Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore, of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak, once again, with Amy Edmondson who is a senior professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School.
Good afternoon, Amy.
Amy Edmondson: Good afternoon, delighted to be here.
KM: Amy, the world is facing some big problems whether it be the world economy in the U.S. and Europe, particularly, with global warming. It seems like business leaders and business school academics should be able to bring something to the table to help with this. What do you think we can bring to the table?
AE: I think we can bring knowledge about management and collaboration; particularly collaboration. I think that over the years we have learned something about both the challenges and the techniques that help people work together across boundaries. By boundaries, those can be across sectors or across discipline – even just across companies.
Some of the biggest problems that face us are, by definition, complex systemic problems – health care, global warming: none of those problems will be solved by individual experts in silos no matter how deep that individuals expertise is. So how do we get people working together effectively in complex initiatives that are really designed to take things up a notch or to do something fundamentally different?
I think we know something about that and I think we have learned something about that over the years. Now, how do we get a seat at the table where some of these projects are being discussed? Eco-cities for example, or smart-cities or sustainable urbanization projects, and there are handful around the planet that range from smaller districts in existing cities to brand new cities – quite a few in China, a couple that I am studying in northern Portugal, where they are trying to build a city from the ground up that is low to no-carbon, requires and allows people to walk and interact much more sensibly than many our cities are set up today and that are, in particular, suburban communities.
If you are going to do something like that, it’s enormously complex. We know something about management, we know something about large projects and we know something about interdisciplinarily collaboration. We need to be in there helping and beginning to understand, and deepen our knowledge, by understanding what our knowledge looks like when it’s practised.
KM: So you are suggesting that business and business schools should volunteer to help with these projects, or perhaps take some time off and get involved in some way. Is it something where you need a wholesale commitment or can you do this part-time as a volunteer kind of thing?
AE: I think that is a great question, and I think the answer is a mix. We could have a portfolio of great activities. One non “take off time” answer is start studying some of these very interesting things. They are going on in the world with or without us – why not get out there and make that an object of academic study. So get out there, bring some doctoral students, whether that means get out of the lab or get out of looking at the existing data sets and analyzing this way and that and figuring out what paper to publish, but actually get out there and study some very tough challenges and some bright people working on those challenges.
So that is one, and another is, as you suggested, to take some time off and go join a project and maybe take a leave to do that or get on a board for one of these smaller startup collaboratives that are undertaking something challenging. Again, I am quite interested in the city space but I think the same kinds of ambitious initiatives are occurring in health care delivery, how can we really reform the delivery so it’s far less wasteful and far more effective in taking care of patients and so forth. So research, time off, get on a board, do some consulting; there are lots of possibilities but let’s get out there and look at important issues and do what we can and learn what we can.
KM: This has been Karl Moore, of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for the Globe and Mail.
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