Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Future lines of debate and action on climate

Posted by jembendell on September 28, 2014

Last week’s climate summit and week of side events in New York got people talking about climate change. But I looked at the 400,000 person march with a heavy heart. The climate science has moved on. It was hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in his speech to the UN, when he mentioned the plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor. What’s been happening in the Arctic the last few years is far beyond even the worst case predictions. It amounts to localised 5 degree warming already, and the summer pack ice disappearing in the next few years, when just 7 years ago we were told by scientific consensus that might happen in the 22nd century. The warming in the Arctic has been exponential. There are signs that this is already affecting the frozen methane on the sea floor, leading to methane release into the atmosphere. Over 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in greenhouse effect. Mass release of methane is a mechanism that scientists have known for years was the cause of the last mass extinction, the Permian, which ended 95% of species on Earth. (For videos on this, see Last Hours, or 10 minutes of this)

Given this information, the future debate about climate will be very different to what was considered appropriate in either the conference centres or on the streets of Manhattan last week. It is this future debate that we need to explore ourselves, urgently, even if politicians, businesses, and mainstream environmental groups are not ready to yet.

On the sidelines, I’m seeing four future lines of debate and action on climate: profound change, emergency response, local resilience, and transcendence.

Profound Change is the theme we heard from Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in recent weeks. The argument is that the efforts to incorporate climate concerns into current economic systems has failed to have any significant impact on aggregate carbon emissions. The arguments that such approaches are “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” no longer have any evidence to support them. Instead, the only intellectually or morally sound environmentalism is now an explicitly revolutionary one, that seeks to change our political economic systems. Ideally, peacefully – I’ve not heard of any one calling for armed struggle! Klein’s new book (This Changes Everything) explores this Profound Change analysis.

Emergency is another approach to the latest climate science, whereby people think that a Profound Change in political or economic system is not sufficient, as we are now on course to experience abrupt climate change within the lifetimes of humans already borne. Therefore, such as emergency paradigm starts with calls for urgent geoengineering to cool the arctic to save our civilisation and even our species. The argument is that the risks are now so great that we have to take the risk to geo-engineer. The call becomes one not only of scientific research and experimentation, but also for intergovernmental frameworks for implementing such an approach and dealing with possible damaging consequences for some peoples and regions. This emergency approach can also trigger discussion about how to deal with climate-induced collapses in societies, including humanitarian responses and security responses. For instance, this could include new roles for atomic energy agencies to bring nuclear plants to cold shut down in situations of social and economic collapse. Authors exploring these ideas include Mark Lynas (The God Species) and several writers in The Ecologist. While people thinking within the emergency paradigm are often talking about physical adaptation, such as higher sea walls, they are not often discussing deeper psychological adaptation to climate change, which is where two other lines of debate come in.

Local Resilience is a third approach I have been hearing on the sidelines. This is when people consider that it is too late to avert a collapse in the current civilisation due to catastrophic climate change, even if profound change occurs in our economic systems and geoengineering is underway. A belief in near-term collapse leads to people focusing on what forms of life could be sustained, what values and aspirations might help up in a transition to that different way of life. This isn’t the well-known agenda of transition to a post carbon world, but a transition to a way of life where basic facets of our current societies no longer exist, such as the nation state, industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. The film Collapse introduced the world to the late Michael Ruppert, who expressed this view quite eloquently. Some of the more radical elements of the Transition Towns movement give space to this line of argument, as do authors like John Foster (After Sustainability), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible), and projects like Dark Mountain, that encourage new cultures to emerge to help in this traumatic transition ahead. A key insight from this approach is how to not make things worse through attachments to ways of life and values. Are brands, properties, or nationalities so important? There are many things that we hold to be true and important in our societies which we need to be better at letting go of.

