup of coffee and discuss education.

Dr. Foltz is an Anthropologist and I am a Business scholar-practitioner. One would think two different subjects, needing two very different styles. However, through our conversations we found an amazing common ground.

When we started this process Dr. Foltz asked me who the major theorists of Management were? I spouted off Mintzberg, Schien, Maslow, Herzberg, and many others. Then we began to discuss the process of teaching business to students. I have developed a style over the years, but in discussing developmental theory with Dr. Foltz, he has both validated and enlightened me on how to do a better job educating my students.

As we have progressed through this discussion I have been thinking about the different ways business classes should be taught. Teaching business is both theoretical and practical, and this relationship is applicable at all levels of classes we teach. But how is the rigor of a 100 level class different than a 400 level class? My conclusion is that there is a difference, but there are similar application elements too. So what does this look like?

I think it is difficult to break business classes into a traditional Liberal Arts understanding of lower division and upper division. However, I do think that Bloom’s revised taxonomy applies to business classes. 100 level courses are more about remembering and understanding the theories and practices of business, while a 200 level course involves the understanding and applying of business concepts. 300 level courses involve applying and analyzing the results, thus determining the value of cause and effect. 400 level courses are where the outcomes are more evaluating and creating results.

However, William M. Sullivan in his excellent book “Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education,” explains a different way of looking at how business education evolves through the four years a student is at our institution.

In our lower level business classes our outcomes are focused on the developing of analytical thinking. Sullivan states, “This emphasis reflects the fact that Analytical Thinking lies at the heart of scientific inquiry and the technological innovations that flow from it. It is a critical skill for democratic citizenship as well and the basis of rational discourse in every domain.” This type of thinking is foundational to a solid business education and career.

“Analytical thinking involves the formulation and rigorous application of abstract concepts. It requires students to understand particular events as instances of more general concepts and learn how to formulate claims and make valid arguments using those concepts.” At the 100 level, business classes focus on the general and broad elements of business. An example of this is how BUS 101 deals with the introductory concepts of Economics, Management/Leadership, Law, Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship. The student’s thinking “is simple,” but the application is where the complexity begins to emerge. However, analytical thinking progresses into our 200 level courses too, such as BUS 211/212 where we introduce our students to accounting. In this 200 level course the student demonstrates analytical thinking by reviewing general accounting principles, and observing how the theory works in a demonstration by the Professor; the student practices these concepts by filling out of worksheets or electronic spreadsheets. At the end of the process the student then discusses what the numbers mean.

However, when students enter our 300 level courses they begin to develop the ability to see the possibility of multiple outcomes in given situations. In other words the students are learning how to “allow for multiple solutions” to given business problems. As Sullivan states, “The need for this kind of Multiple Framing in advanced intellectual work makes it clear that Analytical Thinking as powerful as it is, does not provide all of the intellectual tools needed to negotiate today’s complex world.” How this looks in a 300 level course involves what is called double-loop thinking. Take for example my Organizational Behavior class. Today we discussed attitudes in the workplace. We reviewed the ABC model of understanding attitudes. We could have just focused on the value of a good attitude on organizational productivity, thus single-loop thinking, but we used double-loop thinking when we discussed what Sullivan called the “historical roots of the assumptions underlying business concepts.” We questioned the historical assumption of productivity and profit as the only valid reason for creating a positive work environment for employees.

Using double-loop thinking, or multiple frame thinking, business scholar-practitioners are learning how to reflectively explore the greater meanings behind the practice of business. I really think if one teaches 300 level business classes like this it prepares the student to perform at the higher level of thinking associated with a 400 level course.

A 400 level business course involves practical reasoning. If we teach our students to analyze, use multiple frame thinking, reflect on the why, they should be able to recognize the theoretical concepts associated with business, as well as have developed the knowledge and skills needed to practice business. This type of learning demonstrates the positive relationship between Liberal Arts and a business education, while helping business students embrace the liberal values associated with good citizenship to ethically practice business.

Business 100 at our institution is our introductory business course. It begins by educating our students concerning the general concepts of business. It gives the students an overview of all of the subjects they will study in our program. Our 200 level courses continue to help our students develop analytical thinking. However, in both our 100 and 200 level courses our students are demonstrating how they remember, understand, and apply the concepts they are learning. But, it is when they get to the 300 level courses that they are not just analyzing, but creating multiple frames of interpreting the practice of business. They truly are analyzing and evaluating, reflectively, the value of business. When they get to our 400 level courses, they have a foundation for the practical reasoning they will need to demonstrate and create a relationship between the theory and practice they will be using in the real world.

