Category Archives: Social Causes
“It is literature which for me opened the mysterious and decisive doors of imagination and understanding. To see the way others see. To think the way others think. And above all, to feel.” – Salman Rushdie
There is a common theme that cuts across literature and business. It is called imagination!
Great literature seeds the mind to imagine faraway places across times and unique cultures. When we read a novel, we are exposed to complex characters that are richly defined and the readers’ subjective assessment of the character and the context defines their understanding of how the characters navigate the relationships and their environment. Great literature offers many pauses for thought, and long after the book is read through … the theme gently seeps in like silt in the readers’ cumulative experiences. It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression. Comparative literature which is literature assimilated across many different countries enable a diversity of themes that intertwine into the readers’ experiences augmented by the reality of what they immediately experience – home, work, etc. It allows one to not only be capable of empathy but also … to craft out the fluid dynamics of ever changing concepts by dipping into many different types of case studies of human interaction. The novel and the poetry are the bulwarks of literature. It is as important to study a novel as it is to enjoy great poetry. The novel characterizes a plot/(s) and a rich tapestry of actions of the characters that navigates through these environments: the poetry is the celebration of the ordinary into extraordinary enactments of the rhythm of the language that transport the readers, through images and metaphor, into single moments. It breaks the linear process of thinking, a perpendicular to a novel.
Business insights are generally a result of acute observation of trends in the market, internal processes, and general experience. Some business schools practice case study method which allows the student to have a fairly robust set of data points to fall back upon. Some of these case studies are fairly narrow but there are some that gets one to think about personal dynamics. It is a fact that personal dynamics and biases and positioning plays a very important role in how one advocates, views, or acts upon a position. Now the schools are layering in classes on ethics to understand that there are some fundamental protocols of human nature that one has to follow: the famous adage – All is fair in love and war – has and continues to lose its edge over time. Globalization, environmental consciousness, individual rights, the idea of democracy, the rights of fair representation, community service and business philanthropy are playing a bigger role in today’s society. Thus, business insights today are a result of reflection across multiple levels of experience that encompass not the company or the industry …but encompass a broader array of elements that exercises influence on the company direction. In addition, one always seeks an end in mind … they perpetually embrace a vision that is impacted by their judgments, observations and thoughts. Poetry adds the final wing for the flight into this metaphoric realm of interconnections – for that is always what a vision is – a semblance of harmony that inspires and resurrects people to action.
I contend that comparative literature is a leading indicator that allows a person to get a feel for the general direction of the express and latent needs of people. Furthermore, comparative literature does not offer a solution. Great literature does not portend a particular end. They leave open a multitude of possibilities and what-ifs. The reader can literally transport themselves into the environment and wonder at how he/she would act … the jump into a vicarious existence steeps the reader into a reflection that sharpens the intellect. This allows the reader in a business to be better positioned to excavate and address the needs of current and potential customers across boundaries.
“Literature gives students a much more realistic view of what’s involved in leading” than many business books on leadership, said the professor. “Literature lets you see leaders and others from the inside. You share the sense of what they’re thinking and feeling. In real life, you’re usually at some distance and things are prepared, polished. With literature, you can see the whole messy collection of things that happen inside our heads.” – Joseph L. Badaracco, the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School (HBS)
“The world’s entire scientific … heritage … is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations… The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.” – Aaron Swartz
Information, in the context of scholarly articles by research at universities and think-tanks, is not a zero sum game. In other words, one person cannot have more without having someone have less. When you start creating “Berlin” walls in the information arena within the halls of learning, then learning itself is compromised. In fact, contributing or granting the intellectual estate into the creative commons serves a higher purpose in society – an access to information and hence, a feedback mechanism that ultimately enhances the value to the end-product itself. How? Since now the product has been distributed across a broader and diverse audience, and it is open to further critical analyses.
The universities have built a racket. They have deployed a Chinese wall between learning in a cloistered environment and the world who are not immediate participants. The Guardian wrote an interesting article on this matter and a very apt quote puts it all together.
“Academics not only provide the raw material, but also do the graft of the editing. What’s more, they typically do so without extra pay or even recognition – thanks to blind peer review. The publishers then bill the universities, to the tune of 10% of their block grants, for the privilege of accessing the fruits of their researchers’ toil. The individual academic is denied any hope of reaching an audience beyond university walls, and can even be barred from looking over their own published paper if their university does not stump up for the particular subscription in question.
This extraordinary racket is, at root, about the bewitching power of high-brow brands. Journals that published great research in the past are assumed to publish it still, and – to an extent – this expectation fulfils itself. To climb the career ladder academics must get into big-name publications, where their work will get cited more and be deemed to have more value in the philistine research evaluations which determine the flow of public funds. Thus they keep submitting to these pricey but mightily glorified magazines, and the system rolls on.”
JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization that has invested heavily in providing an online system for archiving, accessing, and searching digitized copies of over 1,000 academic journals. More recently, I noticed some effort on their part to allow public access to only 3 articles over a period of 21 days. This stinks! This policy reflects an intellectual snobbery beyond Himalayan proportions. The only folks that have access to these academic journals and studies are professors, and researchers that are affiliated with a university and university libraries. Aaron Swartz noted the injustice of hoarding such knowledge and tried to distribute a significant proportion of JSTOR’s archive through one or more file-sharing sites. And what happened thereafter was perhaps one of the biggest misapplication of justice. The same justice that disallows asymmetry of information in Wall Street is being deployed to preserve the asymmetry of information at the halls of learning.
MSNBC contributor Chris Hayes criticized the prosecutors, saying “at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of—and I’m not exaggerating here—downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR.”
The Associated Press reported that Swartz’s case “highlights society’s uncertain, evolving view of how to treat people who break into computer systems and share data not to enrich themselves, but to make it available to others.”
Chris Soghioian, a technologist and policy analyst with the ACLU, said, “Existing laws don’t recognize the distinction between two types of computer crimes: malicious crimes committed for profit, such as the large-scale theft of bank data or corporate secrets; and cases where hackers break into systems to prove their skillfulness or spread information that they think should be available to the public.”
Kelly Caine, a professor at Clemson University who studies people’s attitudes toward technology and privacy, said Swartz “was doing this not to hurt anybody, not for personal gain, but because he believed that information should be free and open, and he felt it would help a lot of people.”
And then there were some modest reservations, and Swartz actions were attributed to reckless judgment. I contend that this does injustice to someone of Swartz’s commitment and intellect … the recklessness was his inability to grasp the notion that an imbecile in the system would pursue 35 years of imprisonment and $1M fine … it was not that he was not aware of what he was doing but he believed, as does many, that scholarly academic research should be available as a free for all.
We have a Berlin wall that needs to be taken down. Swartz started that but he was unable to keep at it. It is important to not rest in this endeavor and that everyone ought to actively petition their local congressman to push bills that will allow open access to these academic articles.
John Maynard Keynes had warned of the folly of “shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend”, because what is at stake here is the reach of the light of learning. Aaron was at the vanguard leading that movement, and we should persevere to become those points of light that will enable JSTOR to disseminate the information that they guard so unreservedly.
Facebook began with a simple thesis: Connect Friends. That was the sine qua non of its existence. From a simple thesis to an effective UI design, Facebook has grown over the years to become the third largest community in the world. But as of the last few years they have had to resort to generating revenue to meet shareholder expectations. Today it is noon at Facebook but there is the long shadow of darkness that I posit have fallen upon perhaps one of the most influential companies in history.
The fact is that leaping from connecting friends to managing the conversations allows Facebook to create this petri dish to understand social interactions at large scale eased by their fine technology platform. To that end, they are moving into alternative distribution channels to create broader reach into global audience and to gather deeper insights into the interaction templates of the participants. The possibilities are immense: in that, this platform can be a collaborative beachhead into discoveries, exploration, learning, education, social and environmental awareness and ultimately contribute to elevated human conscience. But it has faltered, perhaps the shareholders and the analysts are much to blame, on account of the fangled existence of market demands and it has become one global billboard for advertisers to promote their brands. Darkness at noon is the most appropriate metaphor to reflect Facebook as it is now.
Let us take a small turn to briefly look at some of other very influential companies that have not been as much derailed as has Facebook. The companies are Twitter, Google and LinkedIn. Each of them are the leaders in their category, and all of them have moved toward monetization schemes from their specific user base. Each of them has weighed in significantly in their respective categories to create movements that have or will affect the course of the future. We all know how Twitter has contributed to super-fast news feeds globally that have spontaneously generated mass coalescence around issues that make a difference; Google has been an effective tool to allow an average person to access information; and LinkedIn has created professional and collaborative environment in the professional space. Thus, all three of these companies, despite supplementing fully their appetite for revenue through advertising, have not compromised their quintessence for being. Now all of these companies can definitely move their artillery to encompass the trajectory of FB but that would be a steep hill to climb. Furthermore, these companies have an aura associated within their categories: attempts to move out of their category have been feeble at best, and in some instances, not successful. Facebook has a phenomenal chance of putting together what they have to create a communion of knowledge and wisdom. And no company exists in the market better suited to do that at this point.
