Driving Change

Matthew Bishop, Jessica Brown

Public policy impacts everyone’s life, for better or worse. The decisions taken by faceless civil servants have a lasting impact on the lives of every person on the planet and on the health of the planet itself. Yet beyond high profile officials, very few people know or appreciate the individuals who have dedicated their lives to creating and implementing the policies that change the world around us. We feel it’s time to change that. Join us each week as we interview the practitioners of public policy, discuss the work they do, and its impact on the world.

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Books Driving Change: Sharath Jeevan and Intrinsic
Mar 23 2022
Books Driving Change: Sharath Jeevan and Intrinsic
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change. And today I'm talking with Sharath Jeevan, who is the author of Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive. Sharath is a social entrepreneur who came out of the business world, consulting world, and helped launch STIR Education -- which is an organization that helps teachers improve their performance through their better motivation and sharing of insights -- he can elaborate on that -- in many countries, including India and Indonesia, and some parts of Africa. And now he runs Intrinsic Labs, which we'll talk a bit about as well, I hope. The audience for this show, Sharath, is people who are conscious of this crisis that we've been living through in the pandemic, [and how that] has revealed a need for greater public service to re-engage people with talent and insight and leadership capacity into the public realm of public service. And I wondered if you could say in a sentence for them -- why they should read your book?Sharath Jeevan (SJ): Thanks Matthew, real pleasure to be on the show. And I think it's so important for those of us leading change in public service to know what deeply motivates ourselves as individuals and leaders. And that idea of really trying to find lasting motivation from within for ourselves, really with a view that that can help us motivate the people around us -- our teams, if we've got teams in our work, but also, of course, as citizens. Our work is ultimately geared towards that, and that applies, whether we're public servants, or we're political leaders, or trying to affect change, in the social sector, or nonprofit sector, etc. And these are universal themes the book talks about.MB: In the book, you set out in a powerful way a number of the trends that have caused many people to lose touch with what it is that motivates them from within and to be driven by external factors - as to what you call “extrinsic”. To the extent that you really feel there's a huge crisis in the world of loss of connection with ourselves, and that that's underlying many of the issues that emerge all over the place, in different aspects of life, and is proving dysfunctional in many parts of the world. But could you just spell that out for us? What is the key problem that you think we need to solve at this point and that Intrinsic is setting out to solve as a book?SJ: Yes, I think it's moving our dial, that motivational dial, [away] from extrinsic or external factors. So for example, in the world of work, we would think a lot about pay, about status, how fancy our job title is, how fancy our office is. These are critical things and we're not saying they're not important -- many people in the world don't have them, we need to make sure they do. But for those of us who do have those, they have a diminishing effect over time. That was a ceiling effect. I was talking to a trader in the City of London who got a £21.5 million bonus for the year. And his first reaction when his boss told him the news was, I had to work harder, because I know that someone else down the corridor got more than me. So that idea that there's never enough in some of these things, but we can keep chasing them, [although] that won't give us fulfillment, happiness, and actually won't give us success in the long term either. What we've got to do is move that motivational belt inwards to thinking about how we can really do what we do -- particularly in public service, because it's genuinely fulfilling, motivating, and rewarding. It's a bit like driving an electric car compared to a car driving on heavy diesel -- it should feel enjoyable in its own right. And we know the key pillars of intrinsic motivation are around “purpose” -- that sense of how work helps and serves others -- and “autonomy” -- that sense of us being in control of our destiny, as public policy leaders. And finally, becoming a “master” -- or becoming a better and better leader over time. We never get to perfection, but we're getting and developing and growing. So purpose, autonomy and mastery are key to us really moving that dial inwards. And we know that it's much more likely to lead us to be happy, fulfilled, and successful.MB: One of the things you do very well in the book is marshall a lot of academic research that's supportive of your claim on intrinsic motivation. And I think maybe "purpose" in particular has become one of those buzzwords that I think everyone is talking about -- a lot of company leaders, a lot of political people, saying we need to have purpose, clear and everything. Just what is the evidence that purpose matters and can be a game changer? And, with a slightly cynical hat on, how do we tell real purpose, real change making purpose, from the sort of bullshit PR purpose that a lot of people might be inclined to say [they have], if they're under pressure, in these leadership roles at the moment to try and sign sound appealing to millennials?SJ: I think that you put the nail right on the head. A lot of problems we are having with this purpose discussion is that it has been taken to this PR territory, and thousands of staff are subject to these kinds of corporate workshops, or government workshops, where they're bombarded with purpose statements from the company and so on. What I tried to look at on "purpose" was look at that really simple definition. I was trying to define it from first principles around just how what we do helps and serves others -- take away all the airy fairy language and so on. The challenge, I think, is that actually organizations are getting better and better, to be absolutely fair, on defining organizational purpose -- why that company, or how it helps and serves others. I don't think we've yet cracked the question of how do we, as an individual leader in public service, contribute to that purpose. So what tends to happen is we get hired into a job, let's say a government somewhere, civil service, and I'll be honest, [you] seem like a robot who's there to fulfill the purpose of the government department or division. The challenge though I think is, in today's world, especially with younger workers, we ourselves want to feel a sense of a personal mission statement. And by that, what is our own North Star?Let me just give you mine as an example: I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting. So I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting -- just a very, very simple 15-word statement. But it's a really helpful North Star that helps me remember why I'm doing what I do. And if I joined an organization -- I work for myself now, but I do write, consult for one, as you mentioned -- the question I'm asking is how am I contributing to that organization's purpose statement? But also, how are they contributing to mine? How are they helping me achieve mine? And when I think both things are in harmony, we've got a great marriage between an employee and an organization. I think we have a great motivational deal in place. But the temptation is we tend to forget the individual and forget that we all need that for ourselves as much as needed for our organizations.MB: And then you also talk about "autonomy" and "masteries". What's the key issue today with autonomy, and what do you mean by that?SJ: If you look at political life today, I'd argue we're in a really difficult autonomy situation, one where we've got two extremes. I talked about some of the research in the book about political leadership where you can have the extreme. For example in the U.S., perhaps both houses where it's almost like individual lawmakers -- it's Clint Eastwood extreme, or if you like, a Lone Ranger type behavior. But the other extreme where when you're an MPs, often in the U.K., they are often micromanaged. And how do you have the right balance between these two things is important. In enough autonomy you're representing a genuine community of constituencies for your elected office. But also, you also need to make sure that you are adhering to the broad direction of the party that you were being elected to join. How do you find that balancing act? That's a key piece. So it can't be either extreme. It can't be micromanagement, nor can it be a complete free for all. How do you negotiate between is a key idea in the book.MB: But one of the things you generally observe is the people not feeling very much autonomy at work in that sense.SJ: Absolutely. So I was talking, for example, about teachers in the book, and we have record numbers of teachers leaving every month. In the U.S., 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 teachers a month leave the profession. In the U.K. 40% of teachers want to leave. It's not because they don't enjoy teaching anymore. It's because they feel like they are being micromanaged. And their head teachers, their leaders in the school system are asking, What would Ofsted say, rather than what's the right thing to do for my school, my community. So they feel often like a pawn on a very big chessboard and unable to exert their own professional judgment and discretion. That's a really killer, killer blow for motivation.MB: And that's a problem across government do you find in particular?SJ: I think very much. So I spent quite a lot of time talking to lawmakers in a lot of different countries, in the emerging world and the developed world. And that sense of not being able to control their own destiny -- for example, many of them wanted to be in the “for one nation tradition” where they really weren't genuinely supporting the whole country. They feel more and more like they're being held to factions as well. MB: And "mastery" is the third concept. So you have purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Specialization has been a huge theme -- to the extent that we now have lots of books about how dangerous silos are. Because we've all become so specialized, we don't really know how to reach out across silos and think in a joined up way in decision making. But what do you mean by mastery? You mean something very different to that.SJ: I talk in the book about the “10,000 hour rule”, and this idea that a lot of the mastery discussions have been about technical prowess. And there's a lot of evidence that's true in technical domains, but a lot of the future of modern jobs today, they thrive because of the human skills. As a civil servant, for example, you've got to know how to develop policy and legislation. But you've also got to know how to influence ministers, how to work with colleagues, how to work with different kinds of disciplines. I look at the COVID response, for example, those human skills are much harder to subject to simple 10,000 hour rules. It's much more of the broader human aspects of our work. And so how do we codify those -- what I call the "order essentials of mastery" -- and try to make them something [people] actually actively want to work on, and become better and better at? They're often things that are actually not on a public servant's job description, that actually are the magic of the job these days. And how do you make them explicit? How do you codify them? And how do you find a systematic way of improving them, and also find people who can nurture your skills as you progress in your careers?MB: So give us an example of where you've seen a different approach be applied, [one] that's really moved away from that sort of 10,000 hour rule approach, to something more holistic.SJ: Giving examples from my own life with STIR Education. I had a finance director who was fantastic. And she was really, really good at making sure we had good reliable management accounts every month. The challenge is that as we became bigger as an organization, that actually a lot of her role was shifting from that technical aspect she was very comfortable into influencing our staff, or running our program for teachers -- for them to spend money better, to know how to use resources better, to make sure they felt more comfortable in terms of financial literacy, and be able to use the numbers themselves to make intelligent decisions. So we did a lot to try and break barriers down. Simple things, like she where she sat in the office. Often, finance tends to have their own little cubicle or room because they feel that what they've got is confidential information. So I said, Why don't you rotate around the office every day, every week, so you meet different colleagues, you can talk to them, see their reality. She spent many days in the field, with schools, seeing the work on the ground, and seeing a lot of the processes that we had time might be actually hindering progress. So it's trying to break down silos. And back to that personal mission statement, if you think my role at purpose level is to produce management accounts on time and accurately, that's one purpose statement. If it's to help the organization as a whole make better decisions, that's a different one. So how do you try and break some of the traditional ways of thinking down to open up jobs in public service and make them fulfilling and motivated?MB: And you talked about STIR Education, and the book opens with this inspiring story and how you were surprised, in a sense, by the appeal of the message. Can you just talk a bit about what happened and why that's given you hope? And have you seen other examples since?SJ: So, I got into this whole thing by accident. I'm an economist by background at the end. I was very much someone to believe in the hard skills of life around finance, or economics, and so on. I think what happened is, starting off in the slums of Delhi, we were trying to find some great teaching ideas to be shared around the world. That by looking for the ideas in some of the poorest parts of the world, there was not huge pride. In a sense, my teachers, for the first time, their ideas mattered. And they were actually important people in their own right, and they enjoyed meeting each other and sharing ideas. That buzz of energy would, almost by accident, even though we didn’t know what these terms meant at the time, but we're unlocking purpose, autonomy and mastery, almost as a byproduct of what we were doing. We realized we had confused the baby in the bathwater. And actually, magic was that ignition of teachers, that reigniting of motivation, and that really shifted my view of the world. I now work for a range of organizations - as an advisor at L'Oreal, to the Kenyan government. But that core idea that actually everyone goes into a job, especially in public service, with a high degree of intrinsic motivation, as had these teachers, but as we work longer and longer, the cultures around us tend to drag it out of us. And then the trick is how to keep ourselves motivated despite that at the individual level. But if we're leaders in public service, how do we create cultures that build on that intrinsic motivation, and make us feel more and more motivated, rather than taking away that energy over time?MB: I think the experience of teachers in many parts of the world is similar. There are people that were idealistic when they went into the profession; and then they've just been worn down really by the engagement with the bureaucracy, particularly as you say that the Ofsted-like factors of just being forced to do more and more testing and feeling you're just a pawn on the chessboard.And I guess, one of the things that sort of motivates us at Driving Change is, that that [also] seems to be an issue with public service -- that people would like to be idealistic about serving the public interest and serving their communities, but government, in particular, is so unappealing because it just feels like in all sorts of different ways that it's not going to be a good, intrinsic, fulfilling experience. As you've tried to help professionals, like teachers, police, as well as other aspects of government, have you found ways to shift the system so that your idealism doesn't get handed in at the door?SJ: A whole chapter in the book is on public service and centric political life, because our leaders are so important -- as we're seeing in Ukraine now – as in the pandemic of the last couple of years. So just reading Tony Blair commenting on how he wouldn't have gone into politics today, given the level of scrutiny, the trolling on social media, all these kinds of crazy pressures. Whether you like him or not, I think generally a lot of people, our brightest people often, as you said, don't think of service first, [as] they should do. And one of the things I think that we could try to do is to create a more motivating environment for would-be politicians.I'm doing some work with apolitical and UCL around this actually, a fascinating little piece of work. And take the purpose piece, this idea of our work as a legislator or a lawmaker, helping and serving others. A lot of people I spoke to in many houses of parliament around the world feel that that idea of a one nation -- that you're there to help the whole country -- that's been lost by factionalism. And one of the ideas I explored in the book is how can we all try to create back a sense of genuine national purpose that is genuinely across divides and across political parties, and focuses on what unites us more than what divides us. I was looking at Kennedy in the book and some of the things he was saying many years ago, about how can we try and find that common ground and resist that temptation to exacerbate differences, [just] because it scores points. That sense of autonomy again -- I was talking to ministers in various governments, including the U.K., where they told me they heard about major policy announcements by what came on the news headlines, often secondhand, and they were the second people to know. And that obviously became ridiculous in the pandemic, where lockdown changes are being leaked to the press before MPs had a chance to even look at them. And that makes a mockery of parliamentary processes and demotivates ministers and MPs more widely. Because of the accountability pressures and the scrutiny, prime ministers, presidents etc. have tended to create kitchen cabinets, where you have five people in a room, and you pretty much decide everything in the country. [But] we have about 100 ministers in the country right now if you take the U.K., all very sensible, talented people. [Figuring out] how do we harness their strengths and place that broader narrative and group there is another part of our autonomy side. And mastery -- in talking to people, for example, in the House of Lords in the U.K., who got in the chamber, they were shown where the toilets were, shown how to get to the despatch box, but not much more to be honest. And, we would never allow doctors or lawyers or accountants to be trained this way. The Institute of Government in the U.K. does some training for ministers and is just fantastic. But it's not compulsory, it's very ad hoc. And this is a real job. I mean, this is a very, very difficult and demanding role. We need to develop more formal mechanisms of mastery that allow for more peer learning, more discussion, more sharing of experiences, as well as more formal training to help develop our elected leaders.MB: And would you apply the same framework to civil servants, and people going in other parts of public service, not as elected officials but as building a career?SJ: I think they're very similar pieces. Now, one of the things that's interesting with “purpose” for civil servants is that I talked to many senior civil servants in the British government, for example, [where] you obviously have to somewhat accept that the party in power may not have the same views that you have as an individual, but your job is to make sure that the direction they were elected on is executed as well as possible. That's an interesting purpose question because there is that interesting tension between personal purpose and what the role may require sometimes. But the civil servants I've talked to really are able to say, Well, whether or not I agree with this, I've been able to really make sure that the needs of my country are put into action. In terms of that piece that's been interesting. I think with the autonomy side, in civil service, there's a lot of scrutiny and it's very easy to lose your job in civil service if you do something wrong. So there tends to be a little bit of guardedness sometimes. And what that concerns me is a bit of a defensive culture. The best civil servants I know, they know how to stick their neck out. But they also know when to be careful. Just knowing when to duck and dive is a key element. There is more on mastery -- there's more formal mechanisms, professional development,  building networks, especially across departments, and across levels. I'm seeing more and more of that, and that's a very, very encouraging sign. Because, again, a lot of the key skills in civil service today are not on the job description formally. How do you actually find that? You do that through learning through peers, and going through experiences, and doing things. Very few policies ever look back on and said, Did that work? What worked well, what didn't go well? [We need to] make sure we create reflective spaces where civil servants can look back at what they've done and try to reflect and then use that as an improvement mechanism as well.MB: I mean, none of this involves paying them more or anything like that to improve in paying conditions. I think he obviously talked about pay bonuses, status, etc, as these hygiene things, the basics, that you need to have in place. As you look at government and civil service, and perhaps you compare it with the sort of growing trend for people who are committed and pumped to public service but want to go and do it in corporations and nonprofits where they might certainly in terms from the corporate side get better deals in terms of those basic hygiene of pay and status -- how much is pay the problem that is discouraging many idealistic people from really taking the path to government? And do you think we have to fix that basic before we can get to the intrinsic, mastery, purpose, and autonomy points that you've talked about?SJ: I think the research is pretty clear that it depends on where we are relative to other professions, so it's about the relative gap. I think most people in public service will always expect some kind of discount to the private sector -- in practice, that's what happens. But just make sure that it is manageable as well. And just that you can keep your family fed, if you have a family, etc. All these things are very important. So we shouldn't neglect that point, we need to constantly keep making sure that people can live sensible and decent lives on whatever their pay is, either elected office or in the civil service. But I think beyond that, looking at India for example, where teacher pay went up and up and the teachers became some of the highest paid in the world relative to per capita GDP, it did nothing for motivation, actually. So we just can't treat pay as a silver bullet. It's good to make sure we get it right and be sensible about it, but really what matters more is intrinsic factors. And most people go into public service because they want to make a difference to the world or the country. We've got to play to that and build cultures that really help them do that. And if you do that, they'll be motivated. And that will lead to better retention of civil servants, [it] will lead to more people wanting to go into the profession in the first place. And you'll create a virtuous cycle and probably the public will be more open to higher salaries for public servants, or MPs, over time. So you kind of create a virtuous cycle if you get on the right intrinsic track.MB:We [should] pick up the teachers’ point. What did you see that was most effective as you were working with Indian teachers, and these relatively highly paid people, many of them weren't even turning up for work on a regular basis? How do you turn that round?SJ: Yes, we found it was really simple. For us, we looked at how do we try and inject purpose, autonomy, and mastery into a school system. And we started by running teacher networks -- groups of teachers 20-25 or so who would come together every month and go through a structured process to build their motivation, build a sense of purpose, build a sense of autonomy. They tried new techniques, learned to do things alone, [saw] what's possible, but also “mastery”, they learned how to become better and better. And doing that in a very collective fun engaging experience. We then learned that actually those networks are to grow and grow. They went from one network in Delhi in 2012, to [now] about 8000 a month, involving about 200,000 teachers, across about 35,000 schools. As that happened, we realized that actually what mattered next was the leaders of the system. So the people who manage teachers in systems, they had to buy into this, because if not, they would always be undermined. And so we started training those people to run the network. And we started working with people, very senior people, in governments and in ministries to oversee that, to make sure it was part of that budget, part of their training system. So there was kind of role modeling happening in all levels of a system as well. But it didn't cost very much. I think the cost for the teachers was about $20 U.S. per year, most of that was taken from existing training budgets. It wasn't about the money. It was more, as you're saying, about building that space in and be willing to try new ways of doing things.MB: And what was the evidence for you that that was working?SJ: We saw some pretty strong evidence that absenteeism effort improved quite substantially. Also, the relationships with teachers and children improved a lot -- just teachers knowing kids names, engaging them better, thinking of them as individuals, and nurturing kids more effectively -- was something we all saw from that.MB: Another big area of public service, that's obviously got a lot of questions being asked about the motivation and culture of the moment is -- policing. And you touch on that a bit in the book -- what needs to happen there?SJ: So we sort of heard about William Bratton, and some of these stories in the U.S., and Malcolm Gladwell popularized some of them and so on. There's a lot of truth in them. I think data has improved things. But it has slightly given this kind of culture, or created this kind of misconception, that it's all about seeing an individual policeman as a bit of a pawn on a chessboard, and driving into different things. That sense of autonomy has been really heavily undermined. And I think what we need to do is rethink and remember that policemen are human beings, they've had a lot of challenges -- with everything black lives matter to the vigils last year in the U.K. -- so how do we try and help them see that sense of professionalism again, and bring  that sense of professional dignity and motivation in what they do? Targets? I think what's happened is we've overelied on targets for them. But remember that policing, especially, there's a lot of things that cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet -- it's highly discretionary, you have to have very good judgment. It's what I call in the book “a wicked profession”, as in, there's no easy technical solution to it. We've got to help them create the conditions where they can make the right judgments at the right time. And encourage them to do that and make them feel supported to do that, as well. So I think we need to rethink that approach of sort of policing by numbers a bit.MB: Have you, again, had experiments that have worked in that respect?SJ: We're just starting, we're working with a group of IDFC. I had a chance to talk to a number of senior officers in India, for example, and really, really dynamic leaders in the police force. Now, take India as an example. What they need is the freedom not to drive change and change culture, that's always the hardest thing. But particularly how to help the constables and other frontline who often feel quite demotivated. How do you help them build trust with citizens, so they're not mistrusted? And there's a genuine sense of their being linked to their community. Get that bit right, huge things can happen. And I saw some small examples through some of that early research work, where that was possible. Now, the question is, how do we try to scale that and try and make that more of a norm?MB: We're almost out of time. I just wanted to end by asking you -- What's been the biggest change in your own life as a result of diving into this thinking about intrinsic motivation? What would you advise anyone else that wants to really reconnect with this intrinsic drive to do, beyond reading your book?SJ: So one of the most fun parts for me writing the book was looking at the side of our personal lives -- our lives and relationships, and as parents. And I'm both a husband and father of two young boys. And it really made me question my own assumptions. Take parenting as an example. What kind of parent do I want to be for my kids? How do I help them be motivated? And I, like many middle class parents those days, I was guilty of pushing them from one activity to another. From homework club, to a tennis coaching session, to a piano class ,and all this kind of nonsense. And actually just remembering what matters for them is they loved life, they love learning, and they're good people. And they have high degrees of intrinsic motivation.So I changed my parenting style quite substantially, since writing the book, to hopefully be more nurturing as a parent to help them find what they enjoy doing. Helping them build on that, helping them nurture their purpose, autonomy, and mastery. But what's also been helpful is if I tried to adapt some of these things to my own life, that role modeling effect -- if they see me trying to do these things, that can be just as powerful. So I think the book is not just about our work lives, those are important, but also our lives as real human beings.MB: Well, thank you. And what is one piece of advice to anyone that wants to start down this path of saying, Okay, I've heard what you've got to say, I'll read the book, [but] are there practical steps?SJ: I talked about in the book, a four stage journey you can go on as an individual to think about them. The first thing that it starts with is put down what I call the "cost of inaction". What tends to happen is we don't articulate why the current reality, the lack of D motivation, is hurting us so much. But we forget, we're going to be working the same 90,000 hours in our working lives on average. If we're not motivated, we're going in and feel like we're drudging through the day each day, it exerts a huge emotional, social, even financial cost on us. Just write down what the pain feels like. And that can really inspire us to say, Look, it's worth a try, it's worth taking a little bit of a risk here -- it's worth taking that first small step that I talked about in the book. So I think sometimes we just take things for granted too much. Write down why it hurts so much. And that will give us some motivation to go forward.MB: On that note, thank you very much, Sharath Jeevan. The book is Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive. It's a beautifully written book, as well as full of great insights. So I highly recommend it to all our listeners. And thank you for joining Books Driving Change today. SJ: Thanks for having me. NOTE: Intrinsic is currently available in the U.K. It will be published in the U.S. in September 2022.  We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Books Driving Change: Sharath Jeevan and Intrinsic
