Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers

Occupying the Collective Space

Different ways of occupying…

As we will consider in this month’s blog, there are different ways of occupying that middle ground between the personal space each of us feel responsible for, and societal best interests. The collective space called “we” can be used to uplift individuals to act together for a better common future, or it can be hijacked by individuals or special interest groups to occupy or “blockupy” the collective space pressing their issues – for better, or worse, as we shall see below, and not necessarily in the interest of the greater common good.

Recap of February Blog by Kathy Miller

Kathy Miller shared a touching personal account of how she developed her sense for the collective beyond a small town upbringing in what is called the U.S. Bible Belt, including the American hero, the very individualistic “cowboy” riding alone into the sunset. Her foreign exchange experience during high school broadened her experience and her sense of the collective far beyond her own small town community. I know Kathy as a most inclusive, sensitive and responsible member of the few communities we share. So it is all a personal journey, all in our own hands?

Florida bans terms related to ‘climate change’


A Washington Post article earlier this month caught my attention. How is it possible that a U.S. state heavily impacted by climate change ends up deciding that the best way to deal with the issue is not only to ignore it, but worse to ban any words related to the  issue? Words such as ‘climate change’, ‘sea level change’, temperature rise’ and ‘global warming’. This  “unwritten policy” was distributed “verbally statewide”. Reporter Tristram Korten is quoted in the  Washington Post saying: “the irony is clearly apparent: Florida is a peninsula with 1,200 miles of  coastline, and when it comes to climate change, we’re the canary in the coalmine. And we’re relying  on the state government to protect us and to plan for these changes.” Governor Rick Scott has such an  aversion to the discussion of man-made climate change, that he banned it! Wow!

Easier looking elsewhere?

Kathy, I don’t think we have agreed that we can pick on pitiful occurrences on each other’s continent and use these as examples for this blog. So, maybe I am breaking an unwritten rule here, too? My offer: please feel free to pick on any of the many European ridiculous occurrences and let’s turn up the heat! It is often easier to recognize patterns from a distance and the Florida incident proves this point (at least to me). Governor Scott utterly destroys the argument of my January blog which stated that we need to invest into the middle ground between individual interests and the common good, the “we” ground in between “I” and “all of us”. Now, there are obviously several ways of doing this – Governor Scott has just demonstrated how to occupy the “we” space (his own Department of Environmental Protection DEP) in ways that prevent rather than advance the resolution of burning societal problems. Hmm!

Blockupy Frankfurt ends violently

Closer to home, Frankfurt Germany also faced a disturbing kind of occupation of the collective space.  Just last week, 25,000 people reportedly demonstrated against the inauguration of the new building of    the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt. The ECB seems to have become the symbol capitalism  and has become Europe’s bad guy. The Blockupy website announced ahead of the event:  “social  movements, activists, migrants, precarious and industry workers, trade-unions and parties  will  come to Frankfurt to say no to austerity and contest the authority of ECB and the other EU  institutions”. The protests turned violent with demonstrators attacking policemen, burning police  cars  and worse. This phenomenon points in the direction of the social unrest hinted at by Naomi  Klein (see  my January blog) which outlined the reasons why climate change and capitalism are  considered to  directly oppose each other.

And even closer to home – Swiss policy…

So what does one do when things get out of hand? At the end of January, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) felt forced to discontinue the close tie with the Euro in anticipation of an announcement that for the next 18 months the ECB would be printing 2 billion euros a day to reanimate the European economy. Such was the amount of new money that the Swiss felt they had to step back, as this would be impossible to follow for the Swiss Franc. The consequences are severe and debates in Switzerland are strong: a 20% currency hike puts the Swiss Franc way above what Swiss industries (not on the cheap side to start with) can deal with when competing in export industries (predominantly in the European Union). Yet, in many ways, the SNB did the right thing: they correctly assessed the limits of the Swiss Franc currency and took sane steps to ensure its integrity. This resulted in a highly questionable and very unpopular decision which is highly disputed in business circles – for very understandable reasons. Yet, I respect a courageous right action, even if it means that all of us (my very school included) are now facing challenging questions that stretch our thinking and creativity – hopefully for the good and including innovative solutions that ensure our future competitive position with the added-value services we provide.

So what is your choice and stance in the collective “we” space?

Will you use your position, your role and your personal engagement to step into the space, or will you stand by and watch? If you stepped in, would you fight for or against something? How would you use the organizational “we” power that you belong to, in your function or role irrespective of where you are, or would you rather not? How will you interpret your role model opportunity in this highly complex world

PHOTO 1 CREDIT: Image of Rick Scott is used courtesy of Gage Skidmore and is used under the terms of license CC BY-SA 2.0. Full license details can be found here.

PHOTO 2 CREDIT: Image of Blockupy Frankfurt is used courtesy of Khairul Abdullah and is used under the terms of license CC BY 2.0. Full license details can be found here.

Author: Katrin Muff PhD

Dr. Katrin Muff is Director of the Institute for Business Sustainability in Lucerne, Switzerland and Professor of Practice at the LUISS Business School in Rome, Italy. She consults leaders and boards in business sustainability and strategic transformation, and runs an executive program together with Thomas Dyllick. Her book “Five Superpowers for Co-creators” provides insights about issue-centered multi-stakeholder processes. She brings 20 years of international strategic and general management experience in Europe, Australia, North America and Russia and a decade of leadership in business education. www.KatrinMuff.com

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