I think that Business education is a little different than other subjects taught at a liberal arts institution. However, I think business professors focus too often on just the practical elements of business and not enough on characteristics associated with multiple framing and reflective analysis questioning the why behind business. Until we do that, we will continue to do the same thing but expect different results, which is not what our society needs at this time.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Old Laboratory And The New Laboratory

The question I am wrestling with involves the term scholarship. I had a wonderful conversation the other day with a colleague around this term, subsequently I have spent the last few days thinking about what the term means. I know what people say it is, but to systematically think this through, especially for a person who has joined the ranks of college professors later in life, is meaningful.

Prior to my dealing with scholarship, I need to place an assumption on the table. As I have stated in a previous blog, there is a tension between the subject of business and other academic disciplines. At one point in time Higher Ed did not approve business as an academic subject because it was too self-centered. I have heard a colleague say with disdain that we do not want to be a business school. And I have heard that others in the past have stated that business should never be taught at a liberal arts college such as the one I teach at.

Thankfully those sentiments have evolved, and now the ubiquitous nature of business is more recognized, resulting in business taught in many Liberal Art institutions around the world. Thus, my assumption, a Liberal Arts institution is the best place to teach business. The reason I think this is true is based in two elements: Ideological divergence and needed job skills.

In our society dialogical divergence is clearly evident. The following is not a prognosticative statement, but one that illustrates my point. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are representative of a society that is becoming more polarized and unable to have covenantal discussions that create shared meaning. Leading to my conclusion that business is ubiquitous, therefore a Liberal Arts environment is the best encompassment for a serious discussion of how business should occur; leading to convergence of ideas.

We can see the divergence represented above in the reality of business practitioners experiencing cognitive dissonance. Practitioners hold at least two cognitions as they run their organizations. There is an economic cognition and a human one, therefore, the question involves how one reconciles these two cognitions? Teaching the subject of business in a Liberal Arts environment can help practitioners wrestle with this reconciliation.

The second element involves job skills. Typically in business, as a topic of study, we focus on Management, Finance, Economics, Accounting, Marketing, and Leadership. It is technical, less philosophical, which leads to an objective practice of business as a science. Actually, Business is both art and science. Thus, there is a need to explore both technical and the so called softer skills of life. Remember I mentioned the two cognitions. Humanities is a critical part of a solid business education because of its humanity. Therefore, skills in the following disciplines: Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Social Psychology, and Anthropology are critical. A business practitioner does not need to be an expert in each of these subjects, nor does the practitioner need to have read all of the seminal works in each of these subjects, but they need to be well versed and have read applicatory books, articles, etc. that reflect these disciplines.

A question one might have is what do I mean by practitioner? I am using that word to refer to someone who is leading or managing an organization. I am also arguing that this person cannot just be a practitioner, they must be a scholar too. A scholar is someone who does scholarship. Thus, I begin with a definition.

In Dictionary.com the term is first defined as a noun, “learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar.” There was also an additional description of scholarship as a financial sum for a student to help pay for college. The student receives the grant “because of merit, need, etc.” For the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the first part of the definition. Learning and attainment as a scholar.

I am also approaching this discussion as a Scholar-Practitioner. A Scholar-Practitioner is a person who researches and applies the research in a real life laboratory. I am also going to discuss my research and my laboratory ante-academia and post-academia. In other words, prior to entering the world of a professional academic and after.

My ante-academia research was based upon a question, “how does a responsible manager reconcile the tensions resulting from the encounter of economic and human requirements. I began this research in 1987 when I went back to school. I read, wrote papers, discussed my topics with practitioners within my laboratory. Over the next 16 years I worked on my education, studied, wrote, and conversed with my colleagues about what I was learning. When I retired in 2008, completing my work in that laboratory, I entered a new area of research.

As a Scholar-Practitioner in my ante-academia role I concluded there is such a thing as enlightened management. In other words, a style of leadership that believes in the power of reconciling the economic and human requirements of running an organization. I attached myself to a community (my favorites) of scholars, including Abraham Maslow, Edgar Schein, Donald Schon, Peter Senge, Fredrick Herzberg, Max Weber, Henry Mintzberg, Chris Argyris, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and many others that helped me to be a good manager (Practitioner). In my laboratory, I would apply the techniques that I learned from my research and observe what happened. Then I would discuss the results with my peers, who would practically dissect and debate the value of results.