Mar 23 2022
Books Driving Change: Sharath Jeevan and Intrinsic
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change. And today I'm talking with Sharath Jeevan, who is the author of Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive. Sharath is a social entrepreneur who came out of the business world, consulting world, and helped launch STIR Education -- which is an organization that helps teachers improve their performance through their better motivation and sharing of insights -- he can elaborate on that -- in many countries, including India and Indonesia, and some parts of Africa. And now he runs Intrinsic Labs, which we'll talk a bit about as well, I hope. The audience for this show, Sharath, is people who are conscious of this crisis that we've been living through in the pandemic, [and how that] has revealed a need for greater public service to re-engage people with talent and insight and leadership capacity into the public realm of public service. And I wondered if you could say in a sentence for them -- why they should read your book?Sharath Jeevan (SJ): Thanks Matthew, real pleasure to be on the show. And I think it's so important for those of us leading change in public service to know what deeply motivates ourselves as individuals and leaders. And that idea of really trying to find lasting motivation from within for ourselves, really with a view that that can help us motivate the people around us -- our teams, if we've got teams in our work, but also, of course, as citizens. Our work is ultimately geared towards that, and that applies, whether we're public servants, or we're political leaders, or trying to affect change, in the social sector, or nonprofit sector, etc. And these are universal themes the book talks about.MB: In the book, you set out in a powerful way a number of the trends that have caused many people to lose touch with what it is that motivates them from within and to be driven by external factors - as to what you call “extrinsic”. To the extent that you really feel there's a huge crisis in the world of loss of connection with ourselves, and that that's underlying many of the issues that emerge all over the place, in different aspects of life, and is proving dysfunctional in many parts of the world. But could you just spell that out for us? What is the key problem that you think we need to solve at this point and that Intrinsic is setting out to solve as a book?SJ: Yes, I think it's moving our dial, that motivational dial, [away] from extrinsic or external factors. So for example, in the world of work, we would think a lot about pay, about status, how fancy our job title is, how fancy our office is. These are critical things and we're not saying they're not important -- many people in the world don't have them, we need to make sure they do. But for those of us who do have those, they have a diminishing effect over time. That was a ceiling effect. I was talking to a trader in the City of London who got a £21.5 million bonus for the year. And his first reaction when his boss told him the news was, I had to work harder, because I know that someone else down the corridor got more than me. So that idea that there's never enough in some of these things, but we can keep chasing them, [although] that won't give us fulfillment, happiness, and actually won't give us success in the long term either. What we've got to do is move that motivational belt inwards to thinking about how we can really do what we do -- particularly in public service, because it's genuinely fulfilling, motivating, and rewarding. It's a bit like driving an electric car compared to a car driving on heavy diesel -- it should feel enjoyable in its own right. And we know the key pillars of intrinsic motivation are around “purpose” -- that sense of how work helps and serves others -- and “autonomy” -- that sense of us being in control of our destiny, as public policy leaders. And finally, becoming a “master” -- or becoming a better and better leader over time. We never get to perfection, but we're getting and developing and growing. So purpose, autonomy and mastery are key to us really moving that dial inwards. And we know that it's much more likely to lead us to be happy, fulfilled, and successful.MB: One of the things you do very well in the book is marshall a lot of academic research that's supportive of your claim on intrinsic motivation. And I think maybe "purpose" in particular has become one of those buzzwords that I think everyone is talking about -- a lot of company leaders, a lot of political people, saying we need to have purpose, clear and everything. Just what is the evidence that purpose matters and can be a game changer? And, with a slightly cynical hat on, how do we tell real purpose, real change making purpose, from the sort of bullshit PR purpose that a lot of people might be inclined to say [they have], if they're under pressure, in these leadership roles at the moment to try and sign sound appealing to millennials?SJ: I think that you put the nail right on the head. A lot of problems we are having with this purpose discussion is that it has been taken to this PR territory, and thousands of staff are subject to these kinds of corporate workshops, or government workshops, where they're bombarded with purpose statements from the company and so on. What I tried to look at on "purpose" was look at that really simple definition. I was trying to define it from first principles around just how what we do helps and serves others -- take away all the airy fairy language and so on. The challenge, I think, is that actually organizations are getting better and better, to be absolutely fair, on defining organizational purpose -- why that company, or how it helps and serves others. I don't think we've yet cracked the question of how do we, as an individual leader in public service, contribute to that purpose. So what tends to happen is we get hired into a job, let's say a government somewhere, civil service, and I'll be honest, [you] seem like a robot who's there to fulfill the purpose of the government department or division. The challenge though I think is, in today's world, especially with younger workers, we ourselves want to feel a sense of a personal mission statement. And by that, what is our own North Star?Let me just give you mine as an example: I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting. So I help organizations and leaders to reignite inner drive by writing, coaching, consulting -- just a very, very simple 15-word statement. But it's a really helpful North Star that helps me remember why I'm doing what I do. And if I joined an organization -- I work for myself now, but I do write, consult for one, as you mentioned -- the question I'm asking is how am I contributing to that organization's purpose statement? But also, how are they contributing to mine? How are they helping me achieve mine? And when I think both things are in harmony, we've got a great marriage between an employee and an organization. I think we have a great motivational deal in place. But the temptation is we tend to forget the individual and forget that we all need that for ourselves as much as needed for our organizations.MB: And then you also talk about "autonomy" and "masteries". What's the key issue today with autonomy, and what do you mean by that?SJ: If you look at political life today, I'd argue we're in a really difficult autonomy situation, one where we've got two extremes. I talked about some of the research in the book about political leadership where you can have the extreme. For example in the U.S., perhaps both houses where it's almost like individual lawmakers -- it's Clint Eastwood extreme, or if you like, a Lone Ranger type behavior. But the other extreme where when you're an MPs, often in the U.K., they are often micromanaged. And how do you have the right balance between these two things is important. In enough autonomy you're representing a genuine community of constituencies for your elected office. But also, you also need to make sure that you are adhering to the broad direction of the party that you were being elected to join. How do you find that balancing act? That's a key piece. So it can't be either extreme. It can't be micromanagement, nor can it be a complete free for all. How do you negotiate between is a key idea in the book.MB: But one of the things you generally observe is the people not feeling very much autonomy at work in that sense.SJ: Absolutely. So I was talking, for example, about teachers in the book, and we have record numbers of teachers leaving every month. In the U.S., 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 teachers a month leave the profession. In the U.K. 40% of teachers want to leave. It's not because they don't enjoy teaching anymore. It's because they feel like they are being micromanaged. And their head teachers, their leaders in the school system are asking, What would Ofsted say, rather than what's the right thing to do for my school, my community. So they feel often like a pawn on a very big chessboard and unable to exert their own professional judgment and discretion. That's a really killer, killer blow for motivation.MB: And that's a problem across government do you find in particular?SJ: I think very much. So I spent quite a lot of time talking to lawmakers in a lot of different countries, in the emerging world and the developed world. And that sense of not being able to control their own destiny -- for example, many of them wanted to be in the “for one nation tradition” where they really weren't genuinely supporting the whole country. They feel more and more like they're being held to factions as well. MB: And "mastery" is the third concept. So you have purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Specialization has been a huge theme -- to the extent that we now have lots of books about how dangerous silos are. Because we've all become so specialized, we don't really know how to reach out across silos and think in a joined up way in decision making. But what do you mean by mastery? You mean something very different to that.SJ: I talk in the book about the “10,000 hour rule”, and this idea that a lot of the mastery discussions have been about technical prowess. And there's a lot of evidence that's true in technical domains, but a lot of the future of modern jobs today, they thrive because of the human skills. As a civil servant, for example, you've got to know how to develop policy and legislation. But you've also got to know how to influence ministers, how to work with colleagues, how to work with different kinds of disciplines. I look at the COVID response, for example, those human skills are much harder to subject to simple 10,000 hour rules. It's much more of the broader human aspects of our work. And so how do we codify those -- what I call the "order essentials of mastery" -- and try to make them something [people] actually actively want to work on, and become better and better at? They're often things that are actually not on a public servant's job description, that actually are the magic of the job these days. And how do you make them explicit? How do you codify them? And how do you find a systematic way of improving them, and also find people who can nurture your skills as you progress in your careers?MB: So give us an example of where you've seen a different approach be applied, [one] that's really moved away from that sort of 10,000 hour rule approach, to something more holistic.SJ: Giving examples from my own life with STIR Education. I had a finance director who was fantastic. And she was really, really good at making sure we had good reliable management accounts every month. The challenge is that as we became bigger as an organization, that actually a lot of her role was shifting from that technical aspect she was very comfortable into influencing our staff, or running our program for teachers -- for them to spend money better, to know how to use resources better, to make sure they felt more comfortable in terms of financial literacy, and be able to use the numbers themselves to make intelligent decisions. So we did a lot to try and break barriers down. Simple things, like she where she sat in the office. Often, finance tends to have their own little cubicle or room because they feel that what they've got is confidential information. So I said, Why don't you rotate around the office every day, every week, so you meet different colleagues, you can talk to them, see their reality. She spent many days in the field, with schools, seeing the work on the ground, and seeing a lot of the processes that we had time might be actually hindering progress. So it's trying to break down silos. And back to that personal mission statement, if you think my role at purpose level is to produce management accounts on time and accurately, that's one purpose statement. If it's to help the organization as a whole make better decisions, that's a different one. So how do you try and break some of the traditional ways of thinking down to open up jobs in public service and make them fulfilling and motivated?MB: And you talked about STIR Education, and the book opens with this inspiring story and how you were surprised, in a sense, by the appeal of the message. Can you just talk a bit about what happened and why that's given you hope? And have you seen other examples since?SJ: So, I got into this whole thing by accident. I'm an economist by background at the end. I was very much someone to believe in the hard skills of life around finance, or economics, and so on. I think what happened is, starting off in the slums of Delhi, we were trying to find some great teaching ideas to be shared around the world. That by looking for the ideas in some of the poorest parts of the world, there was not huge pride. In a sense, my teachers, for the first time, their ideas mattered. And they were actually important people in their own right, and they enjoyed meeting each other and sharing ideas. That buzz of energy would, almost by accident, even though we didn’t know what these terms meant at the time, but we're unlocking purpose, autonomy and mastery, almost as a byproduct of what we were doing. We realized we had confused the baby in the bathwater. And actually, magic was that ignition of teachers, that reigniting of motivation, and that really shifted my view of the world. I now work for a range of organizations - as an advisor at L'Oreal, to the Kenyan government. But that core idea that actually everyone goes into a job, especially in public service, with a high degree of intrinsic motivation, as had these teachers, but as we work longer and longer, the cultures around us tend to drag it out of us. And then the trick is how to keep ourselves motivated despite that at the individual level. But if we're leaders in public service, how do we create cultures that build on that intrinsic motivation, and make us feel more and more motivated, rather than taking away that energy over time?MB: I think the experience of teachers in many parts of the world is similar. There are people that were idealistic when they went into the profession; and then they've just been worn down really by the engagement with the bureaucracy, particularly as you say that the Ofsted-like factors of just being forced to do more and more testing and feeling you're just a pawn on the chessboard.And I guess, one of the things that sort of motivates us at Driving Change is, that that [also] seems to be an issue with public service -- that people would like to be idealistic about serving the public interest and serving their communities, but government, in particular, is so unappealing because it just feels like in all sorts of different ways that it's not going to be a good, intrinsic, fulfilling experience. As you've tried to help professionals, like teachers, police, as well as other aspects of government, have you found ways to shift the system so that your idealism doesn't get handed in at the door?SJ: A whole chapter in the book is on public service and centric political life, because our leaders are so important -- as we're seeing in Ukraine now – as in the pandemic of the last couple of years. So just reading Tony Blair commenting on how he wouldn't have gone into politics today, given the level of scrutiny, the trolling on social media, all these kinds of crazy pressures. Whether you like him or not, I think generally a lot of people, our brightest people often, as you said, don't think of service first, [as] they should do. And one of the things I think that we could try to do is to create a more motivating environment for would-be politicians.I'm doing some work with apolitical and UCL around this actually, a fascinating little piece of work. And take the purpose piece, this idea of our work as a legislator or a lawmaker, helping and serving others. A lot of people I spoke to in many houses of parliament around the world feel that that idea of a one nation -- that you're there to help the whole country -- that's been lost by factionalism. And one of the ideas I explored in the book is how can we all try to create back a sense of genuine national purpose that is genuinely across divides and across political parties, and focuses on what unites us more than what divides us. I was looking at Kennedy in the book and some of the things he was saying many years ago, about how can we try and find that common ground and resist that temptation to exacerbate differences, [just] because it scores points. That sense of autonomy again -- I was talking to ministers in various governments, including the U.K., where they told me they heard about major policy announcements by what came on the news headlines, often secondhand, and they were the second people to know. And that obviously became ridiculous in the pandemic, where lockdown changes are being leaked to the press before MPs had a chance to even look at them. And that makes a mockery of parliamentary processes and demotivates ministers and MPs more widely. Because of the accountability pressures and the scrutiny, prime ministers, presidents etc. have tended to create kitchen cabinets, where you have five people in a room, and you pretty much decide everything in the country. [But] we have about 100 ministers in the country right now if you take the U.K., all very sensible, talented people. [Figuring out] how do we harness their strengths and place that broader narrative and group there is another part of our autonomy side. And mastery -- in talking to people, for example, in the House of Lords in the U.K., who got in the chamber, they were shown where the toilets were, shown how to get to the despatch box, but not much more to be honest. And, we would never allow doctors or lawyers or accountants to be trained this way. The Institute of Government in the U.K. does some training for ministers and is just fantastic. But it's not compulsory, it's very ad hoc. And this is a real job. I mean, this is a very, very difficult and demanding role. We need to develop more formal mechanisms of mastery that allow for more peer learning, more discussion, more sharing of experiences, as well as more formal training to help develop our elected leaders.MB: And would you apply the same framework to civil servants, and people going in other parts of public service, not as elected officials but as building a career?SJ: I think they're very similar pieces. Now, one of the things that's interesting with “purpose” for civil servants is that I talked to many senior civil servants in the British government, for example, [where] you obviously have to somewhat accept that the party in power may not have the same views that you have as an individual, but your job is to make sure that the direction they were elected on is executed as well as possible. That's an interesting purpose question because there is that interesting tension between personal purpose and what the role may require sometimes. But the civil servants I've talked to really are able to say, Well, whether or not I agree with this, I've been able to really make sure that the needs of my country are put into action. In terms of that piece that's been interesting. I think with the autonomy side, in civil service, there's a lot of scrutiny and it's very easy to lose your job in civil service if you do something wrong. So there tends to be a little bit of guardedness sometimes. And what that concerns me is a bit of a defensive culture. The best civil servants I know, they know how to stick their neck out. But they also know when to be careful. Just knowing when to duck and dive is a key element. There is more on mastery -- there's more formal mechanisms, professional development,  building networks, especially across departments, and across levels. I'm seeing more and more of that, and that's a very, very encouraging sign. Because, again, a lot of the key skills in civil service today are not on the job description formally. How do you actually find that? You do that through learning through peers, and going through experiences, and doing things. Very few policies ever look back on and said, Did that work? What worked well, what didn't go well? [We need to] make sure we create reflective spaces where civil servants can look back at what they've done and try to reflect and then use that as an improvement mechanism as well.MB: I mean, none of this involves paying them more or anything like that to improve in paying conditions. I think he obviously talked about pay bonuses, status, etc, as these hygiene things, the basics, that you need to have in place. As you look at government and civil service, and perhaps you compare it with the sort of growing trend for people who are committed and pumped to public service but want to go and do it in corporations and nonprofits where they might certainly in terms from the corporate side get better deals in terms of those basic hygiene of pay and status -- how much is pay the problem that is discouraging many idealistic people from really taking the path to government? And do you think we have to fix that basic before we can get to the intrinsic, mastery, purpose, and autonomy points that you've talked about?SJ: I think the research is pretty clear that it depends on where we are relative to other professions, so it's about the relative gap. I think most people in public service will always expect some kind of discount to the private sector -- in practice, that's what happens. But just make sure that it is manageable as well. And just that you can keep your family fed, if you have a family, etc. All these things are very important. So we shouldn't neglect that point, we need to constantly keep making sure that people can live sensible and decent lives on whatever their pay is, either elected office or in the civil service. But I think beyond that, looking at India for example, where teacher pay went up and up and the teachers became some of the highest paid in the world relative to per capita GDP, it did nothing for motivation, actually. So we just can't treat pay as a silver bullet. It's good to make sure we get it right and be sensible about it, but really what matters more is intrinsic factors. And most people go into public service because they want to make a difference to the world or the country. We've got to play to that and build cultures that really help them do that. And if you do that, they'll be motivated. And that will lead to better retention of civil servants, [it] will lead to more people wanting to go into the profession in the first place. And you'll create a virtuous cycle and probably the public will be more open to higher salaries for public servants, or MPs, over time. So you kind of create a virtuous cycle if you get on the right intrinsic track.MB:We [should] pick up the teachers’ point. What did you see that was most effective as you were working with Indian teachers, and these relatively highly paid people, many of them weren't even turning up for work on a regular basis? How do you turn that round?SJ: Yes, we found it was really simple. For us, we looked at how do we try and inject purpose, autonomy, and mastery into a school system. And we started by running teacher networks -- groups of teachers 20-25 or so who would come together every month and go through a structured process to build their motivation, build a sense of purpose, build a sense of autonomy. They tried new techniques, learned to do things alone, [saw] what's possible, but also “mastery”, they learned how to become better and better. And doing that in a very collective fun engaging experience. We then learned that actually those networks are to grow and grow. They went from one network in Delhi in 2012, to [now] about 8000 a month, involving about 200,000 teachers, across about 35,000 schools. As that happened, we realized that actually what mattered next was the leaders of the system. So the people who manage teachers in systems, they had to buy into this, because if not, they would always be undermined. And so we started training those people to run the network. And we started working with people, very senior people, in governments and in ministries to oversee that, to make sure it was part of that budget, part of their training system. So there was kind of role modeling happening in all levels of a system as well. But it didn't cost very much. I think the cost for the teachers was about $20 U.S. per year, most of that was taken from existing training budgets. It wasn't about the money. It was more, as you're saying, about building that space in and be willing to try new ways of doing things.MB: And what was the evidence for you that that was working?SJ: We saw some pretty strong evidence that absenteeism effort improved quite substantially. Also, the relationships with teachers and children improved a lot -- just teachers knowing kids names, engaging them better, thinking of them as individuals, and nurturing kids more effectively -- was something we all saw from that.MB: Another big area of public service, that's obviously got a lot of questions being asked about the motivation and culture of the moment is -- policing. And you touch on that a bit in the book -- what needs to happen there?SJ: So we sort of heard about William Bratton, and some of these stories in the U.S., and Malcolm Gladwell popularized some of them and so on. There's a lot of truth in them. I think data has improved things. But it has slightly given this kind of culture, or created this kind of misconception, that it's all about seeing an individual policeman as a bit of a pawn on a chessboard, and driving into different things. That sense of autonomy has been really heavily undermined. And I think what we need to do is rethink and remember that policemen are human beings, they've had a lot of challenges -- with everything black lives matter to the vigils last year in the U.K. -- so how do we try and help them see that sense of professionalism again, and bring  that sense of professional dignity and motivation in what they do? Targets? I think what's happened is we've overelied on targets for them. But remember that policing, especially, there's a lot of things that cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet -- it's highly discretionary, you have to have very good judgment. It's what I call in the book “a wicked profession”, as in, there's no easy technical solution to it. We've got to help them create the conditions where they can make the right judgments at the right time. And encourage them to do that and make them feel supported to do that, as well. So I think we need to rethink that approach of sort of policing by numbers a bit.MB: Have you, again, had experiments that have worked in that respect?SJ: We're just starting, we're working with a group of IDFC. I had a chance to talk to a number of senior officers in India, for example, and really, really dynamic leaders in the police force. Now, take India as an example. What they need is the freedom not to drive change and change culture, that's always the hardest thing. But particularly how to help the constables and other frontline who often feel quite demotivated. How do you help them build trust with citizens, so they're not mistrusted? And there's a genuine sense of their being linked to their community. Get that bit right, huge things can happen. And I saw some small examples through some of that early research work, where that was possible. Now, the question is, how do we try to scale that and try and make that more of a norm?MB: We're almost out of time. I just wanted to end by asking you -- What's been the biggest change in your own life as a result of diving into this thinking about intrinsic motivation? What would you advise anyone else that wants to really reconnect with this intrinsic drive to do, beyond reading your book?SJ: So one of the most fun parts for me writing the book was looking at the side of our personal lives -- our lives and relationships, and as parents. And I'm both a husband and father of two young boys. And it really made me question my own assumptions. Take parenting as an example. What kind of parent do I want to be for my kids? How do I help them be motivated? And I, like many middle class parents those days, I was guilty of pushing them from one activity to another. From homework club, to a tennis coaching session, to a piano class ,and all this kind of nonsense. And actually just remembering what matters for them is they loved life, they love learning, and they're good people. And they have high degrees of intrinsic motivation.So I changed my parenting style quite substantially, since writing the book, to hopefully be more nurturing as a parent to help them find what they enjoy doing. Helping them build on that, helping them nurture their purpose, autonomy, and mastery. But what's also been helpful is if I tried to adapt some of these things to my own life, that role modeling effect -- if they see me trying to do these things, that can be just as powerful. So I think the book is not just about our work lives, those are important, but also our lives as real human beings.MB: Well, thank you. And what is one piece of advice to anyone that wants to start down this path of saying, Okay, I've heard what you've got to say, I'll read the book, [but] are there practical steps?SJ: I talked about in the book, a four stage journey you can go on as an individual to think about them. The first thing that it starts with is put down what I call the "cost of inaction". What tends to happen is we don't articulate why the current reality, the lack of D motivation, is hurting us so much. But we forget, we're going to be working the same 90,000 hours in our working lives on average. If we're not motivated, we're going in and feel like we're drudging through the day each day, it exerts a huge emotional, social, even financial cost on us. Just write down what the pain feels like. And that can really inspire us to say, Look, it's worth a try, it's worth taking a little bit of a risk here -- it's worth taking that first small step that I talked about in the book. So I think sometimes we just take things for granted too much. Write down why it hurts so much. And that will give us some motivation to go forward.MB: On that note, thank you very much, Sharath Jeevan. The book is Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive. It's a beautifully written book, as well as full of great insights. So I highly recommend it to all our listeners. And thank you for joining Books Driving Change today. SJ: Thanks for having me. NOTE: Intrinsic is currently available in the U.K. It will be published in the U.S. in September 2022.  We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Books Driving Change: François Bonnici and The Systems Work of Social Change
