Blog

Citizenship, Communityship, Ownership & Leadership

19 May 2016

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

We function at three levels in society, not two: the collective level broadly and the individual level narrowly, as well as the community level in between.

At the collective level, we experience citizenship, and are reminded of it every time we vote and pay taxes, not to mention when we receive services and summons from our government.

These days, however, we are far more aware of the individual level—me, myself, and I. Thus, while the collective level gets only one “…ship”—citizenship—the individual level is so dominant that it gets two: ownership and leadership. We generally use the word ownership for what we own individually, as in MY house and MY car. And while leadership can be found in government and communities, the word always singles out the individual. If there is a leader, then other people must be followers.

Between citizenship at the collective level and ownership and leadership at the individual level is another kind of experience that deserves far more attention. Just think of how much of our lives are lived in our groups and communities, quite apart from conventional citizenship, ownership, and leadership. Yet this level doesn’t even get a single …ship. So some years ago I gave it one: communityship.1 Communityship designates how we pull together to function in our personal relationships.

Of course ownership too exists at the collective and community levels. It's just that these take on quite different forms. Public ownership—what is owned by our government—is technically owned by you and me. But do we feel the same sense of proprietorship that we feel for our house or our car? (“I’m flying from MY airport”? These are MY VERY OWN tax collectors”?)

Ownership at the community level is called common property, or “the commons”2,  and where it does exist, we can feel quite attached to it, as do farmers that share water for irrigation.

The bad news is that common property is less common than it used to be. Take a walk on the “Boston Common.” This is where the landless people of that town used to graze their cows. (Some Bostonian should try that today! The sign at the entrance doesn’t even explain the name.) The good news is that the commons is making a comeback. Even, maybe especially, on the Internet. Take a walk on Wikipedia—it’s ours in common, technically owned by no one and therefore socially owned by everyone. It is ours to use, and to change. Walk too around our community gardens, and look at the research findings of our universities. Thankfully, these are all in the commons.

To drive home the idea of these three levels and four …ships, here are a few quotes to go with each, together with corresponding photos.

Citizenship

“The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” (Flaubert, from Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes)

Elector, n. “One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

We are the unwilling,
Led by the unqualified,
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful
(U.S. troops in Vietnam).

Communityship

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

“The mainstream is a current too strong to think in.” (Paul Shepheard, in What is Architecture)

“Scout bees…fly out from the bivouac in all directions in the search for a new permanent nest site. When a suitable site is found…the scouts return and signal the direction and distance of the find…Different scouts may announce different sites simultaneously and a contest ensues. Finally the site being advertised most vigorously by the largest number of workers wins, and the entire swarm flies off to it…”(Edward O. Wilson)

Leadership

Queen bees “never participate in the ordinary duties of the hive such as cleaning cells, tending the young, or gathering food. After performing their nuptial flights, queen honeybees function as little more than egg-laying machines…” (Thomas D. Seeley, Honeybee Ecology) 

“Management is the delusion that you can change people. Leadership is deluding other people instead of deluding yourself.” (Scott Adams, in Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel)

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (George Bernard Shaw)

“Unhappy is the land that has no heroes,”’ sighed Andrea in Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. “No,” contradicted the astronomer, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.”

Ownership

“I had reached the end of my journey. Everything that surrounded me seemed to be my own property. I was the King of Mont Blanc—the statue of this tremendous pedestal.” (Jacques Balmat, on being the first person to reach the summit of Mont Blanc, 1786)

Corporation, n. “An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” (The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, 1906)

“We sold the patent for insulin to the university for one dollar. And come to think of it—I don’t believe I ever saw that one dollar.” (Charles H. Best, medical researcher, quoted by George Gamester in the Toronto Star, 22 July 1975)

To close, I believe that we shall have to reclaim democracy from private individualism at the expense of collective citizenship and cultural communityship. (See MY book Rebalancing Society, which is yours to have too, in the commons on mintzberg.org.)

________________

Text © Henry Mintzberg 2016. Photos © Lisa Mintzberg. If you need some creative photography visit lisamintzberg.comFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also started a new Facebook page to disseminate these TWOGs. 


1 In “Community-ship is the answer", Financial Times, 23 October 2006; see also "Rebuilding Companies as Communities” in the Harvard Business Review, and the TWOG of 12 February 2015.

2 See J. Rowe, 2008. The parallel economy of the commons. jonathanrowe.org/the-parallel-economy-of-the-commons, also E. Ostrom 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press. 

