We had a great run at Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability, from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, 2007. I thought it wouldn’t be possible but we actually peaked on the last day, when various threads came together (for me at least).
Kudos to organizer Professor “Wild” Bill Barnett and his team for a truly great learning experience. The topics and presenters were well chosen, with great variety yet also strong common threads. Bill’s wide-ranging summation sessions stimulated great discussion and much productive thinking. And to complete the success, the students brought powerful insight and perspective. Participants came from all sectors of the economy and brought with them all flavors of ideology. This very strong program is in its first year and deserves to continue.
It was interesting to find common mind on optimism and models for change this week. Like what? My view that big change always looks impossible, until afterwards, when it looks inevitable. The need to tolerate failure in prospecting for big change, because success is hard to predict.
Those are some of the big picture insights that weren’t entirely new. Others were more surprising. Like the value of learning from big business success, as a model of promoting social change. What other part of society has such an emphasis on changing how people live, act, think, and feel? And what’s better evidence of a successful approach than rapid business growth? The products and activities of a big business can be destructive, but effectiveness in getting people to change is something to learn from.
Why can I learn so much from a business school perspective? Simple really, the study of business strategies is just the study of change, and I’m in the business of promoting change. No wonder the insights are relevant.
I guess I have to admit that a business school perspective isn’t actually evil. That’s a surprise since business schools are viewed as the brain trust of capitalism, the place where people go to learn how to make money, and environmental dogma has sometimes held that money and capitalism are the enemy.
What have I missed by being so skeptical? Just the insights of smart people who’ve been studing social change for a long time, with some very incisive methods. This leads to the biggest take-home message I got from the program: change advocates can learn a lot from studying business strategies.
Now back to the real world of Reno airport. It's not the best place to ponder sustainability. Slot machines scream for attention while the airport’s great view dramatizes the “fish out of water” aspect of this city. Nevada-style development is simply out of place here; but something much more subtle might fit in.
What happens when I get back to my office and a bulging task list waiting for me? How do I bring the lessons from this class into my work? How long will it take? What can I say when asked what I learned? I don’t know yet. The insights aren’t a list of specific facts, they’re more like a way of thinking about problems. I won’t know what I learned until I tackle a new problem and see whether I tackle it differently. That should be fun to watch, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Thanks Bill, and I hope you got a nice dip in Fallen Leaf Lake last night.
Next comes my thoughts on Sam’s question in the comments…intersections between corporations and NGOs, and what makes them work in advancing sustainability.