Dec 8 2021
Books Driving Change: François Bonnici and The Systems Work of Social Change
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Books Driving Change with me, Matthew Bishop. And today I'm talking with François Bonnici, co-author with Cynthia Rayner, of The Systems Work of Social Change: How to Harness Connection, Context, and Power to Cultivate Deep and Enduring Change.Obviously, this is a book that goes right to the heart of the mission of Books Driving Change, where we're looking at how do we build back better in this moment of crisis that the world is facing. And this book, I highly recommend it because it is full of great practical insights and wisdom, and some great case studies that I think many people will not be familiar with. And also, some very big thoughts about the way change happens globally and the way systems change could be brought about going forward. But François, I wanted to start by asking you, as I ask all of our guests, in a sentence - given our audience of people who are either engaged in social change work or considering it - why should they read your book?François Bonnici (FB): Thank you, Matthew, for having me. I'm delighted to be on your podcast, and hello to everyone listening. Probably the same reason that I would want to read the book. Initially, Cynthia and I wrote it, and we thought, well, if we're the only two people who learn from this, then that's almost sufficient. So as both a practitioner and an academic and also working in the foundation space, and really a bit paralyzed by the overwhelming challenges we have, the complexity of it, and the narrative around systems change, that we didn't feel like we necessarily could take that back to working on a day to day basis. And so the book is called “systems work,” to imply and emphasize the day to day work we all need to do, and to emphasize that to achieve some kind of future systems change that we aspire to, whatever that might be, it's about the process of change. And it's about the people who are involved in that process of change that we wanted to emphasize. So we really hope it's a very practical approach, one that is rooted in 200 years of social change making, deep case studies, hundreds of interviews with experts. But coming away with both stories that move, that inspire, and a set of practical tools and lessons at the end of each chapter. So we hope it will be a contribution to the collective journey many of us are on to try and understand what do we mean by, and how do we do, this work towards the deeper systemic change, what we call deep and enduring change. And I'll unpack a bit further with you where we go with it.MB: I want to start just by asking you a bit about how you and Cynthia came to write this book, which obviously came out of your work together at the Bertha Centre in South Africa. But, and I should say before we go further, that you are now currently head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which is funded by two of the founders, or the founder and his wife, of the World Economic Forum. [That fact] is in itself quite an interesting focal point of discussions about the role of the system, and how you do systems change, and whether top down organizations can really deliver that. But how did you come to write this book?FB: It's been a long journey. It's been five years. And so it started pre-COVID and got revised and updated during COVID, for reasons I'll explain. But I had started the Bertha Centre at the University of Cape Town as the first center for social innovation in Africa, dedicated to understanding approaches to social change that were innovative, that thought about social enterprise, that looked at what movements were doing. And we very quickly recognized the superficial approaches, or even the kind of service delivery type mindset, was not getting to the deep challenges and structural and systemic barriers that lay in my home country, South Africa, from hundreds of years of history. And that no fantastic solution was going to undo all of that. And that was a great barrier, actually a source of failure, for both myself and projects that Cynthia and I had worked in and organizations we'd worked for. Many organizations we worked with had these deep frustrations. But we also saw amazing organizations overcoming that on a day-to-day basis; overcoming the systemic and structural barriers around stigma, around poverty traps, around lack of opportunities, and turning that into agency.So at the time we started exploring, and researching, and working with global collaborations, like the Rockefeller Social Innovation Fellowship. We did a piece of work commissioned by the Schwab Foundation, when we were at the Bertha Centre, called Beyond Organizational Scale, looking at how social pressures create systemic change. And what we found happening in the global conversation around systems change was quite different to what we were seeing with organizations we were working with, initially in South Africa, and then we were looking and working with organizations in Latin America, and India, and even in the U.S.MB: When I was reading, one of the things that hit me was, there seems to be this real difference of opinion as to what systems change is, and how you do it. In the sense that a lot of people view it as a kind of fixing a system with a top down approach, and you found, fundamentally, a different experience on the ground with people doing the grassroots work.FB: I think that's right. And I think we had quite a frustration with even the term “systems,” because we all do mean very different things. And if you ask someone sitting at the World Economic Forum or if you asked grassroot activists, you're going to get very different answers. And so I grew a little bit allergic to the term, and then ended up writing a book on the topic. And it's not to discount any of them. And I think what we talk about in the book is that these challenges have complexity, they have scale, and they have depth. And what we had seen was that the focus of the conversations were around scale - if we can solve problems, and that everyone is doing it in a particular way, that is systems change. If we can do it in that complexity lens, where we have levers, and we can intervene in a system, and we are able to shift the balance of actors and systems and relationships, that is a form of a complexity view of systems change.But what we felt wasn't part of the conversation was really the steps. And that we felt that both those other dimensions and approaches could represent a perpetuating of the system of actors of power -  if the existing actors, who are architects and gatekeepers of a system, are the ones redesigning it. And so what this book seeks to do is really emphasize a depth component; and more than just say this is an additional component, say it's also the critical necessary one to take all those three lenses on how we are strategic and start to meet the bottom up with a top down.MB: And why do you think we've got to this position where even at a moment like this with COVID, and the World Economic Forum, and the great reset and all that, there's this very top down approach to social change? That, at least in terms of the general discussion, it is about how Biden's going to spend 3.5 trillion on infrastructure, and it's these big numbers, big change, very industrialized approach. And I think everyone that's been on the frontline in some way or another, quickly recognizes the very people who so much as these activities are intended to benefit, are the last ones to get asked what they think should be done or given any power to say that. How have we got to that situation?FB: Chapter one of the book actually covers the industry of social change. And I do think there are some deep historical roots, both in terms of the industrial era, but also the kind of postwar period. We talk about the Green Revolution and how some of these big moments in history of social change reinforced certain practices, approaches, mindsets. But also how funding flows, etc. I think one of the big pieces of all of this is the power concentrated in both public and private sectors and how that is dissipated and fragmented in what remains, the “plural sector.'' I much prefer [the term] to “third sector” or “nonprofit sector,” because of its plurality. But because of its plurality there isn't the collective power for decision making - an authority to really state and influence how social change strategies happen. And they've been recipients of decisions and systems and structures and flows for so long that they've become dependent on it in a way. This is not a new narrative but perhaps looks at it in a new light. So we're somehow at that moment of recognizing that, if we just continue on that pathway, we're not actually going to change any of the rules of the game.But those of us who work in this sector are also complicit in it in a way. So there's also a bit of a self critique in all of this; that actually, the fact that those of us who work somewhere in the sector, often have our livelihoods and careers dependent on the fact that these problems continue to exist. So in a way, the big shift for me was recognizing that the role or purpose of not for profit, social enterprises, social change making organizations is quite far removed now from the delivery of goods and services that can improve people's lives. And really, I quite strongly have seen that the ability to create agency, to empower and equip both people who experience particular problems or are invested in communities - whether they work for an organization or volunteering in a particular community somehow - [is extremely important]. That the purpose of social purpose organizations needs to shift. And I won't go too much into detail now, because I know you will want to unpack a lot of that. I've taken your question, and I've gone a bit further. But we are in a position of a great imbalance of power. And the heart of it lies there. But also not recognizing the real intrinsic value of many of these local organizations - whether they be larger networks, or local and small - in creating social capital, in fostering social cohesion. And that we don't have a good way to value and recognize, during this time of COVID, how critical that's been - [looking at] issues of trusts and social capital and being there for each other. And recognizing and having empathy with one another. And so I think that a lot of the book focuses on ultimately social capital and relational value, and how we build that, and how important that is for these longer term aspirational outcomes we have. MB: That's actually a very helpful framing, because as I read the book, I kept thinking this is really about how do you empower people. Not the vast majority of the population, but the people on the ground, who are the ones that are supposed to be being helped by so much of the activity - whether it be government, or nonprofits, or even business now that it's supposedly finding its social mission. But really, it's about that some of these things that are there in the dialogue, the popular conversations, amongst the elite are around networks, platforms, etc. But here, your book was really about empowering the people, the masses, and really giving them the ability to harness some of those tools and things in a different way. And there's lots of inspiring examples, so maybe just talk to a couple of them. I found the Slum Dwellers International a fascinating example of networking in action, but you'd say it's more than that. And then maybe talk about one other case that you particularly found very, very inspiring.FB: You hit the nail on the head in terms of practically talking about what kinds of discussions are happening at the global level or in actors of powers - the network organization, background organization. And we actually see some of those same practices at the grassroots - using digital platforms, using those kinds of approaches, but with a different set of actors. And we'll talk later about how we might connect the micro and the macro. But Slum Dwellers International, an incredible organization I've been following for years, comes originally out of India, had their global headquarters in Cape Town down the road from us, and we ended up working with them at the Bertha Centre. So we got to know a lot about their work. They have, in many ways, quite a traditional and well-known approach to having a federation - in which its members are actually the representatives and leaders of the organization. And the organization itself is some kind of federation secretariat. And it's federated across the world, because these movements of people who live in informal settlements - slums, favelas - self organize and elect their own leadership. And there's a really important history of Jockin [Arputham] and Sheela [Patel], who actually have been part of the Schwab Foundation, who were founders of that movement, but served as very different kinds of leaders than we generally have held up to be the change making leaders that we've spoken about over the past couple of decades. In the same spirit, I actually would love to talk about Nidan, and more specifically, about one of the other case studies from Bihar in India, that was created in the spirit and traditions of SEWA [Self-Employed Women’s Association] - a self-employed women's collective that works with over 1.2 million women across India, through their cooperatives. And in the spirit of that worked with the street vendors, the informal workers and street vendors in India. So as you probably know well, 90% of India's workforce is in the informal economy. All labor law to protect, support, and uphold rights for workers only covers 10% of the workforce. And therefore street vendors were, in particular, at risk from municipalities and cities trying to clean up and impose hygiene standards, or corrupt officials seeking to extort and impose abuses on street vendors.An Nidan has been really interesting in terms of, at the core, what it does is not to try to help solve any of these problems - similar to the example of FII, the Family Independence Initiative in the U.S. What they sought to do was actually help to build the capacity to govern, to self organize, and to execute on issues and needs that they had. So for example, street vendors were collectively saying, well, we don't have time to do anything else in our lives, we barely manage to earn enough livelihood to put food on the table, and if we're trying to also address other issues in our lives, we don't have time to do that. So we actually need to find a way to kind of improve our income, and actually work together and collaborate. And they decided, okay, we'll make and spin off craft cooperatives, or food cooperatives. So they created businesses. They also got together and said, well, we don't have good services for education and health for our children, so let's create non-for-profit organizations that can actually provide preschools and clinics, etc. And so they spun off those organizations. Then they also said, well, we still have a problem in terms of our rights as informal workers, let's create a union and actually advocate for certain rights. And what Nidan was only doing was really helping the self organizing capacity, and the ability to create organizations, manage them, govern them correctly, and actually be able to implement and execute. And so 30 organizations ended up spinning off Nidan.And ultimately, it also helped to build this large movement towards creating the first policy in the world around informal workers. The Street Vendors Act in India became a national movement of street vendors, but also helped to change the mindset. And so working on the deeper elements of change around what actually street vending and street food meant to people in India, and meant as part of the culture, and how to celebrate that rather than seeing it only as a problem. So they worked on all of these dimensions, and gave their constituents, their members, a way to self organize and have self determination. But seeing that in kind of a modern context of a modern organization, where you're spinning off, in fact, some kind of incubator. So that for me has been a really inspiring example. And to see so many using the tools available to us in the modern age of these different kinds of organizations but for different purposes. But really, it was driven by the street vendors and their families and selves.MB: So you mentioned these three elements, which are big themes in the book, the Connection, the Context, and the Power. Connection: different ways you can help people connect is self-evident, to some extent, and you've got some great examples of who's doing that. Power: your message essentially is, empower the people, the primary actors on the ground, the people who you're really supposedly trying to help; the biggest way you help them is by empowering them to find their own solutions. But, talk a bit more about what you mean by Context, and why that's so important at this moment.FB: So just to quickly talk about the other two, because I think they are all interdependent. And so maybe just to go a little bit deeper, so that your listeners can say, well, this is not the same discussions on connection and networks. But actually looking at what's so important with that was also the ways in the practices and the tactics these organizations took to build collective identity. And that then also relates to the power of context. And so I want to just encourage that there's quite a bit under the surface of these three large principles that we talked about, which we felt was underlying all of the organizations, and how they worked.What we also looked at, was this concept of the practices. So under each of these principles there were sets of practices. And so what we were particularly interested in was, how does this stuff happen? So we can talk about context, but what's actually happening? How do organizations do that? And we call that principle: embracing context. And in that space, we were really interested in how critical that is right now. And looking at organizations, even large organizations, that are able to distribute information - and that means data, the ability to make decisions - to their frontline workers, and to the communities and citizens that they're trying to empower. And so context is important because that's where decisions need to be made. Some of our work was also looking very much at the complexity literature, and what was a really interesting insight is that the greatest point of complexity is usually in context. So, if we're talking about schools, it's between a teacher and a child, and a teacher and the family - or [in a hospital] between a healthcare worker and a patient. So the greatest point of complexity also doesn't seem that complex for the people in that position. It's their best place to actually understand well, what needs to be done here? And so what we found over and over again, was that organizations were trying to roll out programs in different areas. This is a common narrative or pattern, where we say, okay, this works really well, in this context, so let's roll it across the country, let's roll it out to other countries. And for a whole bunch of reasons that doesn't work. That's obviously all about context. But what's happening is that, in order for let's say, an employee, or a project manager, or portfolio manager, to roll out a program, they suddenly were doing all of this other work, which was highly relational, to roll out the so called standard operating procedure, the program, the blueprint, that they were supposed to be rolling out. And so not having that recognized, not having that resource, not empowering the frontline workers to be able to do that contextual work, to build the relationships, was part of the reason for failure. But also part of the reason why some of the organizations that we looked at were so successful - whether that be mothers2mothers or Our Labs, or some of the other organizations that we were working with. And what's interesting to say is, that doesn't mean everything needs to be small and local. So the other really interesting example from the book is Buurtzorg, which is headquartered in the Netherlands. A very large organization, in 20 countries in the world, about a 40 million euro turnover company. So this is not a small, micro NGO. But up until recently, they didn't have an HR manager, they didn't have a CFO. But they had very strong technology that enabled them. This is a neighborhood care, nursing care particularly for the elderly, business. So they enabled and empowered the nurses, who were working with elderly and their families, to have all the information, to make resource decisions, to make budget decisions, to make even HR decisions around their local team that was working in a particular neighborhood. And if you look at what happened during COVID, and what happened with particularly homes for the elderly, how there was an inability to be agile, to react, to have to wait for top down decisions, to have to follow protocols. Having worked as a doctor in a system myself, once you're at that level, you just have to follow the system. And so that was really interesting to see that empowering and equipping the problem solvers on the frontlines to be able to make decisions in context actually allowed for much greater engagement, and much more interesting kinds of outcomes. And particularly in breaking some of the traps that we found ourselves in. The last example I will give, which I spoke about earlier, is the Family Independence Initiative [now Up:Together], started by Mauricio Miller, whose book is a couple of years old now, but it's probably worth featuring on your program as well. He was the founder of FII and we talk about in the book, a story where he had to fire a staff member for trying to help a family. And [FII] helps relatively poor families in the U.S., primarily from minority groups. And [he got fired] because he was trying to help [while] his job is not to help. Their job was to provide the data, the information, the list of opportunities, the peer group with other families, the IT infrastructure, so that families could make their own decisions about their future. And that was a really interesting shift for us to see how these organizations were adamant about not trying to solve problems, but really equip people to do that for themselves.MB: You mentioned COVID. Has that made you more optimistic or less optimistic that these lessons can be learned and applied? Because, this is the third or fourth crisis in 20 years, and each time we hear that we mustn't waste a good crisis, that we must build back better and so forth. Are you seeing these lessons being learnt, from your vantage point at the heart of the DevOps community? FB: I'll start first with the organizations we looked at. Because we went back to all of them with a hypothesis that: would the work they had done to build this deep sense of trust, relational value, and distribution of agency, actually put them in a better position to be responsive and to be relevant during COVID? And, by a long way, we feel that hypothesis played out, and feel that these organizations have done incredible work during this period. Has that been learned by others? Have we all learnt how this crisis has shifted things? I think the one thing we've learned, now - which in my South African context is quite an open conversation - about racial bias, about the barriers between classes, about gender, clearly have been exposed at a global level. This is not only a South Africa challenge, this is a global challenge across so many ways. In some way, we've been able to raise the awareness that problems do have these deep structural, systemic barriers in place, and that we are failing to overcome those in our more traditional approaches to social change. On the other hand, and clearly my role is sometimes a bit paradoxical, but that's why the purpose of the foundation is to focus on vulnerable and excluded people and ecosystems, and is to interface with the World Economic Forum, which obviously represents a network of today's leaders. And despite the narratives, it's really hard for today's leaders to actually really work out the radical changes we need, when their mandates and agendas are to stabilize to continue as before. There are obviously great rays of hope, but clearly not fast enough or not radical enough. And so it is perhaps with a mixed answer, I do have optimism, but I also do see us not making the most of the crisis and opportunity. And perhaps it's the mounting crisis at the same time, or the fact that we can't really translate the COVID lessons into long term lessons, and I am deeply worried about that.MB: So last question. The book's primary focus is people who are in leadership of social change organizations, particularly nonprofit ones, but there is a context, which is that big government in much of the world has most of the money. And then you have the philanthropic sector that has done a lot of funding of organizations involved in social change. And then business is, increasingly now, under pressure and starting perhaps to engage more in a stakeholder centric approach that will require it to get more involved in social change, if that's taken seriously enough. What's the message of the book to those different groups? And if I think about our audience of people who are thinking about where they should go, how they should get involved in driving social change, what's the message and advice you'd have for them? FB: I think, first of all it is for all of those in the social sector, not only for leaders. Interestingly, I got a call from Brazil where they want to translate this into Portuguese, because of the work that so many social workers are doing on the ground, which is perhaps not recognized, they feel this book would help to affirm a lot of the work that perhaps people don't value as much. So that was really interesting to hear as feedback. Of course, for social change, leaders, and people who work in these organizations, are grappling and trying to figure these things out themselves. And we hope that this will have some practical insights. I hope it will also enable them to take forward conversations internally and look inside the organization, but also open up the discussions with funders. And so we have been delighted to be invited to a number of donor working groups and with individual philanthropists to engage them in this discussion. Because, there's that internal reflection, and the conversation within philanthropy and how it's evolving. And I do think, what we're emphasizing here are those participatory approaches, but also that we need to start valuing different aspects, and perhaps becoming slightly less attached to what we've been obsessed about - in terms of value for money, social return on investment, clear metrics and outcomes. Not that those things are not important. But in the process of that, we may have lost something that actually leads to this deeper change, that actually we do aspire towards.And then I think for the government and business leaders of the world, interestingly, a lot of these practices actually speak to the moment we're at in time where young people have the power, because of technology, to have a distributed sense of agency. We obviously have tools like blockchain, etc. And how do we maybe harness some of the tools we've got that actually can enable these kinds of practices in a modern era. So I think there's something really interesting, potentially emerging there that we didn't think about that actually, these practices might be relevant and valuable in more purposeful business or even just in business with a new generation. And then, of course, with governments, again, thinking about the value of the sector at a time where the trust in governments are, in many countries at an all time low, - even though some countries seem to be faring reasonably well. But I think there's something there to re-embrace the sector as part of our collective future and not as an afterthought of, well just fill in the gaps of things we don't do as we grow the economy. So I think there are a range of audiences for this, and why we have tried to frame it quite broadly, but then dive deeply into how does this work actually happen.MB: Well, there's certainly a lot of great information, great insight, great inspiration, in the book. The book is The Systems Work of Social Change: How to Harness Connection, Context, and Power to Cultivate Deep and Enduring Change. And it's by Cynthia Rayner, and my guest today, François Bonnici. François, thank you very much for joining.FB: Thank you, Matthew, and lovely to speak to you again.We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Books Driving Change: Peter Coleman and The Way Out