Transcendence is the name I’ll offer for a fourth line in the emerging debate on climate. It is when one allows oneself to consider that near-term extinction of the human race is now probable. Obviously to most people that is a harrowing and saddening thought. In my experience most people, like myself, attempt various forms of denial when faced with this idea. Many consider it would imply fatalism and risk states of despair, depression and inaction. However, those who do accept this analysis, at least for reasons of intellectual and emotional exploration, are finding a range of different insights result. For people like me, who since 15 years of age defined self-worth in terms of contributing towards sustainability and protecting the climate, this process can be extremely destabilising, involving some grief. Yet despair can be transformative. It can lead you to transcend your previous sense of self, and allow a new one to emerge, less framed by attachment to notions of self-worth or progress. Others may find they stop working on sustainability altogether. Others may enter depression, especially if they cannot cope without a story of self-efficacy. This line of debate is difficult for me to describe at this time, but appears to emphasise that we reflect on fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives and the meaning of life itself. Some will turn to religion for answers, and yet others will find existing religious explanations as fundamentally limited in how they address such dilemmas. The writings of Carolyn Baker (Collapsing Consciously) explore these issues, by deriving insights from hospice care. I think the writings of others who study what we learn from suffering will also be helpful in this line of thinking, such as those of Mark Matousek.

I recently brought these hidden debates on climate science into the classroom with our mature students at IFLAS. Most have been engaged for years on matters of social and environmental progress. None of the four perspectives I outline above suggest that “progress” has a future. As such, these ideas can destabilise one’s sense of self. I’ve always believed that real education is of the heart and soul as well as the mind… I just didn’t think it would have to involve such a difficult topic. I’m informed that the potential trauma from certain perspectives on climate science is not something that therapists have been widely discussing or have experience with treating. The climate category on “Therapy Today” indicate something of the state of the debate in this profession. I realise many people will shy away from this debate, and instead return to positive things such as the price of solar falling below that of coal. At a subconsious level people who do that will know they are simply changing the subject from what the latest climate science is suggesting about the changes we are already locked in to. Denial may be tenacious, but wont last.

I’ve mapped out here 4 lines of debate on climate science and action that were largely hidden during last week’s events on climate change in New York because I find them bubbling up in more and more conversations, and after broaching this subject I feel a responsibility to provide further information. There will likely be more lines of debate. There are also insights that can be blended from each. For instance, perhaps some forms of geoengineering could be supported by those who think that it’s too late to save this civilisation or the human race. One thing I am convinced about already is that many of our current institutions, including things as basic as our monetary institutions, are not designed to help us address this tragic new agenda. I am also convinced the more that senior decision-makers are attached to the idea of being good and self-efficacious, and being seen to be such, the more they will make things worse for humanity. Instead, we need people to approach this difficult time with greater humility, equanimity, gratitude, inquisitiveness, compassion, love, playfulness and hope. I am also convinced that the institutions we have created in our political, economic and social sphere have not promoted such qualities within them or to the top roles. So the greatest leadership challenge I see today is therefore one of unlearning a lot of deluded notions about self, success, and progress.

If this stuff is new to you, I recommend you talk to someone about it.

Im not a therapist.. If you think you might benefit from talking to one, here are a couple of links relevant to UK readers:

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/therapists/

http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm

 

 

Posted in Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Funded PhD on Sustainability in the UK Lake District

Posted by jembendell on September 19, 2014

Full Time Postgraduate Research Studentship, University of Cumbria, England

Deadline for submission 12 noon Friday 24 October 2014.

The Faculty of Education, Arts and Business is pleased to invite applications for one full-time PhD student scholarship. The research student will be based in either the Institute of Education or in the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability.

13.5K stipend per year, PhD fees paid up, and a £500 field costs allowance per year.

To commence January 2015 for three years. UK and EU applicants only.

The Institute for Leadership and Sustainability welcomes applications for research in either of two fields in which we are actively engaged via research, teaching, conferences and advocacy.

  • Sustainable leadership development – which we understand as the practice of enabling people to development their ability to lead change in organisations and society towards greater social fairness, personal wellbeing and environmental sustainability
  • Currency innovation for sustainable development – The University became known worldwide in early 2014 for becoming the first public University to accept bitcoin. This relates to our research on how new thinking on currencies and exchange systems can provide opportunities for economic resilience and sustainability.