 

Saving the planet from governments and markets

12 May 2016

Think back to the Paris Conference on Climate Change last December and ask yourself which had greater influence on your personal behavior: the clips you saw from that conference on television, or the ads that sponsored those clips?

While governments imagine that pledges and plans will deal with the problem of climate change, markets barrel ahead with business as usual, namely the consumption of goods, and of this planet. We are hooked on a malignant model of more. To paraphrase Hannibal facing the Alps, we shall have to find another way, or else make one.

Think back to the Paris Conference on Climate Change last December and ask yourself which had greater influence on your personal behavior: the clips you saw from that conference on television, or the ads that sponsored those clips?

While governments imagine that pledges and plans will deal with the problem of climate change, markets barrel ahead with business as usual, namely the consumption of goods, and of this planet. We are hooked on a malignant model of more. To paraphrase Hannibal facing the Alps, we shall have to find another way, or else make one.

The politicians pledge, and then their professionals plan, in the hope of driving actions on the ground. But think of all the talk required before any feet can walk on that ground: all the discussions, debates, and deliberations, all the planning, programming, and budgeting that have to work their way through countless public agencies, private businesses, and plural associations. Such a top-down process may be fine for building oil refineries, but is it any way to deal with the environmental consequences of these refineries?  

Politicians Pledging in Paris

Meanwhile economic globalization continues to undermine the sovereignty of nation states around the world. Now trade pacts even give international corporations the right to sue countries that legislate contrary to their private interests. Can the corporations that benefit from the warming of this planet—for example in coal and petroleum—be expected to cease their covert lobbying if not their overt litigating.

The private sector offers another way to deal with the problem of climate change: markets. The very same markets that have been firing on all cylinders with carbon energy are supposed to save the planet from that energy—as if the money to be made in fossil fuels will disappear because there is money to be made in solar panels.1 The problem is not markets per se, but the fact that markets have become so dominant in a world that requires balance across social, political, and economic forces. (See my book on Rebalancing Society and the TWOG on it.) 

Markets barreling ahead

If not governments or markets, then what other way can there be? Look in the mirror: you could be seeing the answer. We buy, we vote, we march. We can refuse, we can reduce, we can replace. As consumers, voters, and doers, we can change our own behaviors while driving our governments and markets to face their responsibilities—if we can act together.  

This will require recognition that there are three consequential sectors in society, not two. The battles that have raged for so long over public versus private—governments versus markets, left versus right, collective needs versus individual rights—have obscured the importance of this other sector, which functions largely at the community level. I believe it should be called the plural sector, instead of inadequate labels such as the third sector or civil society, to help it take its place next to the sectors called public and private.

While many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector, all of us live in the plural sector—in our many groups and communities as well as associations (owned by ourselves as members, as in cooperatives, or else organized as trusts owned by no one, as in Greenpeace). This sector is also home to mass movements and to the many community initiatives we see around us, whether to encourage recycling or to support the poor.

Is it utopian to expect us to rise up in some sort of groundswell within this hitherto obscure sector? This question needs to be put differently: Is it really utopian to mobilize ourselves for the survival of our progeny and our planet?

We have seen significant groundswells before: in 1776 in the American colonies, in 1930 in the Indian salt march, in the Prague Spring of 1989. The best example may be the “Quiet Revolution” of Quebec in the 1960s, because of the remarkable shift it brought about in collective behavior. In that one decade, as the people threw off the yoke of the Catholic Church, the birth rate fell from among the highest in the developed world to one of the lowest.

In none of these movements did public pledges, commercial markets, or established leadership play the major role. People did, together. Tom Paine wrote in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” How prophetic that proved to be. How prophetic that will have to be now.

It is not plans from some elite “top” that will begin the world over again, but actions on the ground. We are the feet that will have to walk all the talk, connected to heads that will have to think for ourselves. We shall have to confront the perpetrators of climate change—and that includes ourselves—not with violent resistance or passive resistance, but with clever resistance. Some years ago, the angry customers of a Texas telephone company paid 1 extra cent on their telephone bills. This tied the company in knots. It got the message.

Beyond resistance will have to come the replacement of destructive practices by more constructive ones, as has been happening with wind and solar energy. There will be more of this when we “human resources” pursue our resourcefulness as human beings. Imagine, for example, an economy based on growth in qualities instead of quantities, of better instead of more—in education, health care, and nutrition.

Facing the issue of imbalance last week in our program RoundTables for Experienced Managers.

