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Transcript: Henry Mintzberg and ‘rebalancing society’

McGill University senior professor Henry Mintzberg speaking on Talking Management with Karl Moore

Talking Management

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 be speaking with Henry Mintzberg, a senior professor here at McGill University.

You have a new electronic pamphlet coming out called "Rebalancing Society." What is the key message you are trying to give us through that pamphlet?

HENRY MINTZBERG – Well, there has been a lot of talk about what is wrong between the American economy, the European economy, the movements in the Middle East, the occupy movements in the [United] States and the Tea Party and all that. Everyone knows – or thinks they know – what is wrong; they are probably all right in their own way, but nobody is really coming up with fairly ambitious solutions and I think we have to face some facts. So part of it is describing what I think is wrong and the other part is making some proposals as to how to make it right. I call it Radical Renewal in the sense that it is not about revolution rather it is about renewal but it has to be pretty radical.

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I also talk about the fact that our politics are paralyzed – left, right or centre it is all paralyzed. It is either a see-saw between left and right as we saw in the recent French election where countries go from left to right and never get anywhere, or they are stuck in the centre which is kind of where [U.S. President Barack] Obama is. You can argue that he may be seen as left by some people in the States but he has essentially moved to the centre and is gridlocked. I think the reason, just getting into some diagnosis, is that after the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe fell the conclusion was that capitalism had triumphed. I think that was not only dead wrong but has created huge problems ever since.

Balance triumphed in the sense that before those regimes fell, in the West, while they were utterly out of balance on the side of the public sector – everything was government – we were fairly balanced between the government, the private sector, and what I call the plural sector. But ever since because we think it is capitalism that has triumphed we have moved completely the other way and now we are totally out of balance on the side of the private sector. The private sector is wonderful but it's not everything and we need to restore a balance in society.

KM – What do you mean by plural society? What is that?

HM – What I mean by the plural sector … first of all I needed a word because there are lots of words for the third sector or the not-for-profit sector, the NGO sector, the civil society. There are lots of words for that and none of which work very well. I wanted a word that would go with public and private so I went with the 'plural society' because the organizations and the institutions in that sector are much more pluralistic in the sense that there is a lot more participation and a lot more engagement. These consist of organizations that are not in public nor in private [hands] like NGOs, co-operatives, which are member owned, like McGill University, Harvard University and Johns Hopkins Hospital etc. are not owned by anybody. Either they are member owned like co-ops or unions, or churches, or they are non-owned like Greenpeace, McGill, Harvard and so on.

It also consists of social movements as we saw in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and social initiatives like the Grameen Bank and micro financing – there are just hundreds and hundreds of interesting social initiatives. So a lot of what goes on in the world is neither public or private but is plural but we don't recognize it. And to me the key to restoring balance is to recognize that we need responsible businesses for sure, we need respected governments and to not keep putting down governments, and we need a robust plural sector. Balance will come from those three. As long as it's all left and right government and business keep swinging back and forth. When you include the plural sector as clearly significant but marginalized and ignored, you recognize those three sectors and then you can kind of have a stool with three legs for balance.

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