In both areas we particularly welcome action research or similar approaches, that draw upon both sociology and management studies. Your supervisor for either topic would be Dr Jem Bendell, a Professor of Sustainability Leadership, who teaches, researches and advises on both topics. With over 300 senior managers from circa 100 countries attending our sustainable leadership development programmes each year, we have good networks for both research and dissemination.

Notes for Guidance

The research outline is indicative of your scholarly aptitude and should provide sufficient evidence to convince the interview panel that your proposal is soundly based and that you are able to develop an appropriate research study with supervisory support. The outline should not exceed six pages of A4 double-spaced typescript and should comprise the following sections:

  • rationale;
  • aims;
  • summary of relevant published studies;
  • tentative research question;
  • proposed design and methodology including time-scale of study and indications of feasibility;
  • bibliography;
  • expected outcomes or implications of the proposed research.

In considering the proposal the admissions panel will be looking for evidence that an applicant has sufficient grasp of current research in the field to allow the formulation of a feasible research question. The proposal is not expected to be definitive.

Candidates for research degrees must be good honours degree graduates of a recognised university in the UK or comparable university overseas, or persons with equivalent qualifications who show evidence of exceptional ability, or who have demonstrated their ability in graduate studies. The successful candidate is also likely to have completed a masters degree.

Application Submission

Your application which should comprise the application form and a research proposal should be sent electronically to linda.shore@cumbria.ac.uk. You should also ask your referees to complete the reference form and return it to linda.shore@cumbria.ac.uk by the same date. Also copy jem dot bendell @ cumbria dot ac dot uk

Deadline for submission 12 noon Friday 24 October 2014. Late applications will not be considered.

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Ecuador’s helpful knee in the balls of the Bitcoin boys

Posted by jembendell on September 9, 2014

So its confirmed Ecuador will be launching their own digital currency. In the meantime, they have banned other forms of private digital currency like Bitcoin.

On the one hand, it is brilliant that the fame of bitcoin, and its distributed ledger technology, has helped Ecuador’s government consider not only the issuing of a digital currency, but the concept that economies can have multiple currencies. I have always thought the power of Bitcoin is in opening minds to the field of currency innovation for the common good, rather than the specific properties of the Bitcoin currency itself.

What should we make of Ecuador’s move? The best starting point is for a government’s central bank and treasury to have a clear public purpose, to serve the long term interests of people. Ecuador is ahead of most in making its Central Bank have to innovate to deliver “buen vivir” i.e. wellbeing. Other central banks simply assume that managing inflation and interest rates within certain levels is what’s key, with some secondary attention to employment and government deficits. That maintains the delusion that monetary policy isnt innately political and shaping all aspects of social and political life. But I digress…

Some bitcoin enthusiasts are upset with Ecuador’s move as they like to pretend that computer software can replace matters of governance, and that a pre-defined algorythym for currency issuance means we dont need to question whether issuance is either fair or useful. It is simply ridiculous to think that issuance to those with the most powerful computers is a valid form of issuance. It is equally ridiculous to ignore this question of issuance, and the resulting inequities in bitcoin distribution, because it might be inconvenient to one’s libertarian views, a rush to get rich, technotopian obsession or desire to smash the system and be proven right afterall (all of which are rather immature adolescent attitudes, which correlates with the pioneers of this space – sorry chaps!).

The main problem with the bitcoin boys is they dont base their enthusiasm on a coherent view of what’s wrong with money and what’s needed for socially useful currency innovation. To recap: currently national currencies are not issued by governments or central banks but by private banks when they issue loans. In most countries this is circa 97% of money in circulation. Think of the dollar, pound, euro and so on, and they are all predominantely issued for profit by private banks, not by either govenments or treasuries. Thats nuts for many reasons, environmental, social and economic (as my various talks and writings on this blog have explained). This simple fact is so stupidly overlooked by mainstream economists, financial journalists, its bizarre. Thankfully some like Martin Wolfe at the FT have now started breaking this taboo subject, as has the Bank of England’s own publications.

