Last week I spent the evening at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, listening to Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter talk about her new book, SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, and field questions from a packed audience.
Kanter is one of the most remarkable figures in the field of management. Originally trained as a social scientist, she wrote about utopian communities before turning her keen intellect to questions of leadership, change management, work and families, American renewal, and many other topics in nearly 20 books and countless articles. She served as chief editor of the Harvard Business Review. Several of her books, including Men and Women of the Corporation, are among the most important ever written in the field of management.
In SuperCorp, Kanter argues that for businesses to realize their full potential in the 21st century they will need to add a “social logic” to the narrow “financial logic” that’s led to so much strife and dislocation over the past few years. And the book traces the experience and lessons of a set of companies across the globe that are managing to pull this integration off, from Cemex in Mexico, Banco Real in Brazil, and Proctor and Gamble.
Like Kanter’s compelling Commonwealth talk, the book is a skillful and engaging blend of stories, analysis and prescriptions. Among them is a set of new ideas for achieving greater flexibility at work and for how corporations can aspire to higher goals than maximizing the stock price.
Of particular interest to Encore.org readers are Kanter’s ideas about work. At the lecture she stated: “A great many people are now hungry for more meaningful lives, and they bring that hunger to the work they do ever day.” She underscored the role companies can play in making that possible, not only during the time they employ individuals but also beyond their corporate careers.
In particular, Kanter highlighted IBM’s groundbreaking efforts in this area, through the Transition to Teaching program, and a set of sister efforts helping “retiring” IBMers shift to work in the government and the social sector. She also lauded the EnCorps Teachers Program launched in California by Civic Ventures’ board member and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing, as well as discussing how policy measures like IBM’s Lifelong Learning Accounts (dubbed 401Ls) could enable American workers to keep at the top of their game.
Although she didn’t mention it at the Commonwealth Club, Kanter is not only an incisive commentator but also a formidable social innovator. Last year she launched a new approach to higher education, the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard. Co-creators include David Gergen, Charles Ogletree and other Cambridge luminaries.
This past year they selected their first cadre of fellows, who are using their year at Harvard to develop entrepreneurial ventures aimed at solving some of the most pressing problems facing the nation, and the globe today. The program is set to double in its second year. (One first-year fellow, former astronaut Charles Bolden, was selected midyear to lead NASA.)
It’s also worth adding that Kanter has a long history of service to complement her entrepreneurial activities. She served as one of the inaugural Purpose Prize judges and has been a longtime board member of City Year.
SuperCorp is a lively, well-written and timely blueprint for fixing much of what ails corporate America, for marshaling the power of business to create wealth as well as expand the greater good. Read the book! And check out the Advanced Leadership Initiative as well. For more information about both, visit Rosabeth Kanter’s blog.