Nov 19 2021
Books Driving Change: Peter Coleman and The Way Out
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change. And today I'm talking with Peter Coleman of Columbia University, one of the co-founders of the Difficult Conversations Lab, which explores what do we do about toxic conversations, a subject that hopefully won't refer to the conversation we're having together now -- which will hopefully be a very positive conversation. But, obviously, we are at a time of increasing polarization in the world. And a lot of conversations seem to end up being more counterproductive than productive. Peter has written a book called The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization, which is something that anyone listening to this podcast will want to know the answer to. So Peter, can I just start by asking you in one sentence, given the audience that this podcast has of people engaged in trying to bring about positive change -- why should they read the book?Peter Coleman (PC): Well, thank you, Matthew, for having me. So the reason I wrote the book is that I feel that there is significant misunderstanding of the nature of the problem of what I call “toxic polarization”, which is unlike typical forms of polarization -- it's more extreme, it's more entrenched, it's more long term. And so what I offer in the book, and I think is relevant to your listening audience, is a different theory of change. Typically, how we think about addressing things like political polarization is that we go after key pieces of the problem. But we don't understand how the problem works as a whole, as a system, as a series of forces that kind of align and feed each other in complicated ways. And this book offers an alternative theory of change, it contrasts our typical kind of scientific approach of looking for the essence of a problem, and says this problem of toxic polarization has many essences. And more importantly, these essences align and feed each other in complex ways that really make it, as a cultural phenomenon, highly resistant to change. And so it's important that we understand how problems like these, wicked problems, actually do change, and what to do about them based on science. And so that's why I wrote this book -- to offer this alternative theory of change.MB: And it is an optimistic book, fundamentally, which is interesting because you start talking about how everyone's feeling so miserable now, and this is actually a reason for optimism. Why do you make that point?PC: Well, because one of the things we've learned from the study of deeply divided societies that actually do come out of this time and pivot into a more constructive direction, is that there are a couple of basic conditions that often are associated with that kind of change. One is that there is a sufficient level of misery within the political middle -- what in ripeness theory they call a “mutually hurting stalemate”, where you are sort of exhausted and fed up and really don't want to continue to engage in the same way, and you want to do something different. And certainly in America, but in many places in the U.K. and around the world, there is a growing, exhausted, middle majority that's fed up with the political vitriol that we see, the dysfunction that we see, and really seeking an alternative. So in that way, the ground is ripe for a movement that offers people a vision for how to change. But in addition to being miserable, they need to have some clear sense of what to do. What is the alternative? What are the steps? And that's why I wrote this book.MB: I'm very struck by how you are coming at this -- as someone who, as you talked about in the beginning of the book, grew up in a very difficult situation. You weren't in a well-to-do family, your father was being pursued by violent men, I think you say for gambling issues, you ended up getting your Ph.D. after a long and difficult process and welfare support, and all sorts of things in a single-parent home. And you know many people. You identify as much with Trump supporters in some ways as you do with his critics. About halfway through the book, you say, “Dear reader, I hope half of you are Trump supporters and half of you aren't”, or words to that effect. This is such an unusual voice at the moment, given the politics that we're seeing in America, and as you also say, around the world. How do you feel we can get beyond this pro-Trump/anti-Trump mindset and get to some of these underlying systemic changes that we need?PC: My journey to some degree is unique, because I was born in a place and at a time with folks that were disenfranchised, and I was as a young person I kind of worked my way out of that. And now I live this Columbia University professor on the Upper West Side of Manhattan [life], which is a very progressive arena. So I've experienced both worlds, and have empathy for both worlds. And ultimately, I think that's the question -- is how do we create some kind of trusted process or system where people can rediscover the empathy that we have for one another, and rediscover some sense of unity and connectedness? And again, what I propose, or what I argue, is that this is hard. We are, in some ways, in a mass addiction. I see toxic polarization as a bio/psycho/social/structural process like addiction. It's something that's within us, it’s, in some ways, [something] we’ve embodied in our neurological structures -- how we see the world, what we react to emotionally. So there's a kind of basic internal component of this, but then there are psychological components. And it's embedded in our relationships -- who we speak with, who we don't speak with. It's embedded in the media that we do and do not consume, in the internet spaces that we do and do not travel to, and even physically where we go in our life. So there are many levels and layers to this trap that we're in. And it's not going to be something easy to escape from. It's not just that we decide, Okay, I've had enough of this, I'm moving on. We definitely need to have that. But we really need to recognize that this is going to be hard work. And some of the folks that have read the book have suggested, Wow, this is hard work. And the answer is yes. John Paul Lederach, a colleague of mine who does a lot of peace building around the world, once in Northern Ireland said to a Northern Irish audience, “It's probably going to take you as long to get out of this conflict as it did to get into it.” And he said, he almost got thrown out of the room. Because people don't want to hear that, they want to hear that there are simple solutions. What I lay out is a sequence of processes, strategies, steps, that can move us in a much more positive direction. But they're not simple answers to this complex problem that we're embedded in.MB: One of my takeaways from the book is, and you also refer to it in various points in the book, this notion of “complicate things” as a way to to help. Because there is a tendency to think quite simplistically about this. Those of us that are saying, “Let's try and heal the divide, or let’s try and put a Trump voter in a room with a progressive and the hope that they'll figure things out.” And it's all quite naive. Where do people tend to go wrong when they try to take that approach?PC: So that approach is based on something called “contact theory'', which Gordon Allport developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, to break down racism in this country. And it is the basic idea that if you have groups of people that have no contact with each other, no connection to each other, that sometimes just bringing them together and having them realize that each one is a human with kids and interests, and they like music, and they like to dance, and they start to rehumanize members of the other group. And that can have a transformative effect. And that's a very powerful theory and model that's often used in intergroup disputes. But when you have groups of people that are deeply passionate, deeply ideological, and living in parallel opposing media echo systems, then just saying, Go off and have a cup of coffee in the same room and chat with one another, can easily backfire. And in fact, if you push some of the people that encourage such interventions these days, they'll tell you those stories of these well-intentioned, well-designed interventions that blow up and that backfire. And in fact, there is Pew Research suggesting that when people get together across political divisions these days, the vast majority of us leave those conversations more frustrated, more alienated from the other side. So it doesn't help, typically, under these conditions, to just bring people together. And so what I argue is that we need to know what the science tells us. Contact theory has been studied over 500 times for decades. And what we know is that there are certain conditions where that works. And there's certain conditions where it doesn't work. And when you're dealing with true believers, it doesn't work, it's insufficient.MB: And you illustrate this at the start of the book with this discussion, or description, of an effort around the anti-abortion/pro-choice debate in Boston, where a number of leaders on both sides were brought together, and they met together over over a period of time, and it seemed to make a difference. Can you just explain what was the magic sauce in that approach? PC: I think tenacity, courage, and perseverance. So there was an incident that happened. Boston in the ‘80s and ‘90s was a very divided place. It's highly Catholic, 36% Catholic population. And the abortion debate was very hostile and intense in that community and becoming increasingly so. And then in 1994, there was a horrific shooting that took place in a couple of women's clinics -- women were shot dead, harmed, injured, and it was a rupture. And it really kind of destabilized the status quo. And so the Archdiocese and the Governor and the Mayor were all calling for sort of talks. And how do you change a culture of vitriol and hate through talks? It seems to be an almost impossible thing to do. So there was a group called the Public Conversations Project. And I tell this story in the beginning of the book, because I think it's a great parable for our time. We too, in the pro-Trump/anti-Trump world or pro-Brexit/anti-Brexit world, we are true believers in some ways.MB: The abortion issue is coming back up on the agenda in America in a big way, in that true believer way, is it not?PC: Absolutely yes, it's being triggered in multiple states simultaneously. So, it is a parable of our time. But what happened was, this group called the Public Conversations Project had been doing dialogue processes with pro-life/pro-choice groups, bringing them together before the shooting. And so they had a network there. And what they did is they reached out to three prominent pro-life leaders and three prominent pro-choice leaders, and they said to them, “Would you consider just coming together for a couple of weeks, and have some conversations in order to prevent further violence and kind of bring the temperature down?” And all of these women were afraid of the other side, literally. The pro-life women met in a Friendly's restaurant and prayed to God that they would be forgiven for sitting down with these evil murderers. And the other side was very afraid of their reputation and their physical safety, especially in the wake of this violence. But they agreed to come together, they talked for about a month, and albeit difficult, it went well enough that they decided to go to the one year anniversary of the shooting. And the conversations continued. And they actually had in-secret dialogues, clandestine dialogues, between these six people and the facilitators that their families and communities did not know anything about for five and a half years. And then in January of 2001, they came out publicly in the Boston Globe, they co-published an article called Talking With the Enemy -- which I'd recommend that your readers or your listeners read. And they talk about this experience and how it changed them and their relationships and their understanding of the issues. And ironically, and I think, importantly, they all to a person became further apart on the issue of abortion. Their attitudes on the issues became even more crystallized, so that they still fundamentally differed on the issue. But their relationships and care and respect for one another, and care for their community, and the rhetoric they used in their activism, all changed fundamentally. And that interaction with those six women and two facilitators had first and second and third order effects in the Boston community in how activism around these issues were taken up and what the rhetoric was. And ultimately, they think even sort of affected the movement more broadly in terms of bringing down the temperature of hate and vilification of the other side.MB: That goes to one of your points about, Let's get away from the actual point of dispute in these situations and think more about the context, the broader context, that things are operating in, and find common ground in the context, which you can build on. PC: They were able to recognize that they all cared for women -- young, pregnant, teen pregnancy. That they had common interests about violence and keeping violence at bay in the community and protecting one another from that. They could actually write grants together. And ironically, this was 25 years ago, and today, they're still friends. It's still a group of people that celebrate births and deaths and come together when they need support. So they grew very fond of one another. And they fundamentally differed on this issue. And that is the essence here. It is when policy becomes personal and becomes ideological. [For example when we] take things like “Let's build the wall” or “Not build a wall” as the slogans for immigration, we lose a sense of the immense complexity of immigration policies and over simplify the issue that positions them. And then we're nowhere, that's when we get stuck.MB: So what would you draw as lessons from that for today and how the abortion debate might play out less harmfully, then some people feel it will do now, in America?PC: What I do in the book is try to use the evidence-based science that has been done by our group and by other groups, and pull out five basic principles of what helps to basically navigate the way out of these toxic times. And I use this case as a parable, because I think it illustrates all of the principles in many ways. And, so that's why I use it as a story to begin. And then what the book moves into is what are the areas of research that have shed some light on this? One of the things that happened in Boston, that led to [the conversations], was this shock of the shooting, this destabilization. And you could say that, certainly in the U.S., the political vitriol and the January 6 attack on our nation's Capitol was such a destabilizing moment. In addition [we have] the racial injustice that's happening, and COVID shutdowns, and the Delta variant, and the exhaustion from all of that, so this nation is a nation that's destabilized. I imagine you're seeing similar things in the U.K. these days, with the consequences of Brexit, and COVID. But that kind of instability, as I suggested earlier, is good, if we take advantage of it as an opportunity to reset, and to really start to question some of the basic assumptions on which we make our decisions. What kind of future do we want to have? How do we move forward? Do we take advantage of this time as a time of reflection? So again, to go back to addiction metaphor -- what we find with addicts is that A) they need to bottom out, and then B) they need to have the kind of support that allows them to start to do a searing inventory of their life and their choices and how they want to move forward in their life. So similarly, I think that's what this time, this kind of extraordinary time, provides us. But it does require that we all do that work. But what I argue is that's hard to do. In fact, I just wrote an editorial that I submitted to Politico last night, which is calling for a national movement, like AA in America, that takes advantage of the fact that this is an extraordinary time, but people need help. They need help in knowing what to do. They need support, knowing how to do it. And in the U.S., there's a website called the Bridging Divides Initiative, which is out of Princeton University, a woman named Nealin Parker has developed it; and it has an interactive map of the U.S. you can go to it, click on it, and it tells you where the bridge building groups in your community are physically located. And so what she's identified is that there are at least 7,000 or more of these bridge building groups across the nation that are doing this work of bringing red and blues together in a safe space that's facilitated, that's careful and secure, to encourage people to get to know one another and to work through these issues. But what the challenge is for us as a movement is that most of these groups work independently. Some of them are connected to other groups, but largely, these are independent movements that spring up in communities. And so there is no sense of a movement. There are “1000 Points of Light” as George H.W. Bush used to like to say, which are community-based groups, or sector-based groups, working in journalism, or government, or education, that are trying to bring people together. MB: Do you think we need a movement?PC: I think we need a movement. I think we need a movement, because otherwise the challenge with this, the availability of these places, it's most people don't know about them. And there's a good reason that they don't know about them, because the sensitive nature of the work that bridge builders do across political divides in heated times can be a magnet or attractor for negative attention, violence, or protest. And so people generally like to keep low key. But what happens then is that Americans, or Brits, or others, are unaware of these things. And there's also no kind of standardization, there's no sense of what is the best practice that we should be following, what is the evidence base. And there's no capacity for this community of 7,000 plus organizations to come together politically, and really go after some of the structures that are driving this in the business models of the major tech platforms, or the entertainment-isation of news media. These are part of the industrial outrage organizations that are driving so much of this vitriol. So a movement is something that I'm calling for, is something that I'm envisioning the value of, but we're a long way from there. We have a lot of good work being done in communities. And helping people recognize that and find them is a start, because these are very hard change processes to go through alone.MB: You talk in the book about how something called the “bombshell effect'' can be very important in terms of breaking out of a status quo and creating the possibility of change. And you actually refer to the Trump election as being potentially one of those bombshell effects. And I would imagine that you see COVID in similar lights, although those obviously mostly happened post you writing the book. And I just wonder, in both of those cases, what do you see already happening that makes you feel optimistic that those two particular bombshells might cause significant progress out of some of the toxicity that we're seeing?PC: Well, because there's some evidence that there is actually work that's being done to address this. So the bombshell effect comes from something called “punctuated equilibrium theory”, it's a theory and a model that came out of biology originally as a sort of challenge to some degree to evolutionary theory. And it argued that oftentimes there is some kind of major shock that takes place that allows communities to change - what we have mentioned on a few occasions already. Paul Diehl and Gary Goertz have studied the conditions where international relations are heated for decades, contentious, where you have active war or cold war, and then the change of those relationships are usually preceded by these shocks, these bombshells. It might be a coup attempt, it might be the end of the Soviet Union, 9/11. These kinds of major political shocks can really destabilize. But the effects take time. And these shocks don't guarantee change. They just create the conditions where changes are possible.And so this is all part of this alternative theory of change that I mentioned at the onset -- which is that we typically think that in a problem like polarization we can go in, and if you [for example] fix gerrymandering, or if you get rid of Trump, or if there is the kind of single sovereign thing that we need to do, and that will affect change. And what this science suggests is No, when you have deeply embedded cultural patterns, it takes a different kind of shock to destabilize it enough. And then people need to take advantage of that time, in order to make these shifts.The other insight from this research that I point to is what we call the “butterfly effect”. And what that suggests is that after an upheaval, our next choices, the things we do to begin to connect across the divide -- how we do that, what our intentions are -- these first next steps are very critical, because they'll set us off on another trajectory.And ironically, I provided some guidance and advice to the Biden transition team, as they were coming in, they had reached out and asked for me to write some briefs on the science. And Joe Biden was talking about healing the soul of the nation and uniting the nation in his campaign. And I said, that's all well and good, but it's premature. Because you don't go into war zones and talk about reconciliation, or you get shot.[We need to recognize] that this state of polarization is toxic for us, in terms of our own mental health, in terms of our physical health, in terms of relations in our families, or divisions in families, communities, it's a highly toxic time. And recognizing that that is a common enemy, we can kind of come together in service of that. But you asked for some evidence of how the shocks are working. And let me just give you one example. There is a group in Congress called the Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress. And it's a mechanism that our Congress has when things are broken to at least put together a temporary committee to work on it. So about a year ago, they were put to the task of trying to work on depolarizing Congress. And it is a bipartisan committee. There's Republican and Democratic co-chairs -- they split the budget, they have consensus decision making. And their objective is to look critically at the structures of Congress, how Congress does its work, and make recommendations for how to bring the temperature down and reintroduce more decency into the legislative process. They offered Nancy Pelosi 98 recommendations at their one year mark. And then most of the Congress wrote policy and said, Extend this group, we need this. And so they will have a mandate now to work for another two years, trying to take a hard critical look at the incentive structure of Congress and what needs to change and shift in order to affect the vitriol that is there in the belly of the beast.Let me give you one specific example: Freshmen Congress people that come to D.C. on their first day, typically show up and are put on separate buses -- a red bus and a blue bus -- and they drive off in different directions and they start the war council, they start the strategy about how to defeat the other side. And that's the first thing they do on the first day. And so their first recommendation was don't do that. Bring them together in service as citizens of this country, as servants of this country, and have them meet each other and build some kind of rapport and shared vision before you move into political camps. And so that's what they're systematically trying to do. And that has come from January 6th, and come from the vitriol that we see in Congress, and the dysfunction of Congress. And so when there are these kinds of extreme shocks, there can be reactions like this that can ultimately over time have positive effects.MB: Because I suppose on the surface you look at Congress at the moment, and it seems to be more fiercely partisan than it's ever been. It's interesting that there is enough recognition within the Congress that they need to do something about that, that this committee has been given extra lifespan on it.PC: Absolutely. And they recognize that most of what we see of Congress is the things that happen in front of the camera. So one of the recommendations is that they create more spaces for congress people to get together that are away from the cameras so that they can speak candidly and openly and have some kind of contact, and build some kind of rapport. And they're not constantly positioning for their public audiences. So yes, we all get a sense that it's as bad as ever. It's not good. But the good news is that there is a cohort of them that recognizes that and are actively working to try to change the structures in order to change the climate.MB: So throughout the book, you draw on evidence from your Difficult Conversations Lab, and I just love the name of the lab - besides anything else, it just really gets immediately to the point. But I wonder if you would back the clock to when that lab was founded, and what's been the biggest positive surprise, and what's been the biggest negative surprise for you over the years?PC: So we built this lab -- we got funding about 15 years ago from a foundation. A group of us [got funding] from the James S. MacDonald Foundation, who tend to fund people that have kind of wild ideas but aren't ready for NSF funding. So sort of crazy but possible ideas. And we put this team together of complexity scientists and anthropologists and psychologists and this eclectic group of mathematicians. We had an astrophysicist, a modeler, and we were tasked with trying to think about long term stuck conflicts, things that go on for 10, 20, 30, 50, 100 years. And political polarization in the U.S. currently has about a 60 year trajectory of increasing vitriol. And so this is one of these more intractable kinds of problems. So we came together to study this, to make sense of it, to try to bring lenses in from complexity, science, physics, and biology that help us think about when do communities or family systems get stuck. And what are the conditions under which they change? And so we were studying this and we wrote a bunch of papers and mostly theoretical pieces. But we needed data. We needed to be able to collect data in real time to see if our half baked notions were valid. So one of the things we did is we built these Difficult Conversation Labs, one at Columbia, in my space, and then a former student, who's a colleague now, Katharina Kugler, built one in Munich, Germany, as well. She was very central to the development of this. And it really was just a space, that is what we call a “capture lab”, which allows us to bring people in who differ on a moral issue or have different political views, and then study the conditions under which conversations over divisive issues, go well or go poorly. And I have to repeat that, because what this Difficult Conversations Lab is, it's a laboratory, it's a place where we study the phenomenon. And so we've tried different kinds of interventions, to see what helps the conversations, shepherds them into more constructive directions, versus where are the places where people