I have to say there are times that I miss this environment. It was functional, efficient, resulting in the creation of flying machines that transport people to meet with their families. My previous laboratory, as a part of a larger ecosystem, was healthy and successful, not just because of me, but because of other practitioners who were learning similar things and practicing them in an analogous manner.

I spent 30 years in this environment, with 21 of those years operating as a Scholar-Practitioner. I learned and attained results that were valuable to society, helping people to be engaged in their workplace, subsequently finding meaning in their jobs. In 2008, I left that laboratory and entered a new one. It has different rules, but its processes are very similar. Some of the things that occur in this new environment are meaningful, and I choose that word carefully, while other elements are not as efficient, and I chose that term purposely, as my previous environment.

In my previous laboratory what I did was seen as valuable. In my new laboratory, what I do is critically evaluated as it relates to a liberal education. I am going to break my own rule and cite Wikipedia, which defines “The liberal arts as those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly military service.” Seems to me this definition refers to the ability of a person to function as a participant in a society free to debate, discuss, and decide how the said free society would function. This free society, in my estimation, is composed of all organizations, including those that function as a business. Organizations are where people interact.

Therefore, as a Scholar-Practitioner, my new laboratory is similar to the previous one, it is an organization with people interacting with one another to accomplish something, but the larger ecosystem has changed. The generative order is totally different and encompassing different subsystems. Therefore, my research question has evolved. The new question is similar to the previous one, but the cognitions have changed. It some respects they are still economic and human, but the arena of observation has changed. It is now an Marxian gladiatorial arena that is critical to the processes associated with the creation of value. This reality changes the rules and the question. The results are no longer viewed from a position of pleasant acceptance, but one which emerges from a different antagonistic theoretical framework.

I am still a Scholar-Practitioner, I am still researching processes associated with business, but the question has now changed. My research question is now more global, but it still involves the reconciliation of a tension that is economic and social. It involves a more humane way of doing business, one centered not just in the corporate focus of big business, but one that encompasses both large and small businesses. How do we do this thing we call business in a way that is both economically successful, but less discordant, one that creates an elephantine aperture between those who have the ability to gather much at the exclusion of others?

As I stated earlier my new laboratory has different rules. To be seen as accomplished in my previous laboratory you needed to produce timely results, in this new laboratory to been seen as masterly one must be a prolific writer publishing articles in certain journals. I have been in this new realm since 2006 spending most of my time researching and teaching, revising programs and creating new ones. This takes a lot of time, but I thoroughly enjoy it. I do wonder though, how much of this is scholarship and how much of it is practice?

Additionally, I wonder what is the relationship between my previous laboratory and my new one? How do the accomplishments of the previous research relate to my new laboratory? Is scholarship only publication, or is it research and application, reviewing the results and making change? In my previous arena, results were all that mattered. In my new laboratory is scholarship less about creating results and more about publication? I am not too sure at this point in time, but it is something I am pondering.

I would argue the work in my previous laboratory is relevant in my new one. The practice relates to the scholarship associated with the new laboratory. But, it is time for me to express myself more academically reflecting a more proficient level of gravitas, without losing who I am as an individual. I will never be a stuffy serious person, but I will always be a Scholar-Practitioner. No one will every take that away from me.

And that is my thought for the day!

What Can we Do?

I am sitting at the service center waiting for my car to be serviced. I am pondering the events of the week while preparing for the start of the Spring semester. As a college professor I have two goals. I want to provide my students with an education that will prepare them for the challenges they will face after graduation, and I want to encourage them to change the world. For those of you who don’t know, I teach managerial and entrepreneurial classes. I have being teaching these classes for 18 years, and have been a practitioner for 47 years. I believe in the power of the free market, and I believe that business can create positive social change. With that as a foundation, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about a specific event that occurred this week.

Yesterday, the institution where I teach had an all day meeting discussing what we call CT4. CT stands for Core Themes, and the 4th theme states that “we are Investing in the formation and success of students from diverse backgrounds.” As I watched the events unfold yesterday and thought about how the business department can implement core theme 4, my conviction about teaching business in a liberal arts environment was reinforced. There is no better place to teach the principles of business than an environment that believes it has a responsibility to help students from diverse backgrounds to flourish. However, my musings have led me to think about the practicum; how do we do this?

The striking event of the day, at least to me, was the student panel that discussed their experiences at our institution as individuals of color. It was informative and convinced me that my role as an educator is to prepare my students with skills needed to navigate the systems they will encounter, and give them additional skills needed to change the system. Let me explain this from a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) perspective.