One could counter that Facebook sticks to its original vision and that what we have today is indeed what Facebook had planned for all along since the beginning. I don’t disagree. My point of contention in this matter is that though is that Facebook has created this informal and awesome platform for conversations and communities among friends, it has glossed over the immense positive fallout that could occur as a result of these interactions. And that is the development and enhancement of knowledge, collaboration, cultural play, encourage a diversity of thought, philanthropy, crowd sourcing scientific and artistic breakthroughs, etc. In other words, the objective has been met for the most part. Thank you Mark! Now Facebook needs to usher in a renaissance in the courtyard. Facebook needs to find a way out of the advertising morass that has shed darkness over all the product extensions and launches that have taken place over the last 2 years: Facebook can force a point of inflection to quadruple its impact on the course of history and knowledge. And the revenue will follow!
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Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Employee Engagement, Extrinsic Rewards, Gamification, Innovation, Intrinsic Rewards, Leadership, Learning Organization, Recognition, Rewards, Social Causes, Social Network, Social Systems, Talent Management
Tags: communication channel, connection, conversation, employee engagement, employee recognition, extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, learning organization, organization architecture, social network, social systems, talent management, value management
We start off with the premise – Human beings are good. Absent any constraints, human beings are inclined toward doing good. It is a fair assumption that have stood the test of time and the institutions, at an aggregate level, have for the most part endured and advanced human prosperity and happiness on account of the fundamental premise.
As we continue to thrive and move forward and forge and foray into new branches of knowledge and gather insights into our worlds, internal and external, we have a little more headroom to reach out and engage and contribute to the well being of other people that may not serve any immediate vested interest. Along the way, people have gathered a mix of different capital of various magnitudes – economic capital, intellectual capital, and social or reputation capital – and hence, they are in a better position today, than any time before, to be able sprinkle this capital across local and non-local communities. Thus, economic capital may translate into micro-lending and charity and endowments, intellectual capital may translate into voluntary time associated with teaching and mentorship, and social or reputation capital may translate into giving people opportunities. There is a far greater degree of awareness of larger issues that impinges on the advancement of the human race … issues around environment, conservation, global sustainability, clean energy, medical, basic infrastructure matters, democratic values, food, et al. And to that end, NGO’s, foundations, wealthy donors, corporations, governments, taxpayers, et al have contributed immensely to all of these causes.
Sometime ago I read this article – The Case against Corporate Social Responsibility in the WSJ. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703338004575230112664504890.html)
The argument was that if corporations ought not to focus on profits and social responsibility since those are competing outcomes that dip into a shared pot of responsibility of enhancing shareholders’ wealth. Yes, the argument has some merit if we were to reduce this argument to fiat consideration. But given the increased awareness of people in a world that is globalized and is under a spotlight of rich social media, this argument carries less weight today than more early years in business history. Talent has indeed become a prized asset, and companies set up structures, with the profit motive in mind, to harness the asset in a needful manner – all to finally serve the interests of the shareholder. But talent has also become fickle and mobile; it is becoming relatively more difficult to handcuff talent to the steering wheel of an organization. The organization is thus, for the sake of long-term sustainability, have to create structures that will encourage loyalty and engagement among the employees. And thus, the organization has to espouse higher aspirational ideals, which may immediately sacrifice short term profits for long term sustainability. I contend that corporate social responsibility is becoming another factor that will increase in importance over the passage of time.
So how do the flow of such events and the presumption of good tie into employee engagement? To stretch the above argument further, it is important for company to provide a supportive framework to allow employees to distribute their capital, should they choose to do so! I am not suggesting that people must distribute the capital, but I am suggesting that they have the opportunity to do so. And when they do, they aptly get recognized because it is still a capital that is being distributed generally with no expectation of immediate return. The returns maybe illusory with respect to formulating tangible financial metrics, but nonetheless it has a lot of importance. Thus, it is important that there are channels and applications and systems in place to encourage social good within the ranks and files of the employees.
Here are some interesting facts that you ought to think through. And these are facts in the context of US only:
1. There are over 1million charities and foundations.
2. The total amount of revenue associated with these charities and foundations are over $1.5 trillion.
3. Almost 50% of the amount is driven by private donations, of which $300 billion are private individual contributions. Private donations represent estates, bequests, etc.
4. There are over 20 million people employed in charity and foundations in the US.
So clearly this is a big and powerful sector. And if companies can provide the structure to support the cause of community engagement among employees, that would only mean that they magnify their community footprint, and hence will have access to the new millennial generation that transcends the extrinsic provisions of the employer-employee contract.
Tags: corporate accountability, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement, employee recognition, extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation, social causes, social recognition, social systems, sustainability