just shut down and get frustrated and angry and it devolves into a shouting match. That's what we study. And the challenge I found is I've had journalists approach me and say, Oh, okay, well, I want to bring a team of people there that are having a dispute, and we want you to solve it. And I'll say No, we're a research lab, we study conditions where things go better or worse. I can tell you what our evidence suggests. And you can apply that in your situation. But that's not what we offer. You know, people come into our lab and don't solve the abortion debate. They don't solve the Trump debate, but they can have conversations that they're willing to continue, and they feel like they've learned, and they feel sufficiently positive about themselves and their understanding and the other party that they'll continue the conversation. Much like the women in Boston did around the divorce abortion debate. So what we try to do is study specifically those conditions and the main take home that we've identified is really the difference I guess, between what I would call dialogue and debate in how people communicate in this country, and in the U.K. as well and elsewhere. So many of us in Western society are trained for debate. I was trained in high school as a debater; we see it in our Congress, we see it in political campaigns, we see it on television. It's how we assume people talk about politics. And debate is a very particular form of communication. It's basically a game that you're trying to win. In a debate, I have a position, I'm trying to sell it to you, I'm listening to you in order to identify flaws in your assumptions that I can weaponize in order to show you that I'm right and win the game. And that's a very specific form of cognitive process, it's a much more closed and focused process. Dialogue is fundamentally the opposite. Dialogue is a process of learning and discovery, where we communicate with each other in a way that [means] I may learn things about my positions -- why I hold them, where they came from -- that I wasn't even really conscious of. I'll learn things about the nuance or complexity of the issues that we're talking about, and learn things about you and where you've come from and what your take is. So it's a fundamentally different process of learning and discovery that is much more nuanced, and much more complex in people's understanding of the issues, and the other, and of their emotional experiences, and ultimately, how they treat each other. And so that's the main distinction that we found is that when we set people up for a debate -- so for example, we'll take an issue like pro-life/pro-choice and we'll present people with both sides of an issue -- and then they begin. And what happens when you present people with that kind of information in that manner, is that they pay a lot of attention to the facts that support their position, and they ignore the other side. This is something called “selective perception''. And then they come into these conversations armed for war, and battle, and they go into debate and it escalates and they get stuck. And ultimately, they want out. Alternatively, if you take the same information -- the pro-life/pro-choice set of facts -- and say, Abortion is a highly complicated set of linked issues -- there are moral issues or religious issues, there are family issues, physical health issues, physiological issues, it's a complex constellation of things -- here's that information, have a conversation about it, and try to reach some kind of consensus in your understanding. And if you frame a conversation like that -- which many dialogue groups will do, they'll say, No, they're not two sides to this, there are five sides to this -- those types of conversations tend to be more nuanced, and less certain, and less vitriolic. And people move into very different kinds of experiences of themselves, the other, and the issues. Which can be very transformative, and encourage them to at least continue the conversation. And that's the primary learning that we've walked away with -- that these conversations don't have to go poorly. But typically, for example, in our media, what we do is we present two sides, right? There's a pro-Trump side and the anti-Trump side, and we pit them against each other and have them go. And it is the business model of much of the media because people are drawn to conflict, and they like provocation. And so they enjoy it. It's like a reality show. But they learn about their own side, they don't learn about the other side. And the understanding that they walk away with is over simplified.MB: Is there an alternative media model to that? That could be about dialogue?PC: Yeah, there is. So a colleague of mine, Amanda Ripley, wrote an important piece for a group called Solutions Journalism, which is an organization that supports journalism. And she did a study of conflict resolution and mediation processes; she came and participated in our lab. And she wrote a piece called “Complicating the Narrative”. And it really is a challenge to journalists that they reflect critically on basically the business model behind how they do their reporting, and how they in fact contribute to polarization, and how they might actually begin to mitigate it by using different strategies. So, she lays out a series of steps for journalists to consider. Solutions Journalism then went with that piece and ran with it and now have a program where they train journalists to think differently about how they do their work in a way that introduces sufficient nuance and complexity in the context and is still compelling. So they recognize that there is a need to have an audience that will engage. But they also recognize the either intended or unintended consequences of oversimplification of these complex issues. So there is a movement in journalism to mitigate that, to affect that, to change that. But it is going against a huge business model that is all about provocation in order to gain attention. MB: Well, this has been a very rich conversation. And, we're almost out of time, so I wanted to end by asking you a question as we think about our audience of people who feel they want to get involved in being change leaders in today's world, they maybe want to be those bridging leaders. Obviously, your book has got lots and lots of ideas and tips and laws and rules and all sorts of things in it. But is there one overall overriding piece of advice you would have for someone who wants to get involved in that form of public service? PC: Sure. Well first of all, I would strongly recommend that they read the book. And that they reach out and engage with me -- I'm more than happy to have continued conversations about it. But one of the wondrous benefits of these hard times is that there are more and more groups and organizations -- there's a group called Starts With Us, there's a group called FixUS, there are many different constellations of either thought leaders or change leaders -- who are taking this time seriously trying to understand what to do and how to do it, and trying to learn the science. So there are many groups and organizations to engage with. Again, one place to go, if you're in the U.S., is the Bridging Divides Initiative and you can see where the local community-based places are. But there's the Bridge Alliance as well, which is a constellation of significant organizations like Search for Common Ground, that have made a pivot to the U.S. and are now focusing locally in the U.S., or Generations for Peace, which is a youth-based organization that is also now pivoted to the U.S. and is shifting focus from international peacebuilding to domestic peace building in the U.S. So there is a lot of energy and movement in the nonprofit world to work in constructive ways, in different sectors, and at the community level. So there is a lot of opportunity to do that. But I would begin by taking a look at the book and getting back to me with your questions and challenges, and insights.MB: And the book is The Way Out. Peter Coleman, thank you very much for writing it, and thank you for talking with me today with Books Driving Change. Thank you very much.PC: Matthew, my pleasure. Thank you for having me.We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Made in Africa: A Conversation with Bright Simons
Oct 28 2021
Made in Africa: A Conversation with Bright Simons
That was also a very interesting lesson, because eventually, that will be the way we managed to make the most difference, not by convincing people about the goodness of our mission alone, or trying to shame them into doing good, we found out that ultimately strategic alliances, where people see the enlightened self-interest was almost always a more effective tool, which is where my activism was then balanced by my intrapreneurship. And this continuing dance went on.In this episode of Made in Africa, Sarika Bansal talks with  Bright Simons, President of mPedigree, a social enterprise working on three continents to secure communities from the harmful effects of counterfeiting. They pioneered a technology that lets one send a text message from a pharmacy where you are buying medicines and learn immediately if it is an authentic medication. mPedigree is bringing this same idea to other sectors, such as agriculture, cosmetics, and the automotive industryIn addition to being an entrepreneur, Simons has strong activist roots and is a leading thinker in Ghana. He serves as the honorary Vice President at IMANI, a leading think tank, where he talks and writes about political accountability, anti-corruption, and civil liberty projects. Simons has received a large number of accolades. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Councils, an inaugural TED Fellow, an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow, to name a few. He spends a considerable amount of energy working to build and sustain networks of solution seekers around the world, united by common values. In the conversation, they talk about how Simons brings two competing sides of himself together: his activist brain, through which he sees injustices in society, and his entrepreneurial side, which wants to find solutions. He has been finding ways to bring a bit more justice and security to the world since he was in high school when he fought the government on raising school fees. Made in Africa is Driving Change’s conversation series with African visionaries whose work impacts the public good. We are interested in learning how leaders across the continent got to where they are today. The inflection points along their journeys, their inspirations, how they pushed through moments of self-doubt, and how they came out the other side.
Books Driving Change: Paul Polman and Net Positive
Oct 6 2021
Books Driving Change: Paul Polman and Net Positive
Paul, thank you for talking with us today. The audience of this podcast is people who are interested in being involved, in building back better, and dealing with some of the big global challenges that we're now facing. In a sentence, why should they read your book?Paul Polman (PP): Well, in a simple sentence will be one question: is the world better off because your company is in it or not? This is probably the most important question to ask. What the book is trying to do is to create a movement that really describes how successful companies can profit -- not from creating the world's problems, but from actually solving the world's problems. So we describe officially in the book Net Positive as: a business that improves the well being for everyone it impacts, and at all scales -- be it product, operations, regions, countries -- and obviously caters to the multiple stakeholders. World Overshoot Day this year was July 29, which is the day that we use up more resources than the world can replenish. In other words, every day after that, we're stealing from future generations. So it's not anymore enough to be linear or to be circular. But more and more companies have to think about what can they do to have a positive impact on society. If they really can't answer that, then why should society keep these companies around? So the book talks about two things, personal transformation, because it starts with leaders, you cannot have systems changes without leader changes. So leadership transformation, and then systems transformation. And it takes you, with very simple steps, through what you need to do to get your own company in shape, to play a key role in your own value chain in your industry associations, and ultimately, in the broader society that you play in. And, the book doesn't shy away from some of the tougher choices, such as how you deal with tax, with corruption, with trade associations, with money in politics, with human rights. It's written for everybody, small and big companies, others who want to play a role in changing society for the better. So we think it broadly resonates. And, if I may, the characteristics perhaps would be good to talk about of a net positive company. That basically boils down to companies that take responsibility and ownership for all impacts and consequences in the world. Intended or not. Many only look at scope one and two under their control. But you have to take responsibility for your total handprint. You cannot outsource your value chain and also expect to outsource your responsibilities. That simply doesn't work anymore. It's companies that operate for the long term benefit of business and society, that try to create a positive return for all stakeholders. They see shareholder value as a result of what they do, not as a goal in itself. And last but not least, they partner to form these broader systemic changes that society needs.MB: So we're in a very interesting moment where in some ways, business appears to be at least talking the talk on being a more positive force in society. You know, you've had the Business Roundtable decision, that you note, to sort of abandon the Milton Friedman view of the world and to sort of focus on more stakeholder capitalism. And you've had lots of companies saying they're committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And more companies generally stepping into some of the political issues around elections in America, or issues like transgender rights, and yet there's also tremendous skepticism. You take a book like Anand Giridharadas' Winners Take All, which really regards all of this as a giant charade by capitalism. How do you view this data? Because in the book you do acknowledge that, even at Unilever, with some of the things, that you didn't feel you went far enough with, but you were one of the leaders there. Are we getting there? Is this real? Is it just greenwashing? Rainbow washing? What is it?PP: I've read Anand's book Winners Take All and frankly, that's a book heavy on the analysis and light on the solutions. This book is really more practical and offers solutions to move it forward. It's very clear that governments are not functioning the way we have designed them, that multilateralism is not really delivering what we expect from it. The multilateral institutions that were designed in, basically, 1944 with Bretton Woods are not adapted to the current changes. And the bigger issues are more global -- climate change, cybersecurity, pandemics, financial markets -- and we're just not getting to it. And what I think what you see is a few things, [such as firstly] technology always developing faster than people realize. So it's easier to change things. Now take green energy [as an example], the International Energy Agency was expecting solar and wind in 2014, to be five cents per kilowatt hour in 2050. We have achieved that in 2020 already. So technology is advancing. And the other thing that is happening is the issues are creeping up on us faster than we realized, especially on climate, we're getting closer to a negative feedback loop. And business sees that pressure. You see the weather disasters -- we literally have the world on fire -- disruptions in the food supply chain, and the logistics, and many other things. And in fact, COVID has been a rude awakening that you cannot have healthy people on an unhealthy planet. Just in Europe and the U.S. alone, we've spent $16 trillion on stabilizing and saving lives and livelihoods. The economy itself has probably lost $25 or $26 trillion dollars, according to the IMF. So people are starting to realize that the cost of not acting is becoming much higher than the cost of acting. And that's why you see this high level of dissatisfaction with the young people, with employees, with your customers, with people in your value chain. And good companies understand that, they understand that they have to be part of the solution, not the problem. They're internalizing sustainability, they put it at the center of their business, they become more purpose driven businesses. And what you see is that businesses that operate increasingly under these longer-term, multi-stakeholder principles at the core are actually also better performing. That bifurcation has been even stronger during COVID. That's one of the reasons why you see ESG funds taking off, green bonds taking off, the investor community getting actively interested in it, standard setters moving forward. Some of the responsible governments, like Europe, are embedding it in legislation, like the Green Deal or the taxonomy, so it's definitely moving. But as usual, as these things are becoming more topical, thousands of flowers bloom -- for example, we have over 600 standard setting bodies. And it's time to make some bouquets.And yes, if there are no clear standards, then companies will interpret things differently. And some people might call that greenwashing. And there's undoubtedly some of that going on. But broadly, it is clear that we're moving in the right direction, but [just] not fast enough, and not at the scale that we need. We now have about 20% of the companies, for example, that have commitments to be net zero by 2050. But what about 2030? Because we cannot wait that long. What about beyond scope one and two, and including scope three, four or five? And that still is unsettling for many.MB: Because in the book, you talk about how these goals ought to be. You use the acronym SMART, which is measurable and realistic. I think a lot of the netzero pledges have been made without the companies that are making the pledges really having much of a sense of how they're going to get there. And so you feel like it's more of an ambition that may be far enough into the future that the company's current leadership need not own it and there's no pathway. Is that a problem?PP: Well, I think increasingly, for some industries, it is difficult. If you're in the fossil fuel industry where investments are being made by your predecessor or your predecessor's predecessor, and it takes 30 years before you get a return on drilling a well, etc., it's difficult to change very quickly. And some of the heavy industry, which happens to also be heavy emitters, might not have all the answers yet. How do you totally decarbonize airlines, or shipping, or steel, or aluminum and some of the other things? And the fossil industry itself needs careful reflection. But what is clear is that, increasingly, companies understand that it actually can be done, and it is within reach. Companies from Salesforce to Microsoft to Unilever, or to Pepsi and others [like] Walmart are making commitments that not only green their supply chains well before [they are expected to]  -- Amazon itself, 2039 -- and they have clear plans and pathways to get there. But they're actually going beyond that, they're looking at restorative commitments, they're looking at integrating biodiversity and planetary health into their thinking. And what we find is that companies that proactively work this are often better run, their leaders are more in tune with societal needs, they come out with better products, have more engaged employees, better relationships in the value chain, and increasingly, that is linked to better returns. You can now measure the negative environmental impacts of companies. And even within the same industries, there are some companies who take mitigating their environmental impacts more seriously than other companies within those industries. And what we clearly find is that accounting for these externalities about a quarter of these companies would not be profitable. But even within the industries, the ones that are less productive, also have lower valuations. So I think the market is starting to factor it in. And, looking very much at the leading companies that position themselves well for the future, and starting to reward those. So it is moving. But again, as I mentioned before, these issues are creeping up on us quicker than we thought. We're getting close to the situation that the Amazon are becoming negative emitters, that the Borealis melting releases methane that is up to 100 times more potent in the short term, and we don't have that luxury to wait. So what you need is to get critical mass behind this transformation, which is a big transformation, we all realize that. And that critical mass can only come from working together with civil society, with governments, obviously, and with the private sector, to drive these broader system changes.MB: You open the book with this example of [when] you were quite far along in your time at Unilever, and the the CEO of Heinz comes along and makes this hostile takeover bid offer to you. And it seems like this is a battle between the old style capitalism and the new style capitalism. In this case, you were able to persuade shareholders to back you in this new model against the old model. Do you feel like that marked a decisive turning point in the attitude of big shareholders towards how big companies should be managed -- that they seemed to be saying: now we will support this net positive type of leadership?PP: Well, it certainly raised awareness. I was happy that it happened during my eighth year of tenure in Unilever. We had produced very good returns for our shareholders. We also had worked very hard on changing our shareholder base, which was more loyal and had benefited from this value creation. So it came at a good moment in that sense. But it points out the dichotomy that there is in two legal systems. One that is focused on a few millionaires and billionaires, and financial manipulation, high leveraging up, cutting costs, frankly, something that anybody can do. And one that is more working for the billions of people invested in longer term value creation. And Unilever has certainly done that. Since the Kraft/Heinz attempted takeover bid, their share price has lost about 60%. They've had lawsuits, they've had change management three times, [while] Unilever share price has continued to grow. And I think this longer-term value creation model is also a better model over time for the shareholders, and you don't have to wait too long for that. So that game, I think that was being played there is increasingly being called out as not being constructive for society. And I broadly think that the longer-term shareholders understand that there's just so much money that we've put in the global economy, that a big part of that is chasing short-term returns at every cost. And there are some people that think their own greed is more important than the future lives of their children. So you always have to deal with these challenges, but in order to avoid that over time, and to move it in the right direction, we indeed need to be sure that the regulatory frameworks and the moral standards that we put behind it, the obligations that we demand from companies as they operate in society, that they also fulfill the needs of society and get a real license to operate. It hurts to see a company like that at the bottom of a human rights index. And it gives me pride to see Unilever at the top. And if we can square that multi-stakeholder focus, in our case there was a 300% shareholder return over 10 years, then I think that is a much better thing for society. I've always said, I'm a proud billionaire, because we've focused on improving the lives of billions of people. And that's a good way not only to live your life, but if you can also show that it is good for your shareholders, I think you square it, and give people more confidence that this should be the direction we should be pushing for.MB: I wanted to focus on the last two or three chapters of the book where I think you really push into some of the very cutting edge developments that need to happen if a business is to really achieve its full potential in improving the state of the world. One is this whole issue of how you in the industry can partner with your competitors to actually, overall raise standards across the industry. And one example you give us is the fashion industry, which, obviously, increasingly, people are scrutinizing for the fast fashion, and in particular for its lack of sustainability. What have you learned about making a cross-industry partnership successful? What are the conditions that can make that a really positive thing?PP: There's a whole chapter in the book which is called “One Plus One is 11” that deals with these broader partnerships. It's very clear that CEOs alone are held to very high standards and often higher standards than they actually can fulfill themselves. No CEO can move the whole market to regenerative agriculture, or solve the issues of plastics in the ocean, or even get to green energy, if a broader system around you doesn't pull in that same direction. And that's difficult for CEOs then to move things forward. Also, sometimes they feel that if they do it, and competitors don't, they might be at a disadvantage, because obviously there are other forces at play. So one of the reasons I created Imagine as a social enterprise is to bring a critical mass of CEOs together across the value chain, to look at some of these issues. Sometimes they are value chain issues, sometimes time availability, or knowledge issues. And together, they become more courageous. And if you have 20% to 30% of the market represented, civil society wants to join, NGOs want to be part of it, governments start to listen, and you can drive the broader system changes.An example is fashion indeed, where we have 80 companies now in the fashion industry, together under the fashion practice. It's a very destructive industry. But together, they have decided to move to regenerative cotton. Together, they are now buying green energy to get to the Paris Agreement and stay below 1.5 degrees. Together, they're learning on how to integrate, with the help of Conservation International and others, biodiversity targets into their business models. So things that they could not do alone. And I believe that, increasingly, when it concerns the future of humanity, we shouldn't compete about that. But leave enough space in other areas to obviously compete. Now many of the CEOs get that. We get an enormous demand. We're working also with the food companies, where we have 30 companies. We are starting now as private equity, with tourism and travel. So I think the needs are there. And creating these neutral platforms as we've done at Imagine is one way of addressing that. But increasingly, you see these broader partnerships emerge, with partnerships for the greater good. And what most of these CEOs find is, whilst you cannot solve all these issues in one minute, and you have to space it out over a period of time (that we, to some extent still have), that a lot of things can be done, that are also immediately beneficial to the top and bottom line of your company. And not only from a risk mitigation point of view, but also from an opportunity point of view. And that makes these partnerships so powerful. The challenge is to get that translated into working together with governments to change the frameworks. Because right now, be it the carbon transmission and decarbonizing our global economy, or changing the food chain to make it more in line with the planetary boundaries, currently, many countries have frameworks in place that actually push you in a different direction. And that's difficult, ultimately, to achieve your objectives if you can't change those.MB: But you have another chapter looking really at multi-stakeholder partnerships. It seems like we've been talking about how you get government, business, and the civil society organizations, NGOs, to work together for a long time. What have we figured out about what makes for a successful multi-stakeholder partnership? Because a lot of them haven't succeeded.PP: Successful partnerships -- many partnerships obviously don't work out -- there are numbers floating around that 75% of partnerships might fail. But ultimately, if the aligned objectives are there, you have the same purpose, you're very clear on what each partner brings to the party, you work with transparency that creates that trust, you have clear accountability mechanisms,  everybody clearly understands what his or her contributions are, then these partnerships can work very well. Unilever built a tea plantation in Rwanda, where we needed the government from Rwanda, and where we needed organizations like Dfid, the U.K. development aid, and where we actually got high net worth individuals, like Ian Wood from the Wood Foundation, that were willing to help and protect the smallholder farmers. And we could create a value chain that was good for all of its stakeholders, and delivered the quality tea that also was feeding our brands. By the way, interestingly, [speaking of] the brands, people want to know if these products are sourced sustainably and where they come from. So building these whole models with these broader partnerships are very important. When we went into Ethiopia, we first worked with the government with our brands like bar soaps or toothpastes, or [we worked] with the health workers, they have about 30,000 health workers there, to teach people the benefits of hand washing, or tooth brushing, that are far more preventative solutions than waiting for the problem to occur. And only when we created that credibility over the longer term, we [were then able to] make these brands available into society on a broader level. And these are the broader partnerships that work for us.It's interesting in the book, we talked about $3.5 billion being [spent] in lobbying in the U.S. alone -- I wonder how much money goes to self-interest? Well, one company says A and the other company pays money to say B; where politicians are in the pockets of some of these big spenders, we see, increasingly, that that's not the type of democracy that ultimately builds the value. And I think you see the enormous price we pay for that. Ceres, which is a company that is very capably led by Mindy Lubber, is pulling the financial market to a higher level of responsibility. It was looking at all this government spending and lobbying etc., and it actually found out that 40% of the companies in the U.S. were not actively even engaging with governments, or moving things forward in the right level, on let's say on climate change, when they know it's a big issue. So the book is talking about: how do you create these partnerships? Why would you do that? What benefit do you get out of that by being a participant? And frankly, the employees and the companies expect the CEOs now to increasingly participate. About 76% of the employees expect this. And it's interesting, because CEOs broadly think they do. But when you ask their employees, there's a big gap between what the employees think and what the CEO themselves think. MB: And as you say, one of the things we're seeing now is employees becoming more vocal -- in social media and elsewhere, at meetings, and so forth -- and holding their bosses to account. And we're almost out of time, and I've got two more questions. One, is really, I love your last chapter where you go, what the next frontier of…  PP: Engaging the ElephantsMB: Yeah, the elephants. And obviously, one of the elephants that you acknowledge right up front is companies trying to avoid paying taxes, and you really argue against that. Another is this lobbying issue, you want to basically end, and political donations, you want to get rid of those. And then you talk about corruption. Are you starting to see company leadership and shareholders really want to get into these, to address these elephants in the room, or do you feel like there is still a long way to go?PP: On some issues more than others, obviously. But you mentioned a few. I don't want to respond to all of them, but take tax for example -- one quarter of the Fortune 500 companies paid zero tax in 2018. 