In response, we shouldnt see assets like precious metals as the answer, as this leads to contraction of economic activity and the cornering of the currency by the powerful, as it did in the past. A gold standard would be a disaster. Gold bugs have always struck me as a little odd in wanting to assert their personal power against a dangerous world.

But non-commodity currencies and non-state currencies should be issued not-for-profit far more than is the case today. Otherwise, we risk creating the same problems with our current systems where the ability to make money from money has led to an over-financialised economy that extracts wealth from the real economy and leads to gross inequality and unsustainable debt levels. That’s not controversial, as the UN has been describing this over-financialisation problem for the past decade.

Not-for-profit currencies can be issued by national or local governments or privately. So I am in favour of governments issuing their own digital currencies. For instance, state or city governments could issue a currency that they would offer to pay as wages, and could request tax be paid in it, or limit certain services to payments in such currency (e.g. business rates or car park fees etc). The power of a government to demand tax in a certain currency is a key way it maintains the value of national currencies at present. This tax-power could be used to enable an ecology of currencies that aren’t controlled by the banks.

It is clear that Ecuador will seek to spend the new currency into circulation, as wages for socially useful work. It is unclear what services or taxes they will price in this currency, or whether they will restrict payment options for some items in the new currency. To do so would be the simplest way to uphold the value of the currency, as it would mean there would be a market for people to buy it in order to pay for certain services or taxes.

Banning private currencies is compromising freedom but is Ecuador’s response to the potential for abuse and a concern they might lose further control of monetary policy and their tax base. Regulation rather than prohibition is the answer. I hope that after launching their own digital currency, Ecuador will revisit its digital currency ban and instead introduce rules for private digital currencies and related payment service firms.  Any prohibitions on private currencies should not be applied to nonprofit community currencies or b2b credit systems, which are really useful coping systems for communities and businesses with cash flow problems.

Ecuador will face great technological challenges in protecting their new digital currency from attack by both financial and ideological interests. They had best get the best coders and also create paper records! Maybe some maturing bitcoin boys could help.

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Sheepfulness

Posted by jembendell on August 28, 2014

… I think 2 years in the land of Beatrix Potter is rubbing off on me.

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A boy, walking alone on a felltop stops to look at a sheep. It stares back.

Boy: You seem calm. Are you happy?

Sheep: What’s happy?

Boy: Oh… it means lots of things.

Sheep: So “happy” is a concept?

Boy: Er, sort of. It’s an idea about a bunch of feelings.

Sheep: So you want to know if I’m experiencing the idea of “happy”?

Boy: Not quite, I guess I was asking about the feelings. Are you in pain?

Sheep: No

Boy: Are you comfortable with your life?

Sheep: I’ve a bit of an itch.

Boy: No, I mean comfortable with what you do! Are you doing enough stuff?

Sheep: Is “enough” another idea?

Boy: Yes. But are you worried about death?

Sheep: I know it happens but I don’t know when. What’s there to worry about?

Boy: I think we worry about death a bit as we don’t know what the purpose of life is.

Sheep: Is “purpose” another of your ideas?

Boy: Yes

Sheep: Is worrying an idea too?

Boy: It’s more like a feeling.

Sheep: What’s the feeling?

Boy: A feeling of going round and round in circles with my ideas, and this then tensing the muscles in my chest.

Sheep: So you create a purpose-idea to experience a happy-idea that is difficult because you have created a worry-idea and end up tensing your muscles?

Boy: Sort of

Sheep: So why do you focus on that happy-idea if it tenses you up?

Boy: Maybe because it’s what grown-ups do. But are you saying you don’t think?

Sheep: Baa! Animals think too. Didn’t you notice? But I don’t create ideas. I appreciate stuff I like, and avoid experiences I don’t like. Just look at the sunset!

Boy: Yes, it’s nice. But isn’t that a bit selfish?

