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Filmed on Friday November 9, 02007

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Enduring Principles for Changing Times

A sociologist by training, Professor Kanter teaches at Harvard Business School. Her newest book is America the Principled, the 17th in a body of work that includes Confidence, Men & Women of the Corporation, The Change Masters, When Giants Learn to Dance, The Mind of the Strategist, The Borderless World, and Work & Family in the United States.

Principles are fundamental and moral, and they abide. Professor Kanter from the Harvard Business School, author of renowned leadership and strategy books such as The Change Masters and When Giants Learn to Dance, has a new book titled America the Principled. In it and in this talk, she "offers a positive agenda for the nation, focussed on innovation and education, a new workplace social contract, values-based corporate conduct, competent government, positive international relations through citizen diplomacy and business networks, and national and community service."

Principles against panic

“Everything looks like a failure in the middle.” Any new enterprise, Kanter explained, encounters roadblocks. As the obstacles multiply, the situation looks hopeless. That’s when deeply held principles and the long view are most needed to get you past the panic.

To characterize America’s current winter of discontent she quoted Woody Allen: “One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Panic leads to abandoning principles, and that is how successes end.

Kanter commends three principles in particular for renewal of the faltering American enterprise…

* Open minds. In the clash between orthodoxy and creativity, opt for the spirit of discovery and progress.

* Higher purpose and sense of meaning.

Kanter noted the emergence of “values-based capitalism.” One example she knows from her own consulting work is IBM. Shortly after the new CEO Sam Palmisano took over in 2002, he instituted an online “ValuesJam” with 300,000 employees. The result was a declaration that IBM stands for “Innovation that matters— for our company and for the world.” She has seen that value played out in IBM public service activities such as the World Community Grid, which engages idle CPU time on computers connected to the Internet (740,000 so far) to solve scientific problems in HIV-AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, and human genomics.

* Common ground. Inclusiveness and shared responsibility is a particularly American principle first noted and celebrated by Alexis de Tocqueville. It is reflected in Bill Clinton’s observation, “Big government is being replaced by big citizens.”

There’s been enough panic and winter in America, Kanter concluded. It’s time for some endless summer. Get out and connect with the street, with nature, with the world.

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