10% of GDP is in offshore accounts. 500 or 600 billion of taxes are lost as a result of that. At Unilever I put my tax principles on my website. We got out of these constructions that were purely organized for tax reasons, and the company did fine. We hire people that get free education, we would use the road systems, we need social safety nets around people. When you get things like COVID, I think it's quite normal that you pay tax as well. So it's hard to square over time that society will give you bonus points on being a purpose driven company, if you don't find a way to contribute your fair share there either.And it’s the same thing with some of the other areas that we talked about. If you look at the shareholder propositions right now, the shareholder resolutions, they are actually demanding more and more transparency.Take in the U.S. the issue of money and politics. If you will have taken 2009, well before this January 6 event of storming the Capitol, in 2019, there were over 50 political spending proposals on the ballots of shareholder meetings, non-court accepted; if you look now, to date, already in 2021, there are over 40 on the proposals, and you're already running at a significantly high level of support. MB: For disclosing what the donations are and who to.PP: What the donations are and for what they are. So you see, actually, the shareholders are demanding more. Now more CEOs are getting fired for ESG related reasons, then for performance related reasons. You see shareholders demanding, like in the famous Exxon case, that they are more aggressive on mitigating climate change. We saw it with Shell and some other companies [too]. So if you don't embrace these elephants proactively, and have a strategy around that, which is what we're really talking about in the book, then I think you will be exposed. You mentioned in every company there is an activist; every company I think has a Greta Thunberg inside of them. And if they see, increasingly, these companies, on the one side, saying we want to do this and making these public statements, but then, for example, financing trade associations, like the American Petroleum Association, or some of the others actively advocating the opposite, then you lose credibility, you undermine your culture, and ultimately, the fabric of your company, and that gets reflected in your success, and share price. So it is important that you discuss these issues, it is important that you take positions on them, and it is important that you do that in a holistic way. And not do it in a CSR way, where you pick a few topics that you think suit you well, but then go horribly wrong in the other areas. That's why this book talks about net positive in a more holistic way. And which makes it such a powerful book, actually.MB: I wanted to end with asking for some career advice for our listeners. You mentioned every company having a Greta Thunberg maybe lurking within it, but the book really, I think, raises more clearly than any other book I've read, this notion that you can be a net positive leader. If you're someone who is committed to public service, you can actually go into a company and see that as a way of living a life of public service, which is an idea that 25 years ago would have seen laughable or even 10 years ago, but now seems to be a choice that many people are wrestling with. If I want to give, if I want to be part of the effort to build back better, should I go into business? Or should I go into government? Or should I go into a nonprofit? Or what? How would you advise someone trying to wrestle with that kind of calculation as to where they should focus their energies and their life, if they really want to have the biggest positive net positive impact in their career?PP: Well, I ended up in business, by a little bit of serendipity. I wanted to be a priest first, then a doctor, and none of that really worked out. So I ended up being in business. But I discovered that, business being 60% of the global GDP, 65% or 90% of the job creation and the financial flow that you cannot solve any of these famous Sustainable Development Goals, bar a few if you don't have business actively in there. So you need business, but for the same reason, you also need government, and you need civil society. It's really what the book ultimately talks about is this partnership that needs to be formed between all of them. And my advice to anybody listening and looking for a job is: find out what the world needs, what you're passionate about, and what you're good at. And if you can work on that intersection of what the world needs, your passion, and what you're good at, then you're going to have a very fulfilling and and very gratifying life.Mark Twain said there are two moments in life that are the most important: the first one is when you were born, and the second one is when you figured out why you were born. If you can operate on that intersection, it is giving you a meaningful life that I think most people aspire to. So it's not one or the other, it's really finding yourself and realizing, above all, that we are lucky. Most of the people listening here have been educated, they didn't have to deal with the issues of food security, or stunting, or open defecation. But that, unfortunately, is only 5% of the world population that you belong to, and have that freedom to some extent. And then it is important, I believe, to put yourself to the service of the other 95%, who still have not been so fortunate.MB: If I asked you to build on that, if I asked you to take a 100 mile up view of the world, I suppose you would say that for someone wanting to have a positive impact for good, there's never been greater opportunity to do that through business than now perhaps. But if you looked at each of business, civil society, and governments, and you looked at their human capital, where are people with a service orientation, most needed? Is it business? Is it government? Or is it civil society at the moment?PP: Well, I think frankly, we have a leadership deficit everywhere. It's clear that the MBA programs, which have given us the leaders for business, are a version of Milton Friedman on steroids, and are in desperate need to be reinvented. In politics it has become, for different reasons, increasingly more short-term oriented. Many of the NGOs have also been called out. Whilst they play a very crucial role, many of them are mono issue end result focused, and are not willing to walk the journey, or walk in partnership. So I think the biggest deficit is not in one or the other institutions. The biggest deficit ultimately, is the leadership. And that's why this book starts with a very famous question: do you care? And that's why we believe and what makes it so powerful, is that you need a personal transformation before you get a systems transformation.MB: Well, thank you. I think that's a great note to end on. I would like to thank both you, Paul Polman, and Andrew Winston for writing this book Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take. It is an incredibly positive and practical book that anyone who is thinking about if they should live out their public service through business, will find very useful and very inspiring. So thank you very much for talking about the book with Books Driving Change, Paul, thank you.PP: Thank you, Matthew enjoyed it.We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Books Driving Change: Paul Shoemaker and Taking Charge of Change
Sep 29 2021
Books Driving Change: Paul Shoemaker and Taking Charge of Change
Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, welcome to Books Driving Change. I'm Matthew Bishop, and today we're talking with Paul Shoemaker, who is the author of Taking Charge of Change: How Rebuilders Solve Hard Problems. Paul is a podcaster, activist, philanthropist, founder of Social Venture Partners International, which is a network of philanthropists, and has been really involved and an activist in change for many years. Paul, our audience is really people who are feeling a calling to get involved, in trying to build back better, trying to make the world a better place. In a sentence, what's your elevator pitch to them? Why should they read this book?Paul Shoemaker (PS): Because I'm identifying the leaders and the leadership traits that we will need to meet the complexities and reverse the inequities in America for the decade ahead.MB: The book was written before COVID, but clearly anticipated many of the topics that we've been talking about in terms of building back better. And what I really like about it is you have five leadership characteristics that you identify, and you put people to each of those characteristics, people who are actually doing change on the ground. And I like the fact that your five things are not obvious in some ways. You do have authenticity as your first one, and I kind of inwardly cringed as everyone is in favor of authenticity at the moment. And I think it is a bit like what Groucho Marx said about sincerity -- it is the key to success in public life, you can fake that you've got it made -- and you wonder whether authenticity is the same. But then you go into the things like complexity, having a complexity mindset, and being able to deal with cross sectoral complexity, to be very data centric, things that aren't so obvious to people who were just sort of picking the five characteristics. And I wonder how you came to those five, what made you pick those? And the other thing you do, which I love as well, is that you have a downside to each of those five as well. So many leadership books just talk about the virtues and they don't say well actually some people who are data obsessed are quite a pain to deal with or these cross sectoral people may not really get it in depth enough or whatever. So how did you pick those five?PS: In 2018 while working on a project about poverty in America, I was studying different aspects of inequities that affect poverty, race, health, economics, social, etc. In the middle of that project, what slapped me in the face was, while I certainly understand we have inequities in America, I did not know the pace and the downward path of economic, social, and health inequities over the last 25 years in America. And I think people think 2020 was this year of inequity, but this has been building for a generation. And so that's what I finally recognized. And that follows 50 years in America where we were slowly, haltingly, unevenly making progress. And we've sort of gone back down the other direction. So that was my original sort of motivation. Then I said, okay, how do I think about how we're going to reverse these inequities? What kind of leaders are we going to need? So I took the next six months, and I did three things. One, I talked to nearly 100 of the best leaders I've worked with over the last 30 years, and several traits and characteristics started to sort of fall out of that. Number two, I was also looking for evidence of programs and organizations where there was also true social impact. The ones that were starting to reverse that 25 year trend going the wrong direction. And then number three, was understanding the complexities that are coming in the decade ahead. This is the most insanely complex, not just inequitable, but complex decade, I think America has faced in at least 75, maybe 100 years. And so if you think of those as three overlapping circles -- leaders, impact, context of complexity -- the intersection of those three things, yielded those five traits for me. So it was a very well thought out, subjective, qualitative process that has a prospective point of view that I feel very passionately about, and think that these five traits are going to make a huge difference in the decade ahead -- 24/7 authenticity, generosity mindset, data conviction, capacity for complexity, and cross sector fluency. And the last thing, in terms of downsides, a good example of 24/7 authenticity, which is in bleak short supply, these days in America -- I have several examples in the book where standing up with integrity and honesty, and particularly with personal accountability, will cost you in the short term, and it may cost you a lot career wise, by making some enemies, etc. But in the long term, I think it's an enormously important leadership trait.MB: A lot of people have been forced to confront the inequities that you've written about, and that you and I have both been working on to different degrees over the years to address, but have been forced by COVID to address them, and are now thinking, how do I get involved, I'd like to get involved in in some kind of public service trying to make the world better. And yet they find it a kind of intimidating world. A lot of people who have been in the business world may be thinking, it looks like unrewarding difficult terrain and so forth. What do you say to them?PS: It is absolutely difficult terrain, as you well know. At times, it will be deeply frustrating. And it will be occasionally, hopefully, enormously rewarding. The challenges we've got -- whether you want to think on a local or global level -- climate, geopolitical, cybersecurity, rural urban divide, go on and on and on. These are generational kinds of challenges, and they are at real inflection points. So for someone to feel daunted is honest and correct. What I hope people don't feel is hopeless. Because you can make a difference. The book is full of 38 people who have found ways to make a difference -- some of them on a local level, some of them on a national level, some of them at the top of an organization, some of them in a medium part of the organization, or on the street in a community. So part of the reason to write the book was not just to have a point of view, but also to tell 38 stories of people who are making a positive impact, and how they're doing it, and how that positive impact reflects those five qualities that I think are so important.MB: And there are some great stories in there. The person that you start with is Rosanne Haggerty, who I know as well, and has this extraordinary record of actually figuring out how to get to zero homelessness in a number of cities around America. When you see what she's done, what can we learn from that in terms of how we could achieve real, dramatic change? Because I think homelessness has been an issue that no one really ever believed you could solve.PS: Particularly on the West Coast. I'm sure it's true on the East Coast, but on the West Coast it's just absorbing us.MB: And you were quite honest that you were involved in Seattle in trying to solve homelessness and couldn't do it.PS: I will say my case study was of Seattle, I wasn't directly involved in it. That's not letting myself off the hook. I'm trying to find an entry point in Seattle about how to be involved, because we do have a new housing authority that's trying to go after it. So what do you learn from someone like Rosanne? I would say a couple things. One, the people in this book, every one of them, sort of exemplifies one of these particular traits. And I think all of us, we have to be multifaceted. But there's also something about us picking a particular principle, or a particular strength, that's going to guide our work. And it needs to represent who we are. So in Rosanne’s case, what she exemplifies is what I call the generosity mindset. And it's because she told me that phrase. She has to walk into so many communities and deal with some of the most complex, contentious issues there are. And I just said to her, how the hell do you have a chance? She says, I have to have a generosity mindset. And we went on to have a whole conversation about what that is and what that means. But she has a grounding in that approach and that strategy. So she doesn't randomly walk into a community to do this. She doesn't just say, I'm gonna do my best. Generosity mindset is a strategy. It is a hard-edged strategy. So I say, the first thing is, as a leader, we need to have an approach. We need to have a mindset. We need to have a particular leadership strategy that we're going to lead with that represents who we are and what our strengths are. The second thing to learn from her story is that literally from the day she got out of college this is what she's worked on. Now, I'm not saying everybody has to commit their whole life to it. But there's definitely the story of when people hop around to different causes and different issues, you're just staying shallow. If you want to make a difference, you have to pick at some point -- a place, or an issue, or a cause to go deep on, and stick with it, and go hard, and go deep. That is the one where you have a chance, that's the second thing I think you learn. And the third thing you learn from her example, and it's reflective in the trade of cross sector fluency, is everybody from every sector has a role to play in this. So if you're in the private sector, and you feel like homelessness is hard to solve, believe me, we need you. If you're in the public sector, and you feel like nobody cares about homelessness enough to really do something about it, that's not true. What her stories exemplify also is that we need all three sectors to converge on these problems. We do not have a chance to solve these huge problems one or two sectors at a time. We need all three of them. So have a strategy, stick with it over the long term, and understand that we need all three sectors.MB: This is a very challenging point, though. Firstly, near the end of the book you use a quote from McKinsey, which is obviously a firm that is very much associated with public private partnerships, but also currently is in the news for not being brilliantly ethical in this respect. And yet, there is this general thing that we all kind of know in principle, that we need public private partnerships to work at scale, if we're really going to move a lot of change fast. But yet, there are very few examples of public private partnerships that have really seemed to work. And there is this imbalance that I think is there between what you get paid if you're working in the private sector, and what you get paid in government. And the worry that many of the people who end up in government are not the best, that many of the most talented people go into the private sector. And that actually, where you want more of the talented people to go is into the public sector. And they don't, because it's not an attractive career, in many ways. How do we get beyond saying we need the public private partnerships to work to actually setting up the conditions where they can work? Obviously, there are many talented people in government, but how do we solve that problem?PS: I would say in the last three to five years, the most hopeful part of that equation is the private sector, not because they're the best, or whatever. I mean, all three of those sectors genuinely contribute a part of the equation. If you take one part of the equation away you do not have what you need. But in the last three to five years, you can look at the statement on stakeholder capitalism in September 2019, Larry Fink at BlackRock making the statements he's making, the way that CEOs had to step up in 2020. I think we've reached a convergence point where it's great if the CEO wants to be socially conscious, because they care about it or they have a good moral ethic. That’s nice. That’s great. It is even better if it's truly woven into the business, and it's truly going to affect the bottom line. Somewhere in the last three to five years, I believe we crossed over that. And in 2020, we absolutely moved past that point where it isn't just a nice thing to do, to varying degrees for companies, it's something they have to do. And so I think we have this place where profit and purpose are now not this incongruent, or forced together, equation. They genuinely can live together. So that's a really hopeful part of it. And what is also true is, there has been for a while there, this sort of a pedantic relationship between the private and the public/nonprofit sectors. And I would say in particular in 2020, a lot of private sector companies realized, man, I better have at least a nonprofit partner or a public sector partner, or both, that actually understands what's going on the ground, because I need to navigate this for my business, for my company. And I can't do this if I just sit over here in my private sector silo. So I would say the most hopeful thing, while it’s still complex and it will always be, but the most hopeful thing is there is more alignment of natural incentives than I have seen in a long, long time and I think that gives me hope.MB: I agree with you, that business has definitely changed his tune. I think what remains to be seen is what the reality is underneath that. But I do find that the public sector part of it is the one that I find hardest to solve. Because there are so many aspects of working in the public sector that you really have to feel incredibly called to do. You have to be willing to put up with a lot of obstacles, and often feeling that things are moving at a very slow moving pace, that you are not well paid. And lots of risks in terms of politicians, particularly, who are very much subject of 24/7 scrutiny and in this current moment, can easily find themselves suddenly out of office for something that might have been seen as relatively minor in the past. What do we do? I mean, you have some examples, this Chief Performance Officer that you quoted, who is very impressive. How do we make it more palatable to go into government, into the public sector?PS: That's a hard equation to solve for. What I'll suggest is, at the national level, it can feel enormously discouraging. I don't know that I would tell anybody to try to run for one of those 535 spots in Congress, or anything at that level. So I'm gonna sort of bag off of that. But at a local and a state level -- and there's plenty of complexity there, too -- there's a lot of local and state issues, where I do think there is a chance to make change. You know, we talk a lot about mayors. I have one example of a mayor in the book, Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia who was there a few years ago. I think mayors, sometimes governors, sometimes local city council, they absolutely can have an impact. And what I do find inspiring is, I think that there are still enough people that care about that civic ethic, and that want to commit to their community. And I actually think that the Gen Zs have this, even more than you or my generation did, so I think there's a little more supply coming at it. And the last thing I would say, based on several of the examples in the book, is that cities, some states, some counties, they're never going to be okay with the private sector coming in, that it's just not gonna happen. But what they can do is hopefully create a working environment and a sense of purpose that is strong enough, and clear enough, that enough talented people will want to continue to want to work in the public sector. So absolutely a hard challenge. I see enough hope at the state, county, local levels, where there are enough people that have that sense of civic service, and enough of those entities that I think create a working environment where people do want to be a part of it, and that they can contribute something to public private partnerships.MB: One of the things that your book does, that is one reason I would recommend it to people, is you tell these 38 stories of people who really are making a difference. People who in some ways should be household names, but most of them aren't. And they could be. One of the things that we need to do better as a media is to shine light on some of these stories of people who are builders, who are taking charge of change. And, not in a naive way. And one of the things I like about the book is that you are willing to concede when people have not have not been perfect. What makes you optimistic as we come out of this pandemic?PS: So the simple answer, which is also true, is it's partly the people that I profile in the book and other folks that I talked to that are not in the book. So that is true. And I guess I would also sort of suggest that that's the easy answer. So I would say the less obvious answer is in doing the research on those people, and understanding those five traits, I had to come across organizations that were doing things that I didn't know they were doing, and I didn't expect. I came across a lot of private sector organizations that are not just in this stuff because they think it's a nice thing to do, because they have to do it. I see a lot more talented CEOs that are now willing to apply themselves to this wholeheartedly. I am probably as inspired by the public sector examples. The city of Cincinnati, Nicolette [Stanton], the head of waste management, the city of Phoenix, Philippe Marino, there are genuine examples of not just good people, but good work getting done. And, like you said, we are not telling those stories well enough. And in the midst of all the noise, and the division, and the silos, and the lack of facts we can agree on, which man they could win the day, I think there's enough good work, solid work that's going on. And these kinds of leaders, that gives me hope. It's a real race, where it's like, the good and the evil are both racing to the tipping point for America. And I know that's a little dramatic. And I think people like to always say you're at an inflection point. But, at least to me, America truly does feel like over the next five to ten years here, we're gonna make up our minds about an awful lot of things. And if we get it right, I think we will be going in the right direction. Again, if we get it wrong, then it's going to be a bitch.MB: So just to wrap up, do you have one challenge for listeners of Books Driving Change? And do you have one piece of advice for anyone who does feel that they want to take up the opportunity to take charge of change?PS: Sure, on the latter one, if you literally can't find somewhere my email is: shoe@paulshoemaker.org. And I've helped people many, many times to find that point of entry. The latter part I would say to folks is: start. We can get intimidated by, overwhelmed by, the size of the challenge, the complexity of the challenge. Where do I have an entry point in the community? Pick somewhere. You can find it -- there's volunteer match, there's your local nonprofit directory, there's your local city, etc, etc. So find a place and start. And then what I would say to folks about advice on a personal level -- in addition to getting the book -- is don't underestimate that everybody's got a skill or skills, a trait or traits, that actually have significant value. And I don't know that everybody realizes it, and doesn't necessarily sort of see where they have a pathway to: I have an expertise in finance, [but] what the hell does that have to do with this social problem or that one? Your skills and traits, they always have applicability. And it may take a little bit of a journey to find it. But part of the reason I wrote about these five traits is that every one of them can make a difference. So find a way to start. If you can't find a way to start, contact me. And look in your own skill set, and your own strength, and your own assets, and realize there are ways that they can be applied into a community beyond what you probably know, you'd probably expect, and beyond your checkbook and your wallet.MB: Great. Well, that's a great note to end on. Thank you very much. I've been talking with Paul Shoemaker, the author of Taking Charge of Change. It's a great book. Read it and get started. Thank you.