Sheep: There you go again with another idea! “Selfish!” My positive feeling from looking at the sunset is the Universe’s experience as well as mine. I’m enjoying the universe enjoying me enjoying the sunset. Wjy else would it have made it so beautiful to us?

Boy: So are all our ideas and concepts bad?

Sheep: No, your ability to create concepts and ideas has given you your technology and culture. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Neither would so many of you! Your ideas of geometry and building mean I have a nice warm barn for the winter, if I’m still here.

Boy: OK, I get it. Some ideas are useful and some are not. It’s what they do to us, and what we do with them, that matters.

Sheep: Nice. Will you experience a happy-idea when you eat me?

Boy: I did before. But I’m not sure anymore.

 

There endeth a bit of Lakeland Zen

Posted in My Life, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Have you let the arms-traders inside your brain?

Posted by jembendell on July 20, 2014

At times of war mongering, and mass media’s de-humanising of others, it is worth remembering the evidence and analysis of the economic drivers of such madness have existed for over a century.

This, in a footnote in 1860 by John Ruskin:

“It is one very awful form of the operation of wealth in Europe that it is entirely capitalists’ wealth which supports unjust wars. Just wars do not need so much money to support them; for most of the men who wage such, wage them gratis; but for an unjust war, men’s bodies and souls have both to be bought; and the best tools of war for them besides; which makes such war costly to the maximum; not to speak of the cost of base fear, and angry suspicion, between nations…And all unjust war being supportable, if not by pillage of the enemy, only by loans from capitalists, these loans are repaid by subsequent taxation of the people, who appear to have no will in the matter, the capitalists’ will being the primary root of the war…”

Perhaps President Eisenhower has read some Ruskin as he thought through his farewell address in 1961 that warned the American public and world of the growth of the Military Industrial Complex that was coming to control US foreign policy in favour of constant war.

So next time you see some “news” that makes you go

“gah, those disgusting…” or

“we should remove that son of a…” or

“we should send in the…” or

“something [violent] must be done…”

stop and wonder..

… have you let the arms-traders inside your brain?

 

Posted in Corporations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sustainable Leadership course takes off

Posted by jembendell on July 18, 2014

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Scholarship winners Tom Shakli and Emily Oliver (centre) receive their certificates from guest lecturer Jane Burston and IFLAS director Professor Jem Bendell.

 

On September 1st the inaugural cohort of the Post Grad Certificate in Sustainable Leadership will gather for a week in the Lake District. Lucky them! Around a dozen professionals in the broad field of sustainability are going to explore how to better lead change at scale. Im pleased we have also been able to offer scholarships to two of the participants.

The scholarships have been funded by the Robert Kennedy College, which is based in Switzerland. Together with the University of Cumbria, RKC jointly delivers an MBA in Leadership and Sustainability, which regularly brings executives from around the world for a week’s residential study in the Lake District.

Emily Oliver and Tom Shakhli, both from London, have been accepted onto the Postgraduate Certificate for Sustainable Leadership which will be delivered at both Ambleside and the university’s campus in the capital.

Tom Shakhli is co-manager of the Brixton Pound, perhaps one of the best-known community currencies in the UK.

He said: “It is an exciting area of work to be in, because it feels like it’s the start of something bigger. There isn’t really a blueprint for success. That’s why I think it’s important that there are academic institutions such as the University of Cumbria that have departments dedicated to this area of work.

“The Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership seems ideal because it can give organisations such as ours the requisite knowledge to take our initiatives and have them really make a difference.”

Amongst other freelance projects, Emily Oliver has recently founded and currently co-manages FoodCycle Wandsworth and is keen to begin her studies.

She said: “I’m aware that in order to further develop skills in organisational leadership, an understanding of sustainable strategy, and ability to nurture impactful results, I need to study them effectively.

“As I learn best through practice, this course’s experiential approach is an ideal opportunity to do that – as well as build a support network.”