It his book “Fragile Dominion” Simon Levin discusses systems from a biological, environmental, and organizational perspective. Levin states, “Undergirding the dynamic earth – its atmosphere, its physical and chemical fabric, and its biological essence – is a prototypical complex adaptive system (CAS), one that we call the biosphere. It has, over ecological and evolutionary time, spawned increasing biological diversity, but simultaneously it has evolved patterns of arrangement and interaction of its pieces” (1999, p. 2). Later in this book Levin would demonstrate how organizations are also Complex Adaptive Systems that function in a similar fashion. Others, such as Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Peter Senge, have also demonstrated the similarities of biological and organizational systems and subsequent complexity.

The application of CAS to organizations has led to a huge consulting industry dealing with change management. Daniel Syvantec in his wonderful article discussing chaos theory and the failure of cultural change efforts, further illustrated how organizational culture is so difficult to change. It seems there is a homeostatic tendency within systems that attempts to maintain an entropic state of inert uniformity. Thus culture within organizations are resistant to change.

If systems are resistant to change, and we as an institution are attempting to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to be successful, it seems to me we need to help them understand the systems they will encounter from a scientific perspective, not from an emotional, everything is horrible perspective, and then educate them on ways to methodically change these systems from within.

I want to apply this to our nation’s current business system. It is made up of various types of businesses. There are corporations, midsize businesses, small businesses, educational businesses (sorry, but there is a business side to education), not-for-profit businesses, Churches, and many other models that could fall into one of those categories. Our business system occurs at local, state, national, and global levels, and has many different facets. These businesses provide things that fall under the headings of product or services.

Financial advisers provide a service, manufacturers provide products, and college Faculty provide a service to their students preparing them for some future role within society. One that will pay them some sort of a salary. Regardless of how some feel about this, it is the system. Remember, I am focusing just on the business system. There is typically a look and feel, artifacts, that are associated with said system.

The system is observed via its artifacts and values. This means the business system has its own vernacular, dress, and practices. If one is to thrive in that environment, and be listened too by those that control that system, they will need to adapt. Thus, how do I, and our business faculty, prepare our students to not just flourish in this system, but change this system?

As a result, I think, as business faculty, we need to focus on researching the characteristics of the system and educate our students on how to navigate the system successfully. I remember when I first starting working for Boeing, I would go to work in torn jeans. Eventually though I transformed my dress and perspective as I saw the company as an opportunity to have a meaningful career. The reason I needed to change my dress was the need to fit the culture.

However, through my actions I attempted to change the culture. As a manager I had a set of beliefs that I thought was important. Beliefs that went counter to the established managerial culture of Boeing. I was just one person who behaved a certain way to change the culture. I chose a path and had a successful career that made a difference.

However, we must remember that we are dealing with a system that rewards dominate participants while neglecting those who are different than the dominant practitioners within the system. Therefore, how do we prepare our students to influence and change the system? Short of revolution, we need to prepare students to change the system from within. Let me demonstrate how this could be accomplished by using a particular change model born out of systems theory.

John Kotter has created a change model that seems to work well in this modern age of complexity. Kurt Lewin’s change model (unfreeze, change, refreeze), developed in the 1930’s, is too simplistic for our complex modern age. Therefore, I think Kotter’s model is more practical.

Kotter’s model starts with the recognition that something needs to change. For anything to successfully change, there must be some sense of urgency. If a culture does not believe it needs to change, it will not. Therefore, there needs to be a sincere dialog which establishes the need of the system to change.

Second, for any large scale change to occur there needs to be a guiding coalition. An example of this has been initiated by Portland business leaders. A group of leaders in Portland determined that business leaders in Portland are too male and too white. To institute change these leaders, the guiding coalition, have agreed to create internships for men and women of color to prepare them to lead businesses in Portland. This leads to the third step.

The third step seems out of place to me. It involves creating a strategic vision and initiatives for implementation. I think this should occur simultaneously with step two. To use our example above, the strategic vision would involve creating a diverse group of business leaders within the city of Portland that accurately reflects the demographics of the city. An example of an initiative would be the internship program for men and women of color.
The fourth step involves the spreading of the idea to greater numbers. Kotter describes this as creating a volunteer army. Using our example above, we would create a compelling argument for the power of a diverse leadership and convince leaders outside of the coalition of the need for more diversity in business leadership. The value of new and diverse ideas is quite strong, and has been proven effective time and time again.

