Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers

Stop making sense!

A special message to the 100 change makers of the Diploma of Sustainable Business of Business School Lausanne and the University of St Gallen IWÖ at the occasion of the first Alumni event in Zurich on April 28-29, 2018. #DASTeamRocks

By Katrin Muff, Co-Director of the Program


The early adapters are onboard and solid best practice examples are emerging. We have accomplished much in the past decade on bringing business and its leaders onboard to embrace the challenge to create a sustainable and just world, and to make it their business.

The Rio+20 Conference in July 2012 can be seen as a tipping point for the early adapters in business. More than 5’000 top executives gathered to envision how to scale their efforts towards sustainable development. Failing governments in the previous decade had led to shift the hope to business. With its innovation power and easy access to funding, business became the prime driver for a world “where 9 billion people live well on one planet”, as expressed by one of the business conveners, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, founded 20 years earlier around the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

What might be the tipping point so that the large crowd of followers will jump on the bandwagon? That is the one billion dollar question we have to address today. And for this, we – the convinced – need to change our attitude and our tone. Our voices were important to wake up, or shake up, the business community. And those who could hear us, did. But now, our voices need to reach those who weren’t buying into our arguments and who still remain skeptical or maybe also preoccupied by other significant other mega trends that shape the world.

The climate debate in the United States has clearly illustrated to what degree it is pointless to try and change somebody’s mind by providing seemingly convincing facts. The strong bi-partisan polarity experienced in the United States as a result of the election of the current President further confirms to what degree the only result of a well-considered argument is a counter-argument. We are challenged to let go of the polarity perspective of “I am right” and “you are wrong”. If anything, such attitudes – which both sides hold – simply amplify the gap to be bridged.

In some ways, we – the converted and convinced – need to acknowledge that we unintentionally do onto those we are trying to convert what we blame them to do to us. To ignore and reject a given point of view as invalid or worse ridiculous. Ever attempt we make to say “listen to this and you will finally understand” is an opportunity lost to create a true dialogue by first establishing a common ground. A common ground that includes both points of view, and doesn’t presume one is righter than the other. Only once we have established this common ground can we then engage in a dialogue where together both parties take the immense risk of exploring new grounds together. The risk is huge as it involves that we may end up in a place that is not the same from where we started, requiring us to enlarge our existing understanding and integrate further perspectives. Hence, broadening our worldview.

Integral theory call this neutral, higher or detached, space an “integrated state”. Such a state implies the ability to hold both one’s own and somebody else’s perspective with equal appreciation and respect. And this is no small challenge and not for the weak hearted. Try it at home or try it at work and you will see, how quickly you will step down from that “integrated state” back into the polarity of arguing that the way you see the world is right.

I challenge you, dear fellow converted change maker, to practice this new muscle in your mind and in your heart: adopt this higher neutral state more and more often, and every time a bit longer and with a bit more ease. It is the single best thing you can do if you want to create a positive impact in this world and contribute towards a better world. I know that you can do it, you have that capacity already built in, you simply need to remember it and train it again. I think that the deteriorating state of the world has thrown us into a polarity state where we could do no better than “knowing better” and preaching, pointing fingers, raising hands, highlighting, raising awareness and alerting others. They heard us, those we could reach we have reached. Now, we need to develop new pathways together with those preoccupied with other priorities on their radar to collaborate towards solutions that make greater sense to more people and institutions and that embrace more perspectives. By including opposing thoughts and ideas, better ideas and solutions will emerge. Collaborative processes have long demonstrated that – now let’s go the extra mind and embrace a new mindset, that of the integrator.



Picture credit: https://innovationleadershipforum.org/our-wisdom/mindset-shift/

1 Comment

A new vision for Management Education For The World – Business School 4.0

Get an understanding of the key elements of a radically new vision for business schools and management educations by the driving forces and stakeholders involved in project 50+20 (www.50plus20.org).

A hypothesis: what if profits reflected a company’s debt to society!?

A well-managed business can no longer be a place that maximizes its profits but that delivers goods and services that not only make its customers and clients happy, but that contribute to better societies and a better world. Some products and services fulfill this requirement better than others. Some contribute to the planet, some help destroying it. And sometimes, there is a conflict between a product that helps a society to function better and its potential impact on the environment (carbon-fueled cars would be an example). Finding solutions that enhance both the well-being of citizens around the world and respect the limits of the planet’s resources is one of the most important challenges we as a human race face in the coming decades.

“Imagine a world where business is celebrated for its contribution to society” 

Nick Main

One specific example of how we could rethink the purpose of business is by considering this assumption differently. We could consider that revenues may well be a better indicator of this added value than profits. In such a scenario, we may conclude that profits could be considered a reflection of what a business has withheld from society. It reflects the difference of what an organization has paid its various stakeholders (its employees, suppliers, partners, raw material sources, and the planet) and what it has received for its products and services. One could say that profits are what business took from the planet and society in order to provide its goods and services. Profits may actually reflect the annual debt a business has towards society and the world. It shows to what degree a business exploited its contributing stakeholders in delivering a promise to a client. Currently, we believe that a business that makes no money is a business that is very inefficient. Alternatively, we could consider it a place where all of contributing stakeholders are recognized and compensated for their fair share in delivering a promise to a client. This as an illustration of a different perspective without claiming that all consequences such a perspective might entail have been studied.