To find out more about courses offered by IFLAS, including the new Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership, visit www.iflas.info

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Financial Freedom: Text of Speech at Guardian Activate Conference

Posted by jembendell on July 17, 2014

Today I spoke at the Guardian newspaper’s Activate conference in London. The audience was mostly comprised of VCs, Financial Tech specialists, Sharing Economy start ups, and others interested in the potential of tech to disrupt the way we pay and co-rent. Here, below, is the text of the speech.

guardian

“Thanks for the introduction, Stephen. Yes, I founded at an institute for leadership and sustainability, in the Lake District. A land known for hiking, sheep, poetry, rabbits… and bitcoin. Earlier this year we became the first public university to accept the crypto currency. We decided to accept bitcoin to learn by doing, as we teach a Masters-level course on currency innovation. In the course we explore how currency systems and sharing platforms might help sustain our communities and environment. But what Ive come to understand is that if we want to shape the future of money then first we must understand the present nature of money. So before I tell you what I’m excited about, let me explain what I’m grumpy about.

About 97% of money we use is created by private bank lending, which comes with interest. When we borrow, the money is created by the bank, not taken from savings. The amount owed to banks, which is the amount borrowed plus the interest, is always more than the amount borrowed. It means that collectively we are in debt forever, so inequality is inevitable.

With this system of money creation, banks decide who gets the new money and for what. So about 80% of new money is created for property loans. That inflates the price of property, so house prices are 8000% higher than in 1950. That’s not market forces, but the result of our monetary system. I know many people who are in jobs they hate, or who have ignored a vocational calling, because of the mortgage. Some people I know have got ill because their mortgage locks them into a certain lifestyle. Unless we start out with a lot of capital, it’s less a property ladder than a property prison.

But what to do about it?

I take inspiration from a South African anti-apartheid campaigner. In the 1970s Tim Jenkin was imprisoned for 12 years for his activism, to be served in a high security jail in Pretoria. Given the injustice of the system Tim considered it his duty to try to break out of jail. Which he did after 18 months, and fled the country. Fast forward to 2003, Tim had returned to South Africa. He saw that people are oppressed by the current monetary system, and he wanted to free them.

He created Community Exchange Systems with free open source software. They now have 50,000 users, in over 700 locations worldwide. Instead of units of ‘money’ being issued into circulation according to a policy or algorithm, peers extend credit to each other. It means people who have little money but have time, skills and resources, can start helping each other and trading with each other, without official money. This is “collaborative credit” as it involves members of a network trusting each other rather than a bank. Collaborative credit doesn’t come with interest demands or create asset price inflation. There are over a thousand such systems worldwide, but they are largely under the radar of the media, VCs or philanthropists.

Bitcoin has opened minds the idea that fintech can help us transact in alternative currencies, but there’s a long way to go. Now we need to understand how currencies can be designed to support communities and the environment. Bitcoin fans often speak of financial freedom, yet the issuance and distribution of bitcoin makes Thatcher look like a communist. Moreover, it is delusional to believe that money should be a thing of value, rather than a way of keeping score amongst people and organisations doing useful things for each other. We can’t eat money, we can’t eat gold, we can’t eat bitcoin. The real wealth is our lives, communities and environment. We need currency systems that support such wealth, not undermine it. We need positive transformation of our monetary systems, not just disruption.

People like Tim Jenkin have launched collaborative credit systems without financial backing. Now fintech and sharing economy start-ups have a role to play, but to do so they need to design business models that will empower people not make them captive. I hear some people in fintech and the collaborative economy looking to exit to a major multinational. That might let their founders and shareholders escape the prison of the mainstream monetary system, but leave that prison with new walls and stronger guards.

We need a considered dialogue about how to prevent monopolistic practices, protect users, and involve them in the governance of new systems for sharing, currency and payment. It starts with recognising our purpose here is greater than feel-good projects, funky start-ups, or getting rich. We have the potential to design systems that will shape economies, societies and environments for decades to come. So why not make that issue our business?”

 

To read more about Collaborative Credit, see my article on the Guardian website. Ill tweet the video of the talk when its available (@jembendell)

You can download the introduction to Healing Capitalism for free.

Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Punch and Judy Academic Show

Posted by jembendell on June 4, 2014

Punch: Hey Judy, I’ve been looking at academic journal articles on the critical issues facing humanity.

Judy: Do you have a headache yet?

Punch: Don’t start Judy, I’m serious. I see lots of effort has gone in to these articles to say very few things. Does demonstrable effort, in terms of volume of things one can report on assessing, trump a spirit of inquiry that arises from a heartfelt concern for truth?

Judy: Yes, it seems to at times

Punch: Why?

Judy: If we want to publish academically we need to use accepted approaches to knowledge claims.

Punch: Why?

Judy: To be heard and, ultimately, to be paid. Especially if we don’t want to have some man’s hand up our arse, making us fight each other, then I need to progress in the University sector, and become a Professor myself.

Punch: So the noise created by this incessant publishing is because noise needs to be created according to the interests of the noise creators, rather than the need for a particular meaningful signal within that noise?

Judy: Yes Mr Punch, but we hope for some signal to emerge.

Punch: But you acknowledge that the signal is secondary to the industry of noise creation, which is managed and curated by the chief noise creators, who have sought such roles knowingly, and thus are motivated more by becoming chief noise makers than signal finders, and thus actually drown signals amongst their noise?

Judy: Perhaps, Mr Punch.

Punch: So why do you get out of bed in the morning Judy?

Judy: Because I have to pay our rent, Mr Punch, you lazy clown, and I want to prove that a female puppet can succeed. I also think that despite the noise creation industry, there is some useful signal produced

Punch: so usefulness is a secondary issue?

Judy: I guess, yes

Punch: So if that’s the case, why do you work so hard?

Judy: To stay out the way of you, Mr Punch? But seriously, because I started out motivated by the idea this work was really important, and I still hope it is.

Punch: So you fear you might view your work as un-important, or at least not important in the way you are approaching it now?

Judy: You have got more sophisticated in your attacks on me Mr Punch. So you want me to give up and be a housewife again?

Punch: Ah, now that’s the way to do it! But seriously, you could just give yourself time to reflect on what kind of intellectual work you might believe in, rather than just continue a habitual charade.

Judy: You think we are maintaining a charade, as if we are just characters in a story?

Punch: Aye, puppet.

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Super Hyper Harvard: On the need for darkness and doubt in teaching

Posted by jembendell on April 7, 2014

Americans sometimes accuse us Brits of being arrogant cynics. It’s a stereotype I slipped into last week during the Harvard leadership course. Arrogance and cynicism are not good qualities and I normally avoid them. Upon reflection, I think it was an emotional response to the hyper-positivity of some Harvard lecturers. Despite climate change, persistent poverty, gross inequality, and corporate-mediated mass delusion, there ARE things to be positive about, but my positivity comes from a different place than a celebration of corporate success or glimpses of humanity in high-status leaders.

The upbeat tone was best conveyed by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School. A famous management guru, Rosabeth is a walking visual metaphor generator, a skill honed over years of writing the kind of management texts that crop up in airport book shops. “Think outside the building” was her great way to summarise how the internet is enabling services to be delivered outside of the traditional institutions. “Health is outside the hospital, education outside the school.” I immediately thought “and banking will be outside the banks.” On creating innovation cultures in organisations, she said “Dream your own worst nightmare and invest in it.” All very dynamic, very hyper-Harvard.

Professor Kanter enthused about the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships to create needed change. Her energy was fab, and reminded me of the hopes I had for collaborative partnerships back in the mid-1990s when I co-wrote the first book on this topic with IFLAS Deputy Director, David Murphy. The way she presented these initiatives as a new thing seemed odd to me, given that partnering has been mainstream since 2002 when it was elevated by the UN summit in South Africa. Since then we have much evidence to show that such collaborations are not only sometimes useful but also difficult to manage, limited in their ability to create systemic change, and raise new concerns about corporate capture of political processes (e.g. see my book “Evolving Partnerships”). Maybe HBS audiences enjoy the good news more than awkward evidence. Yet is the pursuit of learning served by ‘airport lounge intellectuals’ who behave more like entertainers than educators?

