1. What was your inspiration for writing SEE Change and what do you hope the book achieves or changes?
Both Malcolm and I have been long-term observers of the corporate responsibility movement and have watched in some degree of wonder as it has taken hold, with initiatives like the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) growing rapidly. Yet despite all of the progress that is being made in ensuring that the big companies are held accountable, there are still many problems in the world. In fact, there are so many that it could be depressing if you dwell on just how difficult it would be to implement the type and scale of change that is needed.
We began to consider what it would take for real change to happen and it occurred to us that it wouldn’t necessarily happen from the top down, but that bottom-up initiatives and ideas that come from unusual sources might succeed in paving the way to a better future. So, despite a degree of pessimism about humanity’s ability to grapple with the change that is needed, we looked for—and found—many examples of new initiatives already making a change. In a sense, that’s what SEE Change is about—the ability of people of good will to undertake new ventures—to ‘see’ and take the kinds of risks that are pivotal to inspiring the ‘sea’ change that is necessary to bring about a sustainable enterprise economy.
From my perspective, one real source of inspiration was Malcolm McIntosh himself. Before he went to Griffith University in Australia, he was at Coventry University in England where he began convening people around ideas for a different future. It has been a real joy to be able to build a book with him around those ideas.
2. Who or what have been the major influences on your thinking about sustainability and CSR?
I have been influenced by many people in this field throughout my career. The first was my dissertation advisor, Jim Post, at Boston University. Jim is a true pioneer in the business in society field and has always been an inspiration. One of my early mentors was Stan Davis, who was also at BU. Stan is a futurist who taught me to always ask the ‘so what?’ question in research and writing, and that has been very influential.
Then there is the confluence of academic work that I have been privileged to be part of through my involvement with the Social Issues in Management Division of the Academy of Management and the International Association for Business in Society.
At the risk of leaving out someone important, let me mention how inspirational Ed Freeman’s ideas on stakeholder theory have been, not only to me, but to many others and Bill Frederick’s science/biology-based views of business in society and ethics, along with many, many other colleagues in both those associations and the broader academy.
I later met most of the 23 individuals that I profiled in another book, The Difference Makers, each of whom was totally inspiring in their own way because they integrated their ideas of a better world into their actions to build a range of new institutions.
The opportunity to edit The Journal of Corporate Citizenship provided another set of insights, and I was lucky enough to be at Boston College when Brad Googins, former executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship, turned its orientation away from community relations toward the broader issues associated with corporate responsibility. I was then invited onto the advisory board where I got to meet and interact with key business leaders in the field.
A further source of inspiration has been watching initiatives like the UNGC develop. Shortly after its inception, I invited its executive head, Georg Kell, to participate in a symposium at the Academy of Management. This instigated a long-term connection with the UNGC for me that has manifested in a variety of ways and been very influential.
I should also mention responding to an email from Charlie Bodwell at the International Labour Organization in the early 2000s about an idea he had that we ended up writing a book about called Total Responsibility Management. That work got me ‘inside’ companies in a new way, looking at what internal practices it would take to get companies to be more responsible.
There is much more that I could say about who has influenced my work—for books are drawn from many different sources of inspiration, but these are some of the major players.
3. What are the three best books on sustainability/CSR? And what are your three favourite books ever?
The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge has to stand as an amazing book that bridges many of the areas that I am interested in.
Classics in the field include:
Values, Nature, Culture, and the American Corporation Bill Frederick
Private Management and Public Policy Lee Preston and Jim Post
Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach Ed Freeman
All of these books were hugely influential, alongside numerous others, on my ideas about business in society.
I couldn’t possibly chose a favorite from among all the books that I have ever read; I’ve always been a book reader and have read hundreds and hundreds of books.
Ken Wilber’s numerous books and ideas have certainly shaped much of my thinking over the years. Among my favourites would have to be Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground and James McGregor Burns’ Leadership.
4.What do you think are the major challenges we face in advancing sustainability and CSR – now, and in the next 10 years?
The major challenges that we face include the fact that much of the power to change lies in the hands of the wealthy. I believe that they have little incentive to change and, because they are comfortable, find it hard to ‘see’ what needs to change. Of course, in the US, the great divide that now exists between conservatives and liberals or progressives has made political change difficult at best, if not impossible. Our leadership does not seem capable of bridging the gaps to effect the type of change that is needed. I suspect that similar divides exist in many places around the world.
Inertia is another problem that is difficult to deal with—business as usual has a strong momentum behind it, and people are quite fearful about what real change would look like and what it might do to their way of life. There are many, many obstacles, none of which will be easy to overcome.
5. What are you working on now?
The ideas from SEE Change continue to inspire much of my current work, which is focused on system change. I am also interested in transforming management education and what it would take to develop a new cadre of leaders who really are prepared for the future. Toward that end I have just started interviewing a few leading academics who have managed to bridge the gap between theory and practice, or disciplines, or teaching and research—to see if I can uncover what allowed them to build such bridges. At this early stage, it is impossible for me to determine where this work will take me, but it is certainly interesting and fun!
With many thanks to Sandra Waddock.
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