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!

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The Academy And Business Education

Just when you think you have it all together, wham, somebody puts a little crimp in your get-a-long. A recent situation had me question my abilities, and myself, so much that I lost a little sleep last night. But now it is a new day and new challenges. However, this event did provide fodder for thinking about the relationship of the Academy and the teaching of Business.

William Sullivan in his excellent book, Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education, identifies the starting point for Business education in U.S. universities as 1881. Joseph Wharton, founder of the Philadelphia Quaker Steel and Nickel Company, provided a large gift to the University of Pennsylvania “to establish a new kind of school for undergraduates alongside existing departments and disciplines” (Sullivan, 2011, p. 34). His goal was “to replace the ad hoc nature of on-the-job business training with systematic cultivation of a perspective that would combine courses in the knowledge and arts of modern finance and economy with the broadening effects of the liberal arts.”

I had read this book in 2011, and am now revisiting it to ensure I am providing the best possible education for my students. Over the last few years I have been studying entrepreneurship resulting in classroom settings that were less theoretical and more practical. In other words, what do students need from a practical standpoint? However, I think I may have moved a bit too far in that direction.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am minimizing the social trusteeship associated with business education. I was trying to give the students what they would need to be successful in the real world, while maybe, minimally of course, forgetting about the original idea behind business education. “The idea was to replace the original robber barons’ swashbuckling, sometimes bloody competitive drive toward monopoly with a more civilized form of enterprise, still innovative but responsive to the needs of the company’s workers and the larger society” (Sullivan, 2011, p. 36).

Over the years, though, a tension between the Academy and Business education providers emerged. Abraham Flexner, a graduate of John Hopkins, in 1930 urged a reform in medical education that “grounded practice in scientific research,” but “sharply attacked the inclusion of business in the university. Flexner’s argument was based in an assumption that business is done for its own “advantage,” and not for a noble purpose like law, medicine, and teaching.

Flexner argued “that because business fields neither generated nor taught independent knowledge of their own, undergraduate schools of commerce or business such as those at universities like Chicago or Columbia were poor substitutes for a sound general college education and in the long run would seem likely to be of little importance even from a vocational point of view” (Flexner, 1930, p. 162).

I have wrestled with this same philosophy in my short stay in academia, and have concluded, and will argue until the day I retire, that the teaching of business within the academy is the only place it should be taught. I want to ask you a question, what is business? Merriam-Webster defines business as “the activity of making, buying, and selling goods or services. Hmm, I would say that every organization on this planet does something like that. Even a non-profit organization has to sell its services to a donor or grantor. Businesses are not just run for its own advantages, it must meet the needs of a customer. If it doesn’t then it won’t be around very long.

The relationship between the Academy and Business has unnecessarily been adversarial. In fact, business should be taught within the Academy. However, the academy must recognize that Business must be both theoretical and practical. Obviously accounting, finance, and management have very practical applications, but there is also a theoretical side, which is what Business educators need to remember.

Instead of fighting one another, lets leverage the relationship between the Academy and Business educators to create opportunities for students to have the tools they need to succeed in running the organizations at which they are employed. This means giving “our students” skills in writing, thinking, communicating, as well as decision-making and numbers. Teaching business within the Academy is critical for well run organizations of all types.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Zuckerberg Model Of Charity

It is 2:11 AM and rather than toss and turn while not being able to sleep, I decided to get up and do a little writing. A few problems running through my mind, and trying to think of ways to deal with a particular situation has me wide awake. Last night was a great night of sleep, tonight not so much.

I am convinced that Business has an incredible power to create positive social change, and as I read what so many people who have made a lot of money are doing with that money, my premise seems to be supported. A term that I discovered a while back was Philanthrocapitalism. This is a term given to what the ultra-rich are doing with their money. Michael Green writes in his book on the subject about Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and others who have chosen to give away their wealth by the time they die. The fortunes they are giving away “dwarf those of the leading philanthropists of golden ages past, even those of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller a century ago.”

Gates and Buffet are working together because they feel that much of charity in the past has been ineffective, and that they can do it differently and more effectively. Even the Skoll Foundation and Richard Branson are attempting to create social entrepreneurships that will help deal with the many social problems of life for the same reason.

Now we have another model. One that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have developed and which the Wall Street Journal have tagged as “ending philanthropy as we know it.” Leslie L Enkowsky states, “Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are pledging $45 Billion over their lifetime to an initiative to help solve the world’s problems has been widely hailed as an extraordinary act of philanthropy.” However, as she continued to describe what Chan and Zuckerberg are doing, one can only stand in awe at what this could do for dealing with problems that seem unsolvable.

First, the money they are giving is not a gift to a charity, but an investment in a Limited Liability Corporation. I can’t help but think that this is in response to the limited success they have had in the past with other giving events. Previously they have donated $100 million to the public schools of Newark, N.J, “but was criticized for not involving the local community.” I would question just how effective that gift was, and maybe Zuckerberg and his wife are questioning the effectiveness of the gift also. Another project was FWD.us, “a group promoting an overhaul of immigration laws that has stalled in congress for years.” So, two well-meaning events that didn’t gain the leverage over social problems that they had hoped.

As a result, they started a limited liability corporation to really make a difference. The purposes of this organization are described as “clearly philanthropic.” It will attempt to advance human potential, promote equality, instead of being profit focused, which is what we usually think of with a LLC. It appears that this organization will provide grants for nonprofits, but will “own stakes in for-profit businesses in fields like education and health care, which its owners believe will help achieve their philanthropic goals.”

In one of my finance classes students are required to read an article “Charities need a bottom line too.” The premise of this article is to encourage non-profits to develop a more efficient mentality. It appears this is what Zuckerberg and Chan want to do, “they want to harness the profit motive on behalf of their philanthropic goals.” Anyone that the initiative invests in will need to show “both a financial return in order to be sustainable and a social one – for example, increased numbers of lives saved or children finishing school – in order to obtain additional funding.”

Lenkowsky argues that there are several benefits to this initiative. If Zuckerberg had created a more conventional foundation, American tax law would have forced him to sell his $45 Billion worth of Facebook shares, with this new model he will control the number of shares he needs to sell or not sell. Also, because it is a limited liability corporation other people can contribute, which gives him more flexibility. And last but not least, because it is an LLC it can create profit, which can then be put back into the company to reinvest in the community.

This is something I have been thinking about regarding our Social Entrepreneurship program. When we give away money to the students to start their businesses, how do we replenish the fund? We need to invest in or student’s future, but they need to invest in ours.

I know how difficult it can be to try to measure social impact. For several years I have been working with students as a part of ENACTUS and it has been difficult to quantify social impact, so it will be interesting to see how the initiative does this. “Assessing social returns,” can be a tricky affair. Also, with control being the main reason for creating this new model, another question will be around if the LLC will allow the flexibility needed to deal with these huge social issues? I really don’t know what will happen, but like Lenkowsky says, if it doesn’t work then the LLC will go away, not continue to do ineffective work like so many charities do today.

I am a huge proponent of Social Entrepreneurship. As Bill Drayton once said, “A social entrepreneur is not concerned about giving someone a fish, or even teaching someone to fish, they are concerned with revolutionizing the fishing industry.” This just may be what Zuckerberg is trying to do. Rather than being a charity that gives something to someone, or even teaching someone to have new skills, he and is wife are attempting to revolutionize how we deal with social problems. I hope it works, because we all know what the definition of insanity is, “continuing to do the same things while expecting different results.

And that is my thought for this very early morning!