1 Comment

The Need to redefine the purpose of Business

Business must embrace a higher purpose than maximizing shareholder value. We must recognize that business needs to engage in a contract with society and the planet, respecting all stakeholders. The business contribution to society is measured by the value it provides to society and what price society is willing (or able) to pay for it.

The purpose of business lies ultimately in the satisfaction of having provided value to somebody and having been recognized for this service. Any employee and any manager, any leader, intimately knows that what really makes your day is the sense of having been of use, of having contributed to something meaningful, a sense of having accomplished something. There is nothing worse than meaningless work, empty of meaning and of importance to nobody.

The need of sense-making for individuals also applies to corporations. As much as an individual’s well-being cannot be enriched with monetary gains, neither can a corporation. The growth frenzy of the past half a century has demonstrated that no matter how high the earnings, it is never enough. There is always an appetite for more. We need to disconnect executive compensation from share performance and relate it to a holistic value generation of a business, i.e. a balanced economic, social and environmental value. We need to create measures that highlight and sanction business that focus on economic value generation at the expense of the society and the environment. Concerned stakeholders need to be able to evaluate a company’s performance holistically, not just financially.

In future, organizations no longer represent a place of work for a disconnected workforce who left their hearts and soul at home and work solely for their own personal benefit and enrichment. As employees transform into co-owners and current business practices are being overhauled, the reflective capacity of organizations enables new strategic options and orientation.

1 Comment

The need for a different state of mind – moving beyond capitalism

A succession of global economic crises provoked by a dysfunctional financial sector, national as well as regional co-dependencies of debt and currencies fluctuations have demonstrated that we cannot count on the invisible hand to steer markets. They no longer behave as they should. A call for a new form of capitalism replacing the neo-classic approach has highlighted alternatives such as conscious capitalism.

The underlying question is one of trust. We don’t trust the systems we have built, we know that we cannot create what is best for the world within the existing structures, and we are afraid of stepping outside of the existing boundaries of what is known and established. We don’t trust in our own ability to create. Futurist[1] and systemic thinkers have demonstrated to what degree we are unable to develop solutions while at the same time recognizing all unintended consequences of such solutions. While it is questionable if the current financial system was created without an understanding of the extent of its implications[2], it is safe to assume that in an increasingly complex world, we will be less and less able to foresee the consequences of the actions we will take. We have entered into a mode of experimentation, yet we have not admitted this and continue pretending what we do is responsible action.

What we need is to assume a different state of mind. The French expression “état d’esprit” reflects this better, a state of Spirit rather than a state of (mental) mind. A state in which we are connected with the world, where we are in resonance with the world, so that we can create from within that source of unlimited potential, what is right for the large good. Everything we were taught and told has resulted in a fundamental disconnection from this Source, resulting in a situation where we – the most evolved race on the planet – feel like victims caught in overwhelmingly powerful and complex system within which we at best survive. It is us who have created these systems and it is us who will need to adapt or replace these systems to create something that is adequate for all living members of our planet. There are some major obstacles on this path, power, survival instincts and fear not the least of them, yet unless we – as a human race – overcome these, we will continue co-creating a world that serves only a very small minority, while destroying our habitat and creating suffering for a large majority of our fellow global citizens.

Conscious capitalism is one of many expression of such an elevated state of Spirit. It redefines the role of business beyond serving solely the shareholders as defined in the agency theory and Friedman’s claim that “the business of business is business”. It expands business’ role to serve society and the planet by embracing a more holistic and balanced responsibility towards all stakeholders. Supporting this claim, some demand that organizations become “a human community of belonging”[3].

The Inside Job Movie

[1]        Joel Baker: “The implication wheel”

[2]        Charles H. Ferguson: “The inside job”, documentary film, 2010

[3]        Dr. Roger Steare, Case Business School, London

1 Comment

Social and environmental changes are demanding new solutions in the coming decade

The world is at a turning point. Social and environmental changes are demanding new solutions in the coming decades. In 2007, humanity’s footprint exceeded the earth’s bio capacity by 50%. By 2025, we will need the equivalent of 2 planets to sustain the consumption pattern of global citizens. Business is considered to be part of the problem, yet business leaders often don’t know how to embrace a sustainable and responsible approach to getting things done.
Business schools play a critical role in assuring that the world has leaders in business and beyond who are capable of understanding, embracing and addressing the challenges the world faces today and in the coming decades. New challenges require new competences. New competences arise from assuming new perspectives and envisioning new solutions. New challenges also require new leadership skills. Subject expertise needs to be complemented with the ability to drive change and implement new solutions across organizational boundaries.

BSL takes these challenges very seriously. We consider it our key responsibility to drive innovation in business education towards a sustainable and responsible leadership in business and any other organizations active in the global scene today. As a co-founder of the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB), we work on a radically new vision for what business education should or could look like in the future. The 50+20 Project, a collaborative effort of the WBSCSB, GRLI and PRME involves more than a dozen engaged thought leaders and deans from around the world, seeking to deliver both a vision as well as emerging new practices. BSL and the University of St. Gallen are launching a new executive Diploma in Sustainable Business as of September 2011, one of the concrete emerging actions to achieve this objective (more under programs).
We are open to collaborate with any interested organization, from business education to business to civil society and thought leaders in other relevant domains. Please feel free to contact me if you see how we can do better, how we can work together to make this world a better place.