Kew Gardens: Nikon D3S

Kew Gardens: Nikon D3S

“…it is time for universities to rethink themselves and what they are doing.”

(Thomas Berry)

What should we study? What should we learn?

Thomas Berry’s request of universities was made back in 1999. Things don’t seem to have got much better.

In our business schools, the part of our educational establishment where I hang out, it seems that helpful rethinking is in short supply. While the academic window dressing slowly changes to match the latest hype, a relentless focus on tangibility, individualism and constant upheaval promotes working environments that alienate people, make them sick and discourage meaningful engagement with each other. Careful consideration of the role of business in facing towards the existential challenges facing the whole of humanity is barely on the horizon.

As our physical resources become depleted we need to disconnect ourselves from the ‘growth assumption’ that underpins our current economic model and give up our latest obsession with the platform-based, zero hours, gig economy which wastes our material and social potential.

While there is much to be done, technically, to recover the living capacity of our planet, we can only do this if we think differently about ourselves and our relationships, and find ways of being together that will regenerate fractured societies and damaged ecologies.

Back in the 'universities’, our schools of business and leadership need a new curriculum.

It could look something like this:

  • How can we learn to CONVENE diverse forums where many people are seen and heard - and truly feel seen and heard?

  • What does it mean to CONNECT rather than ‘connect’, how can deep communion and all that entails be embraced over the harvesting of social numbers and disengaged, passive audiences?

  • How can we re-establish our capacity to value COLLABORATION, and step outside of the needs to hoard scarce insight knowledge and embrace growth in connection?

  • What does FAIR look like now, and what needs to change in how we are fair with each other and the wider world?

  • What does it mean to be an ACTIVIST for business, social or ecological change, and how can we pay attention to the quiet, gentle voices on the peripheries?

  • What does it mean to COMPETE well, and how can we learn to win well so that others are not diminished by our success?

  • How do we actually treat FAILURE at the moment, and how can we generously support each other to fail well as try and find a way out of the mess we’re in?

  • What does it mean to be HUMAN, if we let go of the need to turn everything into an instrument for making money?

The list is clearly not exhaustive, nor is it necessarily sequential. Start anywhere; dig deeply, think critically and you will find that all the questions begin to link together.

I’m hoping for a shift in the core curriculum of our business education that will lead us to different ways of being with each other. Our businesses are powerful influences in the world and, without being hubristic, I know that many of us are talented, expert educators.

As Thomas Berry says, we need to evoke “not only the vision but also the energies needed for bringing ourselves and the entire planet into a new order of survival.”

So, let’s begin by rethinking ourselves and what we are doing…


You might like Tomas Berry’s ‘The Great Work: our way into the future.’ It’s a heartening read.

Look no further than the Uber/Lyft ‘case studies’ or ‘What Airbnb really does to a neighbourhood’ to see some of the unintended consequences of platform economies.

Many thanks to my colleague and collaborator John Higgins for bringing these thoughts together in great conversation as we walked along the banks of the River Thames.

Finally, my enduring thanks to colleagues at Ashridge where we work on the Executive Doctorate in Organisational Change - a beacon of hope in the change education landscape.