That conference in Paris was not a wake-up call so much as an event. Pledges and plans will not not wake us up to the problem of climate change, nor will markets. We wake up when our house is flooded, or our crops fail. But surely we cannot await the pervasion of such calamities to drive our actions. Addressing the specific problem of climate change, and the broader problem of imbalance, will have to begin with ourselves, together—locally and globally.

Progeny on the planet

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. A version of this was published on HuffingtonPost.com earlier this week. Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page to disseminate these TWOGs.


1 The International New York Times reported from the Paris conference on December 11 that “diplomats and policy experts” believe that, for any accord to work, it will have to convince “companies and investors that it would be more profitable to invest in renewable sources of energy” than traditional fossil fuels. On this our survival is supposed to depend!

 

The truth about Truth

5 May 2016

Last week I raised the issue of truth, concerning my comments about orchestra conductors. In early 2015 I did a blog about truth, which is revisited this week, with some editing.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered truth: that the world is round, not flat. Did he? Is it?

Not long after that, in 1535, Jacque Cartier crossed the same ocean and sailed way up a mighty river, until he had to stop at an island just short of the first rapids. There he saw a mountain, which was later named Mont Royal, for the king of France. Now, almost half a millennium later, my office in Montreal faces that mountain. Have a look at the photo below; it offers definitive proof that the world is neither round nor flat.

Last week I raised the issue of truth, concerning my comments about orchestra conductors. In early 2015 I did a blog about truth, which is revisited this week, with some editing.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered truth: that the world is round, not flat. Did he? Is it?

Not long after that, in 1535, Jacque Cartier crossed the same ocean and sailed way up a mighty river, until he had to stop at an island just short of the first rapids. There he saw a mountain, which was later named Mont Royal, for the king of France. Now, almost half a millennium later, my office in Montreal faces that mountain. Have a look at the photo below; it offers definitive proof that the world is neither round nor flat.

Mount Royal from my Montreal office. Sorry about what Santa, my assistant, calls our stained glass windows. They are not cleaned in the winter.

Why must I tell you this? Because we have to appreciate that while facts may be true—that mountain is there—theories are not. How can they be when they are just generalizations, namely words and symbols on paper or screen, not reality itself?

Theories can, however, be useful, or not, depending on the circumstances. The flat earth theory is still quite useful for building football fields in Holland.  (Can you imagine an engineer saying: “Please raise one end a millimeter or two to correct for the curvature of the earth”?) But when it comes to sailing ships, the round earth theory works much better (even though the earth is not round—it bulges at the equator—although what to do with the oblong theory of the earth I do not know). And anyone who likes to climb mountains has to be a fan of the bumpy earth theory (although I heard somewhere that if we reduced the size of the earth to a billiard ball, we would not be able to feel Mount Everest).

Many proper scientists just don’t get it. They fight with each other furiously over their respective theories, without recognizing that all may be right, and wrong, depending on the circumstances. Don’t we still make greater use of Newton’s theory of mechanics, which was supposedly debunked by Einstein’s theory of relativity? It has been much the same with those economists who poo-pooed Keynesian theory for years, only to rediscover it during the recent financial crisis.

There has been concern of late about the measles vaccine: by failing to have their children inoculated, parents are being accused—rightly—of putting other children at risk. To convince these parents, proper scientists and physicians have been announcing that the vaccine has been proved safe. This is not true, nor is it proper science, which can disprove beliefs but never quite prove them.1 The truth is, so to speak, that the tests have not found the vaccine to be harmful, so far. If you doubt the difference between these two wordings, consider all the medical treatments that were declared safe only to be later declared unsafe. Science marches on, unpredictably.

So beware of any claims about truth in theory, including those that I have advanced furiously in these TWOGs. But do check out the claims about their usefulness, while keeping your mind open for the next theory that comes along. As D.O. Hebb, the great psychologist, put it: “A good theory is one that holds together long enough to get you to a better theory.” (He worked at McGill, and probably looked out at the same mountain—unchanged.)

© Henry Mintzberg 2015/6   Photo © Lisa Mintzberg Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. I also just started a new Facebook page.


1 Karl Popper wrote a famous book entitled The Logic of Scientific Discovery, which was not about the discovery of theories—the interesting part—but about the falsification of them. Another assistant of mine once typed his name as Karl Propper.

Some quotes about Truth:

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths.” (A.N. Whitehead)

“Add a few drops of malice to a half-truth and you have an absolute truth.” (Eric Hoffer)

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” (Andre Gide)

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” (Niels Bohr)

“All astrologers are liars. Even when an astrologer tells the truth, he is lying.” (proverb)