Made in Africa: A Conversation with Chinny Ogunro
Sep 13 2021
Made in Africa: A Conversation with Chinny Ogunro
“If I have to decide between creating one large hospital that impacts a small number of very, very wealthy lives, but makes me personally rich, versus having a large number of small clinics, that impacts probably the lowest income populations and makes me reasonably okay to eat, I will always choose the latter because I'm very much a utilitarian. I want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people so my focus has always been on the low- to middle-income population. How do we make sure that we're creating hospitals and clinics that are good for them?” -- Chinny OgunroIn episode four of Made in Africa, Driving Change’s conversation series with African visionaries whose work impacts the public good, Chinny Ogunro speaks with Sarika Bansal about her life and career. Ogunro has focused her career on building healthcare systems across Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries. She is a systems thinker, first and foremost, interested in doing the most good for the most people. Through the course of her career, she has helped improve the operations of hundreds of hospitals, which has delivered high-quality, low-cost healthcare to over 40,000 people in West Africa and India.Ogunro was most recently the Chief Executive Officer of WellSpring Health, a Nigeria-based integrated care consortium committed to delivering quality, affordable healthcare at scale. She is a co-founder of Africa Health Holdings (AHH), a healthcare investment and operations company born out of her doctoral research and her first company, CarePoint Hospitals and Clinics. She was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2020. Ogunro holds a Ph.D. in Health Management from the Harvard Business School, a masters in Health Administration from Cornell University, and Bachelors degrees from Stanford University.She also talks about her career as an All-American track and field star and why she chose academics over working towards the Olympics. I hope you enjoy the conversation!
Books Driving Change: Gillian Tett and Anthro-Vision
Aug 27 2021
Books Driving Change: Gillian Tett and Anthro-Vision
I'm going to start, as I do with all the authors that we have on this podcast, by asking you, Gillian, the audience we're aiming at here is people who are interested in how we can do a better job at improving the state of the world and who are interested in public service in some way. And the question to you is, in a sentence, why should people, our audience, read your book?Gillian Tett (GT): In a sentence, most of the problems in policy making and corporate life, and as general citizens, stem from the fact that we have tunnel vision. We can't see the consequences of what we're doing or the context. And I believe that cultural anthropology is one discipline that can really help you overcome tunnel vision, and get lateral vision, a wider view of how our actions impact the world.MB: Now, you've written a fantastically wide-ranging book. I mean, it starts with you as a young student in Tajikistan, studying marriage rituals under a communist state in a Central Asian country. But you go across everything from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and trying to make sense of Trump, the financial crisis back in 2008, the emergence of ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] and impact investing, more recently, and sort of interesting issues in car manufacturing and consumption habits and all sorts of things. But can you start us off with what drew you to anthropology in the first place, and how you found yourself in Tajikistan and why that actually led you into journalism, which is where you have spent your career?GT: Well, I got into anthropology, like many things in life, by accident. I wanted to have adventure and travel the world, and I was curious about the wider world, which is something that I hope we teach all of our kids to be. And so, I studied anthropology as an undergraduate, then went to do a Ph.D. in it, and ended up in a place called Soviet Tajikistan, just north of Afghanistan, where I was studying marriage rituals as a way to look at the clash between Islam and communism. And just at the end of my research, the Soviet Union broke up. There was a very brutal war where I'd been living. So, I went to journalism partly because I was frustrated that no one was paying attention, and I wanted to draw attention to it for human rights reasons. But I then quickly realized, actually, the business of telling people about other people can be, in some ways, quite similar to anthropology, but also a way to try and drive some change in the wider world as well.MB: So, it's a very natural follow up to your previous book, The Silo Effect, where you talk about the problem that people lock themselves into siloed thinking and here you talk a lot about lateral vision, this ability to sort of see things from multiple perspectives, but also to see yourself as others might see you. You know, if there's a single message about anyone going into public policy work or policymaking, what is it that anthropology teaches them?GT: I think this single message can be presented in two ways. One, is to think about culture. And that kind of sounds obvious because we all know we're affected by our culture. But defining culture is a bit like chasing soap in the bath. It's kind of everywhere, but nowhere. And we know it affects us, but we don't actually have many ways to think about how to reflect on that. And what I offer in the book is really an argument that we all need to take a three-step process. Periodically, immerse ourselves in the lives of others or people who seem different from us. And that being different can be at the end of the street, in a different department, or the other side of the world. And to do that to get empathy not just for others and realize that not everyone thinks like us, but also then to fit the lens and look back at ourselves and see what we're missing. And see above all else, the kind of social silences, the parts of our world that we tend to ignore, because they seem boring or dull or irrelevant or just too obvious to talk about. So, in many ways, the second way, I think I'd frame it is to say that anthropology gives you lateral vision in a world of tunnel vision. It enables you to see the context, the cultural context, beyond our models, or balance sheets, or simple policy programs. And when you wrap those different points together, what anthropology really gives you is an awareness that if you are engaged in public policy, you need to look at the world in a connected way, with empathy, both for others and a sense of empathy for understanding all the shortcomings in your own approach.MB: You have a very interesting chapter on contagion where you start with the Ebola crisis in Africa. And actually, with a character, Chris Whitty, who went on to be quite a central figure in the British response to this current pandemic that we're going through. You also cite Paul Farmer [co-founder of Partners in Health] in this in this context. At various points, you note that a lot of the international aid failures around Ebola were due to not thinking through and understanding the culture of people on the ground. But then you flip it, I think very nicely, and talk about how we didn't necessarily do a good job of understanding our own culture when we were pushing many of the public health messages that needed to be communicated as we responded to the crisis. In fact, Chris Whitty himself didn't necessarily do a brilliant job in the U.K. I mean, I'm wondering, as you reflect now, on how we've responded to the pandemic, what should we if we brought an “Anthro-Vision” approach to it, should we have done differently?GT: Well, I think, that we could have done two things differently. The first is to actually be curious about people who seem different from us and try and learn lessons from how they've handled pandemics in the past. This is a fundamental point in my book, that actually it pays to embrace strange, not run away or deride it. And to ask questions and be curious about how other people live. If we'd had that mentality at the beginning of COVID-19, it could and should have prompted policymakers to pay more attention to Wuhan. Look at the experience of SARS. Look at what happened with Ebola in West Africa. Not just assume it was a bunch of strange, weird people in a faraway place that had nothing to do with us. Because the reality is that the pandemic has shown us the world is interconnected and prone to contagion at all times and contagions come from people who we don't necessarily understand. And if nothing else, we need to try and understand that to, you know, protect ourselves. I happen to think there's a moral reason why we ought to try and understand each other. But if you want to just play to fear and greed, that's it. But separately, if we had actually paid more attention to lessons from other countries at the beginning of COVID, we might have learned some really good lessons and tips. Like the efficacy of masks, that was well-known by anthropologists from the SARS epidemic in Asia. And what they'd learned was actually the way a mask helps in an epidemic is not just through the physical barrier of germs, but also through the simple act of putting on a mask each day as a psychological prompt to remind you to change behavior, or the fact that masks can be a signaling device culturally to show adherence to a wider group of norms, and a desire to uphold civic responsibility. And that really matters and it could and should have been imported into the West a lot earlier. But the flip side is, of course, that thinking about how other countries handled an epidemic enables you to then look back at yourself, too, and say, “well are we making the right decisions or not?” So again, a tiny example is that in the U.K., there was a tremendous focus on top-down messaging and orders and coercion in terms of trying to change behavior during the COVID-19 lockdown. The messaging was very often conflicting and changeable. And the U.K. didn't use its existing excellent network of health centers, which were bottom-up local areas, which they should have done. If they'd looked at the experience or something like Ebola or even Asia with SARS and others, they would have seen what a mistake that was. And they would have actually asked themselves, you know, “why are we in the U.K. not using our wonderful local network of healthcare providers to try and battle the pandemic, you know, get messages about lockdown across in the way that people feel empowered, and want to relate to?” You know, “what can we do better?”MB: And I mean, this theme of top down versus bottom up is another theme that comes throughout the book. And particularly in a chapter that you start in Davos with the gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF), where we've both been there many times. And it's hard to imagine a more top-down orientation than the global elite gathered in Davos. What do you feel if Klaus Schwab [founder of the World Economic Forum] was to say, “Gillian, tell me how I should change WEF so that we can get Anthro-Vision at WEF?” What would you say to him?GT: I would say two or three things. Firstly, look at the Davos tribe with an anthropological lens and see all the elitism, see the networking, and see above all else, how it often encourages people to ignore other people's points of view. You know, you need to probably get people who are not part of the Davos elite into the room much more effectively and get their views actually embedded into the conversation. Recognize that not everything can be solved through top-down analysis in the form of big datasets, economic models, corporate balance sheets, political polls. Those can be very useful, but you need to supplement top-down models and intellectual tools with some bottom-up analysis that looks at qualitative, not just quantitative metrics. I'm not saying that, you know, anthropology has all the answers, but I'm saying it's a really useful way to conduct checks and balances to provide other perspectives into a conversation. Or to use another metaphor, you know, most of the tools we use today to look at the world, our bird's eye views, those taken from 30,000 feet. Anthropology basically cherishes a worm's eye view, a bottom-up view. And that can be incredibly important.MB: You touch on that issue a lot. One of the questions I would have is why is it that we're so dismissive? I mean, it seems by now, we should be recognizing that we operate in silos. I mean, you wrote a book about this many years ago, it seems to be a well-observed effect. And yet, you actually quote this one point, a famous author pointed out that getting people to understand when their job depends on not understanding it is actually very hard. Is that what's going on, that our policymakers, our leaders are locked into this? They have too many incentives to ignore the general view, so they certainly don't go down to the worm's eye view?GT: I think the reality is that someone in the book asks "why, dude, don't more companies hire anthropologists” or look at themselves, not other people? One reason is that what anthropologists say often make people uncomfortable. Because if you're part of the elite, if you are in a position of power, you tend to be there not just by controlling economic capital by making money, or political capital, net worth of power. You shape cultural capital in the sense that you have a belief system, which often reaffirms the social order and makes it seem natural, that elites are in charge. And that's very comforting. But the reality is that, you know, every society has creation myths and cultural frameworks, which might prop up the position of the elite, but are often full of contradictions and leave people prone to tunnel vision. And that's why we need to challenge them. To give you a couple of tangible examples, before 2008, financiers working in the field of financial innovation derivatives had this wonderful creation myth about how innovation was going to make the financial system safer, because they were going to create perfectly liquid markets, where risk was dispersed. And that was riddled with contradictions when you dug into it. But the people who were peddling it couldn't see it, because they were such a tribe set apart, such a tunnel, they had so little challenge. So, the value of anthropology to come in and say, "well, this is what you're not looking at". It offers checks and balances above all else.MB: You have this very interesting discussion of Trump and how the media and many people in the global elite missed what it was that gave him a connection to so many voters and particularly you focus on this word "bigly" that he used and how the elite was sneering at this interesting linguistic "cofefe", I guess you might call it. But what is it that we should now be thinking about the Trump tribe who, again, I think, in the elite, there was this feeling that January 6th and the storming of the Capitol would, you know, would somehow bring the Republican base to its senses, whereas the opposite seems to be the case? Are we failing again, to understand what's really going on with the Trump tribe?GT: What I write about in the book about the elite and Trump is really a sort of mea culpa on my part because when I heard the word bigly in one of the debates I laughed, too, instinctively. Laughter is always very revealing, because it reveals the social group boundaries, you know, you have to be in a group to get a joke. If you're not in a group, you don't get the joke. And laughter tends to reveal unresolved contradictions in our own cultural patterns, or ones we don't talk about. And what laughing about the word bigly really revealed was that the ingroup of journalists tended to assume and take for granted that to be in a position of power and have credibility, you had to have command of language. And in some ways, you know, having command of language and being educated, you know, has hitherto been one of the few accepted forms of snobbery in America. And the reality is that lots of people find that very irritating, and they resent it. But the fact that I was part of the in group that laughed, meant that I kind of was failing to see what a lot of Trump supporters and voters were actually seeing in Trump and applauding, which was that he spoke in a way that used not just so much words, more a kind of performance, ritualistic style of communication, that connected very deeply with a lot of his base. I write in the book that a lot of it was borrowed from the world of wrestling, in fact, in terms of how it tapped into emotions, and had stage mock fights and things like that, which was, again, a set of performative cultural messaging and signaling that was very familiar to Trump voters, but not elite journalists for the most part. So, I missed a lot of Trump's appeal because I didn't really get it on an emotional level, because of my own tribalism. I tried to counter that by listening to people in 2016. And that did in fact that help me see the likely victory of Donald Trump.MB: You were certainly one of those people who was, I mean, actually you're harsh on yourself in the book, because you say you missed the Brexit vote, but on both Brexit and Trump's victory, I heard you saying that you were quite concerned that would be the result before they happened. Do you feel now that there's this danger that we still haven't learned that lesson about Trump and his appeal to his tribe?GT: I think there's a danger even today, that we fail to see that what we're dealing with in America today is not just a political split, but an epistemological split. And that sound like a very big grandiose word or at leastMB: A bigly word, I guess.GT: A bigly word definitely. An epistemological split means, basically, a split in the system of knowledge, in how we communicate and actually reason. And anyone who has been trained for years in education, as I have been, tends to have a rational, logical one direct mindset in terms of evaluating knowledge, and to take things fairly literally and to try and pass them. And, you know, that's a very valid mindset. But it's not the only mindset out there. There's another type of mindset out there, which is much more about impressionistic, emotional, holistic reading of situations. And, you know, looking at performative signaling, and that's the mindset that Trump uses as much of the time. In the book, I talk about the difference between weird and non-weird cultures meaning “Western, educated, individualistic, rich, and democratic.” That's the use of man called Joseph Henrich, who is brilliant, who looked at these different modes of reasoning. And I think even today that when we talk about political splits, we need to recognize that there's a part of America that's responding to events like the January 6th events at Capitol Hill, not through one-dimensional, logical reasoning, passing, etc., that we value as journalists, but instead through much more emotional, impressionistic, performative, signaling patterns. I see the same truth in other areas as well, by the way. I mean, you can't hope to make sense of say, some of the mean cultures erupting in the financial markets, unless you recognize that there's performative signaling going on that can be very potent, but which can't be passed through any economic economist's model of rational expectations, or any kind of portfolio allocation approach to mind.MB: Now you talk at various points about the media as a tribe, and maybe a tribe that it's got its own narrative a little out of whack or doesn't look at itself through a lateral lens. I mean, what do you feel is the biggest danger that the media has at the moment, in terms of how it might go, you know, way off track in understanding how the world is going at the moment?MB: Well, I do look at the media, because I think we have to be honest as journalists, and if we're going to analyze other people, we have to analyze ourselves. And the real issue is, I do think we should realize how we're tribal how we're creatures of our own environment. And how, in many ways the sheer polarization in America and the attacks in the media have intensified the sense of tribalism. And that affects us in two ways. Firstly, in terms of how we define stories, and what stories we look at, and how we communicate them. And, you know, I think that in many ways, it's natural that we're tribal, everyone's tribal, it's part of human nature. But it has been exacerbated also by the competitive pressures afoot in journalism today, where essentially, there's a very crowded marketplace for information. So, there's a presumption that you have to shout loudly to get attention. There's a presumption that you have to try and get a really sticky audience, which tends to force people to take quite extremist views. Journalists are under tremendous time pressure. So, they tend to gravitate towards the areas of social noise, the things that are easy to see, and ignore the really important areas of social silence. And also journalists tend to have silos within their own news operations, which reflect a ton of silos in the outside world. You know, we have banking teams, and political teams and legal teams. Stories often fall between the cracks, and sometimes get caught, sometimes not. So, in an ideal world, you know, journalists would be given a lot more money, and the ability to go forth and roam and collide with the unexpected and look at social sciences. They'd be encouraged to try and communicate with audiences in ways that didn't just reaffirm existing prejudices. I mean, you can connect with where the audience's head is up front, as if you're playing dominoes. And match one half a domino to someone else's domino, but then you can take them somewhere else, with a second piece of a domino if you like. And in an ideal world, you'd have journalists who were able to, essentially, you know, get out of their own mental tunnels and explore different points of view. But that's hard to do with the media under such pressure. And when essentially, there's constant demand to create quick hits and returns in the form of stories that meet the normal pattern.MB: So, you're optimistic that journalism will change or are you quite fearful about it?GT: I hope journalism tries and changes. And one of the things that does make me more optimistic is a checks and balances are emerging. Partly because the sheer plurality of voices coming through, partly because we're seeing new models of journalism coming through, like investigative units funded by donations by ProPublica, in podcasts, and in other forms that are actually creating ways to have checks and balances. But I'm concerned about the degree to which it has become politicized and polarized. And above all else, I'm concerned that not enough journalists are flipping the lens and looking back at their own tribe and trying to work out how that is creating a sense of tunnel vision.MB: Now, one of the big trends that's been going on for the past few years has been to see business and finance as a way of making the world better in some ways, you know, through ESG and impact investing and so forth. And that's attracted a number of people who probably would have gone into traditional public service in government in the past, to think they can drive change, positive change through business and investing. And you founded Moral Money at the Financial Times. But in the book, you're quite candid, that initially, you used to roll your eyes at the letters ESG. And so, what caused you to change? And how substantial do you think this phenomenon is? Is it really going to deliver the goods or is it still more in the greenwashing/stakeholder washing category than real change?GT: Well, I initially used to call ESG, "eyeroll, sneer, and groan," because I thought it was basically about corporate BS. And that's the way the most journalists think. And so, I just missed it. I used to delete all the emails about ESG. And then I finally thought you know what, that's my view about what ESG is, as a journalist, who is paid to be cynical. I should at least try and listen to what the people's view is of the people who are trying to do ESG. And when I try to look at the world through their eyes, I realized that there was a bigger Zeitgeist shift going on, which was really to do with the fact that ESG had started out as a, you know, campaign to change the world in a really positive active way, which was very laudable, driven by, you know, nuns and Danish pension funds and people like that. But by 2016/2017, which is when I began to look at it, it was also being driven for the most part by a desire amongst companies and executives and finances to save themselves, and essentially engage in risk management, because people were increasingly realizing that if they ignored things like environmental risk or gender issues and sexual harassment, slavery in the supply chain, they could end up suffering reputational damage, regulatory controls, loss of employees, clients, customers, investors, etc. And you can be cynical and say, "Well, listen, that's just, you know, very hypocritical in the part of ESG it is just a way for companies to engage in self-defense at a time when radical transparency and changing societal norms, and it's all just for show.” Or you can say, “actually, it's pretty amazing that ESG has gone so mainstream, that companies feel they even need to talk about it or make the effort to do it.” And that, you know, revolutions succeed, not when a tiny, committed minority of activists are screaming, but when the silent majority thinks they need to go along with a change, because it's dangerous to resist it. And I think that's where we are with ESG right now. Does that mean there is a lot of greenwashing, woke washing, reputation washing? Yes, there is some. Does it mean that the rituals of ESG, to be anthropological, don't match up with the reality? Yes, quite often. But you know, anthropologists believe that rituals are interesting, because they show an idealized version of what people think the world should be like. And the very fact that people have a different idealized version today from what it was 30 years ago, I think is very interesting. And overall, what is striking is that, you know, as say, fossil fuel emissions become less acceptable, you're actually seeing that feed through to changes in the cost of capital for energy companies, and dashboards embracing renewables, and a change in actual corporate behavior, to a degree. I can't stress strongly enough you need government action too. You know, companies alone, ESG alone, are not going to fix problems. But if people are all rowing roughly in the same direction, and cultural norms are changing, it makes it easier to both force government action, and potentially to do business and financial action as well that's going to be in the right direction.MB: Now, I want to bring up an issue that you touch on at various points tangentially in the book, but not head on. So, I'm going to push you a bit. I'm very concerned at the moment about the quality of government. We could do with better people going into government and we could do with much more joined up government. It just seems to me the narrative around government is pretty horrible, and that most people that aren't in government are quite put off by it. There's not much attraction to it, except for people that have big egos or ambitions to be famous politicians or whatever. It's not an attractive narrative. Have you thought much about that with your “Anthro-Vision” lens on like, why it's got into that bad narrative and also what how we might encourage more people to see it positively?GT: I think you made a great point there, Matthew about the issue of government, because I was very struck, talking to Paul Volcker, the wonderful former Fed Chairman, who had gone into public service in the post-war years, when public service was revered, and spent many years working in public service and was very dismayed to see how attitudes towards public service changed as the 20th century wore on. So upset that when he finally left government, and, you know, had time on his hands, he created a center at the Harvard Kennedy School to try and champion the idea of good governance, and then found it almost impossible to get funding because it was so unpopular and unfashionable. And I think that's terribly dangerous. And I think we need good government. We need respect for good government and better organization. Michael Lewis's book, The Fifth Risk, showed that so clearly. What I think's interesting is that history shows that, you know, we go in pendulum swings in terms of Zeitgeists, and anthropology shows that in fact nothing is ever fixed in stone. Culture is like a river. It is constantly flowing and changing, and new streams are coming in. And I suspect we may, just may, be at a point when the pendulum is beginning to swing a tiny bit away from the idea that government is the source of all problems towards slightly more respect for government. I think the pandemic could end up being a bit of a turning point in attitudes, not just in the sense of public and private are working together, and also private and private, over things like the vaccine, which is laying down train tracks for the future. But also, I suspect that the idea of having a government mission looks a little less unfashionable than in the past.MB: If someone is thinking about going into government or a career in public service, is there a tip that you would have as to how they can use Anthro-Vision to sort of be a different sort of government leader, different sort of bureaucrat, civil servant?GT: In a nutshell, I'd say that a key tip from Anthro-Vision is to embrace a concept that at the heart of the American political system, which has checks and balances. What anthropology does is give you intellectual checks and balances. You embrace whatever field you are passionate about, be that medicine or economics or law, or whatever part of government you're working in. You do that job well, but you never forget to look around corners and think about context and think about the cultural patterns that you're working in and how it might make be giving you tunnel vision and make you blind to what you can't see. And you respect the fact that there are going to be cultural dynamics inside the office and outside the office. And I think that getting that wider vision of what you're doing is perhaps the most important thing of anyone who's working in public service today.MB: Well, that's a great note to end on. And as I say, this is a really interesting book. It's full of great stories and tremendous practical advice about how to learn some of the tips from anthropology, even if you aren't an anthropologist yourself. And I think you certainly succeed in making the case that we do all need to get some “Anthro-Vision”, so we can see the world differently. So, thank you. Gillian Tett and the book is highly recommended. GT: Thank you. Great to be on your show.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Books Driving Change: Adam Grant and Think Again