I do think that part of building the volunteer army involves the next step, removing barriers. The coalition needs to build a case for the change event, and remove any roadblocks to the implementation of the initiatives associated with the change. Thus, as a business department our job then is to prepare our students to thrive in the business environment, become a part of the volunteer army, and change the business culture.

This will require short-term wins, step six, resulting in an acceleration of the change, step seven, and ending with anchoring the change to ensure longevity, step eight. In other words, there needs to be an anchoring of the change within the culture of the organization, or in our example above within the Portland Business community. The change needs to stay changed. Remember there is an innate characteristic within a system to return to its state of comfort. If the change is not anchored in a new system, the new characteristics will not last.

I think our plan as a business department should be preparing students to thrive in the current system. In other words, understand the rules, dress, and vernacular of the system. But it should also involve showing our students how to recognize the inconsistencies and injustices of the system, and understand how to create a strategy to address, attack, and change the unjust elements of the system. Then we would have an army that could make a huge difference in our society.

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons From The Conservative Heart

The other day I had an interesting conversation with my peers. They all assumed I was a Republican and were shocked when I stated I was a Pragmatic Libertarian (I guess that means I can pick and choose from various ideologies as I see fit. I do like that, and will use it to my advantage). However, I do tend to land on the conservative side of the continuum. One of my favorite conservative writers is Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute. He seems quite pragmatic as he argues for a better understanding of conservatism.

In his book “The Conservative Heart,” he states that conservatives are misrepresented in our society as “bigots and rubes.” I think with the way Trump is acting during this election I can see where people draw that conclusion. Other prevalent stereotypes include a lack of care for the poor, lack of compassion, as demonstrated by the assumption that if one gets sick, or can’t afford college, you are on your own. Brooks quotes President Obama as saying “if you are a conservative American, you are a selfish person.”

I am not going to argue whether the above assumptions are correct or not, because I think there are always examples that can demonstrate those assumptions or their antithesis. However, for the sake of argument I’d like to mention research by the University of California Los Angeles which demonstrates, “that conservative heartlessness is basically an inaccurate stereotype: In practice, conservatives are just as generous as liberals when it came to helping those down on their luck through no fault of their own.” Brooks argues in his book that too many people are buying into the myth of conservative selfishness, resulting in a huge ideological gap in our culture.

As a result Brooks has created an argument for the conservative to revise the stereotype currently held by society. He states there are seven characteristics that will help redeem the conservative persona, while demonstrating the conservative has a heart. I found his argument very interesting, but it seems to me it is a logical process for anyone to be a good citizen in a society with a foundation of healthy dialog.

The first involves being a moralist. Conservatives have come across “as wonky, unfeeling materialists whose primary focus is money.” Progressives are seen as helping people while focusing on the redistribution of wealth, while the conservative focuses on helping people through entrepreneurship, or encouraging others to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. The progressive argues for a higher minimum wage, while the conservative argues that businesses will only hire more employees if the marginal cost is less than the benefit. Thus higher wages will lead to fewer employees. The progressive comes across as the caring individual, the conservative “a mildly sociopathic economist.” Brooks makes an excellent statement, “Instead of championing low-wage Americans, conservatives sound like tax accountants to billionaires.”

The next characteristic involves “fighting for people, not against things.” I love this one. Too often conservatives are portrayed for what they are against, not as standing for something. I would like to apply a premise from Simon Sinek to this topic by reminding the reader how Sinek argues for starting with why. The conservative of today has taken a hard turn to the right. This is unfortunate. In 1980 Ronald Reagan stated at the Republican National Convention “Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families….Ours are not problems of abstract economic theory. They are problems of flesh and blood.”

The third characteristic is get happy. Why is Donald Trump so popular? He seems to have found a vein of very unhappy people. Some say old white men, but I am not too sure about that. I am an old white man, but I am not, nor will I ever be, a Trump supporter. I don’t trust the man. However, I do agree that conservatives often come across as very angry people. “Don’t worry be happy.”

The next characteristic seems to be an interesting one, “steal all the best arguments.” Brooks argues there are buzz words that are progressive and conservative. If someone says the phrase social justice, it automatically means you are progressive. It is time to throw out the code words and start new. “First, it is a simple truism that patriots and leaders fight for everyone who needs them…Second, doing the right thing has a political payoff.” Remember, I am the pragmatic Libertarian, which means I don’t give a rip about your politics, I want to have not only the right amount of programs, but one’s that work.