Professor ‘Dutch’ Leonard explored a few examples of failure and coping with crisis, with some emphasis on aspects of character that are important no matter whether one is successful. There is much we can learn from allowing some darkness and doubt in our exploration of life.  The book “True North” by Bill George, which we were asked to read, places great emphasis on the idea that we can learn key lessons from “crucibles” in our lives, those moments when things go rather badly wrong. It’s the idea that from a crisis we can be transformed. Yet the crucibles are explored in the book as personal set-backs within an emerging narrative of a successful corporate career. Might crucibles challenge us even more?

Drawing upon experience in dealing with breast cancer, in “Smile or Die” Barbara Ehrenreich, wonderfully explains how the attachment to positive thinking can be harmful. In “When You’re Falling Dive” Mark Matousek explores the ego-transcendence that can occur through tremendous suffering. These aren’t crucibles that make one be a nicer CEO, but that create a shift in consciousness of self that means a corporate career can seem quite pointless.  In “Coming Back to Life” Joanna Macy explains the importance of connecting with and honouring our pain of connection with the world, from the suffering of humanity to that of other species, as a starting point from which to then evolve our ideas for action. The positivity that can arise from such analyses involves a rejection of mainstream notions of success.

As far as I’m aware, those authors are all American, and perhaps reflect a contrarian thread in US culture. So next time I’m accused of being a typical cynical Brit, I will remember to explain how I’m really positive about this wave of American existentialism!

In my own teaching I’ll continue to present multiple paradigms, whether positive or negative. This includes the paradigm that it is possible to incorporate social and environmental concerns into mainstream business and finance. It also includes a contrary paradigm, where we need a massive change in society and economy to achieve sustainable development. I’ll also offer the paradigm that we have been deluded by the corporate storytelling that dominates our lives through mass media and monetary systems, and encourage critical interrogation of a range of assumptions, as I did in my Inaugural Professorial lecture. Perhaps it is also time to explore a paradigm where it too late to avert catastrophic climate change, and discuss the implications. Because, for me, promoting emotional and intellectual dissonance can be a key aspect of education.

What do you think is the place of pain and doubt in the learning process?

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” – Oscar Wilde

Posted in Academia and Research | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Healing Capitalism

Posted by jembendell on January 31, 2014

Healing_Capitalism_High_Res
Jem Bendell is a guru in the world of Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate “Voluntarism”. And you need to be a guru to know just how empty and inadequate these concepts have now become. So prepare to have your cherished illusions unceremoniously set aside, and be forced to acknowledge that, when it comes to capitalism, there is no healing without a lot of pain.
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future; author,Capitalism As If The World Matters

Radical thinking par excellence! Drawing on insights from multiple disciplines and ideological perspectives, Profesor Bendell shows how the corporate social responsibility agenda not only deployed an extremely blunt instrument – voluntary action – to reform capitalism but also missed the boat by ignoring core questions of economic governance. He directs our attention to the perverse nature of conventional monetary systems and the exciting potential of recent financial innovations to transform capitalism.
Peter Utting, Deputy Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

Professor Bendell is a deep thinker among CSR experts and his last book was widely influential in helping practitioners understand CSR as a “social movement”. This new book completes a decade of analysis of initiatives in responsible business and finance. It is a useful resource for students new to this area, and an important source of reflection for those buried in the day-to-day work of CSR initiatives. It’s an opportunity for the reader to step back, look at the big picture and think about what has worked and what has not over the past decade. He argues that the “corporate responsibility movement” described in his last book must now address core questions of economic governance, including monetary systems, or be irrelevant in the tide of history. Some of his conclusions are radical, but they are usefully thought-provoking. Therefore, I recommend this book as an important addition to thinking on the topic.
Dr Anthony Miller, CSR Focal Point, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); co-founder, Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative

….Thanks to Ian Doyle of Lifeworth Consulting for writing this book with me :-)

Hear me talk about it at the Ways with Words Festival.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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