Aug 16 2021
Books Driving Change: Adam Grant and Think Again
If you change your mind because you're telling people what they want to hear, and you're trying to curry favor or get the approval of your constituents, you're doing that for purely political reasons. And you are flip flopping, and we should be critical of that. But what if you change because you've encountered stronger evidence or sharper logic? That's not flip flopping, that's called learning. And I think we ought to separate the two and start to recognize that some leaders when they change their position, it's because they've actually evolved their thinking, and they have better ideas than they did when they developed their earlier stance. – Adam Grant Matthew Bishop (MB): Hello, this is Matthew Bishop with Books Driving Change. Today, I'm talking with Adam Grant, the author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. Adam is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School and the author of a number of bestselling books, including Originals and Give and Take. In this book, he addresses one of the big themes of today, which is that we seem to be in a world where our leaders feel they have to be right about everything. They don't seem to think again. They seem to double down on bad ideas when those ideas don't work. People are becoming more entrenched in their opinions. There seems to be less concern about facts and learning and more sort of just sticking to your guns come what may. And this book is really a challenge to that mindset and, actually drawing on a lot of science, about how do we create an open mind, both as individuals and also in society? So, Adam, I wanted to start by asking you this question: our audience is made up of people who are feeling some kind of call in this pandemic to public service to building back better. I'd like you to tell us in one sentence, why should they read your book?Adam Grant (AG): I think they should read my book, because 2020 forced us to do a lot of rethinking and my hope for 2021 is that we do our rethinking more deliberately, and more proactively. And this book is about the science of how we can question a lot of the assumptions and opinions and even outdated knowledge and beliefs that are holding us back. MB: So, in the book, you talk a lot about how to create a learning mindset, to be open to being wrong, and so forth. What are the practical tips that you would highlight for leaders as they try and move us in this world of entrenched opinions back to that more open-minded approach to leadership?AG: As far as practical tips, I think the first thing I would say is, when you make a plan, make a list of the conditions that would change your mind. It's so common for leaders to roll out a plan, and then find out that maybe it was the wrong choice. And get stuck in this trap of escalation, of commitment to a losing course of action, where they double down, they invest more time, more energy, and more resources. And then the cost of failure just gets higher and higher. One of the major reasons that escalation of commitment happens is people are too motivated to rationalize their behavior. They want to convince themselves and everyone else that they made the right call. And that means they actually stay wrong longer. As opposed to recognizing that the faster I admit I was wrong, the faster I can move toward getting it right, which last time I checked is where they want to land. I think the danger of committing publicly to a plan is that it becomes attached to you and you become attached to it. It becomes your baby. If you can separate your ideas from your identity, and say, "Okay, this is a plan I'm going to test. And right up front here are the things that might happen. Here are the early signals that would lead me to course correct or maybe pause to rethink it. “If I identify those upfront, then I can keep myself honest.MB: It's interesting that I think social media and, in fact, many of the forces that are shaping the world we live in at the moment, seem to play well to the kind of leader that is the opposite to the sort that you talk about in the book. The sort of person that is really about simple opinions, polarizing opinions, never being wrong, sticking to their guns. Seems like we live in a world where it's incredibly hard for our leaders to be humble. To admit that they are fallible human beings. That they can get things wrong.AG: I think that we put so much of a premium on conviction, confidence, and certainty; when what we should be elevating in leadership is the confidence to be humble. I think it takes an extraordinary amount of security to admit what you don't know. You have to be fairly confident in your strengths to acknowledge your weaknesses out loud. I think that we've had too many leaders, especially over the past 15 months, who have felt tremendous pressure to say I have all the answers, as opposed to taking what I would say Jacinda Ardern modelled much more effectively, which is to open with, we don't have the answers. We're not sure what it's going to take to stop COVID. And because of that, we're going to take some pretty drastic measures. As the science evolves, as we learn, this may change.MB: One of the forces that you talk about very persuasively in the book is this human tendency to what you call the escalation of commitment? Can you tell us a bit about that?AG: Well, a lot of people think that escalation of commitment is driven by sunk costs, right? You put your name, your reputation, your money, your time behind a course of action and then it seems like it's not going to pan out. You think, well, if only I try a little harder, especially in this world that worships at the altar of hustle and praises to the high priest of grit. If only I just persist a little bit longer, I can turn this thing around. And, yeah, the economic factors do matter. But the biggest drivers of escalation are not economic, they're emotional. It's about ego and image. I don't want to admit to myself that I made a stupid decision, or I might be an idiot. And I don't want anybody else to think I am either. So, it's easier to try to convince myself and everybody else that, you know, I'm not throwing good money after bad. I am heroically persevering.MB: And in that moment when you are faced with a choice of admitting you were wrong or the error is more complex than you think, why is it that today so many of our leaders are choosing to sort of double down on being wrong?AG: That's a great question. I mean, there's been a lot of social science trying to dig into that in the last few years. And I think one of the most compelling answers is that we've made the mistake of equating consistency with integrity. That when somebody changes their mind, we call them a flip flopper or a hypocrite. And I think we need to be more nuanced about that. If you change your mind because you're telling people what they want to hear. And you're trying to curry favor or get the approval of your constituents. You're doing that for purely political reasons. You are flip flopping, and we should be critical of that. But what if you change because you've encountered stronger evidence or sharper logic? That's not flip flopping, that's called learning. I think we ought to separate the two and start to recognize that some leaders when they change their position, it's because they've actually evolved their thinking, and they have better ideas than they did when they developed their earlier stance.MB: You quote the case of Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, who has had quite an interesting year or so where he's been flavor of the month and quite hated by the public, and the media response to him quite early in the pandemic, saying we don't know what to do, so we're going to do something and see how it works. You quote approvingly that the New York Times was very critical at the time. I wonder about the role of the media. You know I spent all my career in the media, even in one of the more nuanced publications like The Economist, but the media is always wanting to reduce complexity to simple narratives of this person versus that person, this tribe versus that tribe, this country versus that country. I mean, how do we change the way the media helps society be more open to thinking again, and to dealing with doubts and complexity and experimentation?AG: Oh, good question. Well, first of all, I disapprove of Andrew Cuomo's leadership. And, in fact, that anecdote was a little bit of a head fake, and the real source of the quote and the story is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. So, there's a little bit of a twist in there. But I think the fundamental question of how we can get the media to help is something that I rethought while I was writing Think Again. I believed going in that the solution to all this polarization was for people to see the other side. And the data convinced me that, in fact, seeing the other side is not a solution, it's actually part of the polarization problem. The biggest mistake that the media consistently makes is they amplify two extremes. What does that do? Let's say, for example, you're on one side of the abortion debate or the gun debate or the climate change issue. If you see only the opposite extreme, those people sound stupid and wrong and crazy. You might even think they're evil. So, what are you going to do? You're going to become even more extreme and more entrenched in your own camp. What we need to see is the complexity of the issue. We need to see the nuances, the shades of grey. And so, whenever somebody in the media says, "Well, here's one side and here's the other side," what I want to know is, what's the third angle? What's the fourth perspective that's missing here? There's some research by Peter Coleman and his colleagues in Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia, where they show that just presenting the same issue, not as two sides of a coin, but instead as if you're looking through many lenses of a prism, is enough to get people to rethink some of their extreme convictions and become a little bit more open minded and more nuanced in their thinking. I think the climate issue is a great example of this. Because if you look at the data, the media has actually paid more attention to and done more amplification of climate deniers, then they have of climate scientists. And if you look at where people's stances actually are in most developed countries, the vast majority of people are not in a denial camp. If they're skeptical, they might be uncertain about how severe climate change is. Or what exactly is causing it. Or what all the different solutions might be. What we need to do is raise up those voices and say, you know what, there are a lot of people who recognize that climate change is happening, that there are human decisions that are contributing to it, and there are things we can do about it.MB: I suppose the simple response that a media executive would give to me if I made that pitch to them would be, actually simple conflict sells and some black and white messages. Things that reinforce people's existing positions will play into deeper psychological biases and trends that are in there, than complexity and nuance. How do you make complexity and nuance engaging to an audience that is willing to pay for it?AG: Well, I would say to that media executive, that's your job to be creative about telling the truth in all of its complexity and shades of grey. And, I think obviously, it's very hard to make nuance go viral. But I don't think it always takes that much to signal complexity and to add a little bit more of it into the conversation. For example, there's some research, this is a little bit meta, but the evidence tells us that just saying “more research needs to be done” is enough to trigger people's awareness. Okay, you know, we haven't fully understood this problem yet. Or we don't have all the answers yet, right. That's a helpful step for journalists to take. Another example would be just to cue the complexity of the problem or the solution. So, you know, one of my favorite headlines reads, "Scientists say that planning a trillion trees is probably not going to fix climate change." Right? And immediately, what does that do? That activates for you an awareness that, okay, this is a really thorny issue. And we can't just fix it by planting a bunch of trees. I wonder what else would work. And that ignites my curiosity. Makes me more skeptical of a silver bullet that somebody might be trying to shoot at the problem. That seems to be good for the conversation. It doesn't stop people from clicking and engaging, right? In fact, it makes me want to know, it creates a curiosity gap. I want to know, well, what's wrong with planting a trillion trees? What else might be helpful here?MB: I did wonder whether a late-night politics show called 50 Shades of Grey might sort of attract an interesting audience, maybe the wrong way audience. But another area that you touch on in the book is vaccination denial and how to address that problem, not actually in the context of the COVID virus, but obviously with massive resonance for that issue. You talk a lot about persuasive listening as a way to change minds. Can you just talk a little bit about that, specifically, in terms of maybe what we should be doing now with the vaccine refusers and COVID?AG: Yeah, I think one of the systematic mistakes that we're making is we're doing way too much preaching and prosecuting, right. So preaching is “vaccines are safe and effective, and everyone should get one.” Prosecuting is “you're wrong if you're not getting one. Why don't you believe the science? Why are you endangering yourself and, you know, your community?” What seems to be much more effective is showing humility and curiosity. Approaching the conversation by saying, "You know what? I don't know what's motivating somebody to be resistant, and I'm awfully eager to find out." The research on this has been spearheaded by a vaccine whisperer named Arnaud Gagneur. He applies a technique called motivational interviewing, where you say instead of forcing somebody to change their mind, what if you try to help them uncover their own motivation to change. So, Matthew, I'll give you an example of this. I have a friend who is very resistant to the idea of any vaccination. I swore a few years ago that I was never going to talk to him about the topic again. Because, you know, I saw him as stubborn and pigheaded, and he saw me the same way. It was not good for our friendship. Then COVID happened. I'd written this whole chapter about persuasive listening and I thought it was an opportunity to figure out whether I could practice what I teach, and have a thoughtful, open-minded discussion with somebody who I knew did not share my views. I approached it really differently. Instead of going into logic bully mode and trying to win a debate with him. I started asking questions to learn. The pivotal question that I asked was, "How likely do you think you are to get a COVID vaccine?" And he said, "Well, not very. Like, the odds are pretty low." And I was stunned. I said, "Why didn't you say zero? I was sure you were going to say I will never get one of these." He started listing all these reasons why. He said, "Well, you know, maybe if I'm 85 years old, I'm not concerned about the long-term risks. And, you know, if the contagion rate is really high, and the mortality rate is extremely high, then I probably roll the dice and take my chances." All of a sudden, I saw all this complexity and ambivalence that I had never heard from him before. What those kinds of questions do, is they allow people to recognize all of the uncertainty in their own attitudes. To say, yeah, I have some reasons for staying the course and not getting vaccinated. But there are also some forces that would lead me to consider getting vaccinated. Then you can try to encourage them to reflect on what would have to happen for them to say yes. Ultimately, it's not your place to change their mind, right? What you want to do is get them reflecting on what might lead them to opt in.MB: That's very helpful. And you talked about preaching and prosecution, and you also have politician. You have these three Ps, these types of personalities we get into when we do get into this sort of unthinking mode. I wonder a lot, and going throughout the book, you have great moments of humor throughout, whether you thought about offering up the comedian as the sort of figure that actually is the one figure in society at the moment who can speak these truths about uncertainty and experimentation and not being black and white about things. Because, you have this great example of Melinda Gates reading feedback from her staff at the Gates Foundation about some things where she actually ends up reading a tweet that has a swear word in it, and how that completely changed the dynamics in the room between her and her team. I do wonder, is humor going to be the way that we navigate to a better place as a society? Is that what leaders should be trying to figure out how they can deploy? Self-deprecating humor, I mean, more often than attacking humor.AG: I think it could be helpful. This is such an interesting idea to consider because my first reaction was no. If you look at the data on The Colbert Report, for example. Yeah, liberals found him hilarious and brilliant in pointing out what they saw as all of the fallacies and contradictions and flaws in conservative thinking. And conservatives took him as sort of making fun of a liberal's caricature of a conservative and said, yeah, the joke's on the liberals. Right? And so, it didn't get through to the people that he was trying to persuade. But then when you shift this into self-deprecation, I find myself thinking again and saying, yes. I think one of the hallmarks of humility is being willing and able to laugh at yourself. To say, I take my work seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously. If you can't laugh at yourself, every time you make a mistake, you're going to feel pressure to cover it up, to hide it, to rationalize it, to explain it away. Instead of saying, I was a little bit dumber yesterday than I am today, and here's what I've learned from that experience. And yeah, I think comedians are a great model for self-deprecation. I will say that, unfortunately, the research on gender stereotypes that's been published recently suggests that men can get away with self-deprecation, whereas women tend to be vilified for it. When men make fun of themselves, they're judged as more competent. Wow, he's really confident in his strengths. He's willing to laugh at his weaknesses. When women do it, they are judged as incompetent. It's seen as a signal of insecurity and that is obviously ridiculous. Right? This is the 21st century. We should stop judging people when they self-deprecate based on their gender, and we should start recognizing well, you know what, she has the integrity and the humility to be willing to poke a little bit of fun at herself. That's probably something that's good for our culture.MB: So, one final question. You've written this book now, because obviously you feel this is a moment in time where we really need to be thinking again and open to experimentation and self-doubt, and all those things. For our audience of people trying to get involved in building a better world and wondering if it's possible, what words of encouragement do you have for them that reading your book and taking onboard some of your insights, of which there are very many, is a good idea and that can succeed in this moment?AG: Well, I'm not here to sell anyone on buying my book. I think you should be the judge of whether the insights I bring as an organizational psychologist are going to make you think again, and whether that's helpful in your life. I think the reason I was persuaded to write the book is I have had too many moments of sticking with the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. I've had too many moments of stubbornness, where I refuse to change my mind for too long and I've regretted it. I wanted to try to spare other people those regrets. My goal is not to get you to believe everything that I think. What I want to do is challenge some of the things that you think and invite you to rethink. I think that's something most of us could benefit from doing more of, but I think that you know that's something that everyone has to judge in their own lives. I think there are people who do too much rethinking, and they get stuck in analysis paralysis. My read of the data and my experience is that most of us are too far to the opposite end of that curve. We're a little bit too hesitant when we should be eager to think again. And, I guess, my hope in writing the book was to say, next time you discover yourself caught in one of these dilemmas of should I say, “I don't know”, or “I was wrong”, that instead of being threatened by that, you could look at that and say, “Oh, this is an opportunity to think again”, which means I might actually evolve and learn something.MB: Are you optimistic that as a society, we can become more of that kind of society?AG: I am cautiously optimistic. I think as a social scientist, I'm impressed by the range of techniques for opening our own minds and for opening other people's minds that I wasn't aware of before writing this book, despite the fact that my job is to make me think again, and I've been doing research on this topic in one flavor or another for two decades. And just the sheer amount of knowledge I gained from the evidence made me think there's a big gap between the expertise that's available on how to build a culture of lifelong learners, and what most of us do every day, and I think we could probably make progress toward closing that gap.MB: Well, on that cautiously optimistic note, we will end. Thank you very much, Adam Grant for talking with Books Driving Change. It's been a pleasure. Though you aren't selling the book, I would certainly recommend the book to everyone that's listening. I say, personally, I've learned a lot from reading it and will make changes in my own life that I think will open my mind a bit more. So, thank you very much for writing it, Adam.AG: Well, thank you, Matthew, I'm honored that you read it, I hope you don't rethink that. And yeah, there are some things we should never rethink. MB: I think that's a sunk cost at this point. AG: Exactly, escalation of commitment, here we are. But I do think that, you know, the idea that books can drive change is something that I was resistant to early on. I thought I’m really writing to share some of the things that I've learned and hope I have accumulated some evidence and some experience that might teach someone something else. I think I was resistant to the idea because I was afraid that my books wouldn't drive change. I felt handicapped a little bit and said, “No, no, no, this book is really just about helping you think differently about a topic and maybe even rethink it.” But the way we think shapes the way we act. It shapes the world we create. And I don't know if the pen is actually mightier than the sword, I do know that it's in class longer. And so, I think the work you're doing here is extremely important.MB: Thank you very much, Adam. Best wishes for the rest of your work in this area and your next project. AG: Right back at you. Thank you, Matthew.  We hope you are as inspired by these podcasts as we are. If you are, please subscribehere, or wherever you get your podcasts (Amazon Music, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher), and please rate us and write a review so others can find their inspiration.  This transcript has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
Made in Africa: A Conversation With Dalberg’s James Mwangi
Jun 4 2021
Made in Africa: A Conversation With Dalberg’s James Mwangi
“The thing that I found actually resonated [with potential clients] was less of saying how much we knew, and actually playing into how much we didn't know. And actually coming in and saying, look, you shouldn't hire me if you think you shouldn't hire us, our team. If you think that we know more about this topic or your industry than you do. Because then you know, we should be in your job. What you should hire us for is we will take nothing for granted. Because actually, we don't take anything as settled wisdom, because we're not part of the set of wisdom that shaped this context.” -- James Mwangi, executive director, DalbergIn episode two of Driving Change: Made in Africa, Dalberg executive director James Mwangi talks with Sarika Bansal about what it was like to start a business with no name and no brand and build it into one of the most respected international development consultancies. He walks through Dalberg’s journey from its days as a start-up in the US to opening its first office in Arica to becoming a global firm offering sage advice throughout the conversation. He is open about his setbacks as well his successes. For example, his choice to stay with Dalberg and to use it as his “bridge” to Africa was unexpectedly tough, coming with a unique set of challenges. Mwangi is particularly insightful about what it was like to be elected the first global managing partner in 2010, at a time when Dalberg was debating its future strategy. His honesty about what he learned and would do differently in retrospect is unusual. The most interesting part of the discussion may be Mwangi’s description of what it was like to be challenged as global managing partner, how and why he stepped away from the role and how he continued to shape Dalberg without the top title. “I remember walking up and down a beach on my own at night in Dakar, [Senegal], right after we'd brokered some sort of agreement to keep the whole firm together, and feeling really bad. But then also getting clarity that actually no, this is guidance on what you're actually supposed to be doing in the world right now. And, frankly, it's a good outcome for everyone. If you can just get your ego out of the way.”Today, he is focused on answering one of the biggest questions of this age: “How do we create prosperity through climate action?” For all public policy, international development and consulting professionals, this discussion is both instructive and inspiring.