The fifth characteristic demonstrates the ideological gap in this country. We just can’t talk to each other anymore. Obama is this, Bush is that; we demonize the opposition in some sort of perceived moral diatribe against the other. Go where you are not welcome is a great purpose. Force people to talk and reason. Isaiah 1:18 states, “come let us reason together, saith the Lord: though you sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The sixth characteristic is “say it in thirty seconds.” In this section Brooks gives several arguments for this point. He gives an example of how the brain works, then how the best orators of history have gotten their points across. His point is, you have thirty seconds to connect with your listener. The brain will make assumptions about whether to listen and believe you during that thirty seconds, so make sure you get your opening seconds right. “Neither Lincoln nor King was a neuroscientist. Yet they both understood the first priority in making a good impression on others. Don’t blow the opening lines.”

The seventh characteristic is “break your bad habits.” Adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of communicating, and for heaven’s sake quit using the buzz words of your ideology. “When you are about to argue that the main benefit of free enterprise is that it creates economic growth, you just pulled out a rhetorical cigarette.” Time to start thinking and talking about people.

Brookes argument is interesting, and whether it makes a difference or not, I don’t know. Recently I have been thinking about our changing country. Although 70.6% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, this number has dropped significantly. According to a CNN report there are 100 million non-Christians who live in the United States. Think about secular culture versus Christian culture, and think about media presentation. What are the values that are being presented? Who is the majority?

This is where I think Brooks’ argument really begins to shine. It really is about how the other impacts the dominant culture. The seven characteristics can be applied to free marketers, conservatives, and anyone of a religious persuasion. It is about reason and example, not about argument and hatred. It is not a zero-sum argument, but one the recognizes the other.

And that is my thought for the day!

Building Walls Or Building Cathedrals? The Choice Is Yours!

Perspective is everything! I have heard this axiom expressed over and over in my life, and I believe it is accurate. Recently it was reinforced through a personal experience. As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently had an experience that challenged my self-image, causing me to rethink my skills and abilities.

Jennifer Campbell, someone who I have not thought about much since my dissertation, has researched the role of self-esteem and performance. Through her research she has identified various characteristics associated with Low-self-esteem (LSE) and high-self-esteem (HSE). Typically in my Organizational Behavior class I will discuss this in terms of locus of control. Those with an internal locus of control are captains of their own destiny, while those who have an external locus of control are controlled by others. I used to tell my son, when he would get so made at his sisters, that he was letting them control him.

Campbell stated this, “Overall, high-self-esteem (HSE) individuals have a greater tendency to persist in the face of failure and obstacles.” She, and her associates, found “after a single failure, HSE participants persisted longer toward a goal than those with LSE. But HSE individuals spent less time seeking a solution after repeated failure.” LSE individuals tend to ruminate more and seem to suffer from analysis paralysis when faced with failure. Is this a learned perspective or is it innate? Nurture or nature?

How does one choose the perspective to build walls of build cathedrals? Simon Sinek in his wonderful book “Start With Why,” describes the importance of perspective with the story of two stonemasons. Someone walks up to the first stonemason and asked if he likes his job. Stonemason one replies, “I’ve been building a wall for as long as I can remember. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my life time. But it’s a job. It pays the bills.”

I have worked with people like this all of my career. Even at a company like Boeing where employees are paid an excellent wage, employees would consistently complain about their work. I was one of those until ten years into my career. Then my perspective changed.

This leads us to the second stonemason. The same question is asked, and he responds “I love my job. I’m building a cathedral. Sure, I’ve been working on this wall for as long as I can remember, and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching hot sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I’m not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I’m building a cathedral.” See perspective is everything. After ten years at Boeing this is what I began to say, I am trying to make a difference in my company. The last 20 years then were spent doing just that, and I had a lot more fun.

So the recent event that challenged my self-image? Do I look at it as a monotonous event that is a waste of time, or do I see it as a part of building the cathedral? I think I have answered my question while reflecting this morning. Obviously I am going to choose to see the event as a cathedral building moment because that is who I am. I will take this event and grow from it.

I have the choice on how I respond to given situations in my life. I can choose the tear down, or I can choose to build up. I can choose to stagnate, or I can choose to learn.

Maybe the glass half full metaphor is true. I choose to see a glass as being half full instead of half empty. I choose to see opportunity and not disaster. I choose to have an internal locus of control, thus controlling my own destiny. I will take the steps necessary to get to the next level, whatever that level may be.

And that is my thought for the day!