Michael Porter
Professor, Harvard Business School

Identity and Conflict

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Poverty is the groundwork for major ideological aberrations.

Michael Porter

Michael Porter is generally recognized as the father of the modern strategy field and has been identified in a variety of rankings and surveys as the world’s most influential thinker on management and competitiveness. He is also a leading authority on the application of competitive principles to social problems such as health care, the environment, and corporate responsibility. Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at the Harvard Business and the author of 18 books and over 125 articles. He received a B.S.E. with high honors in aerospace and mechanical engineering from Princeton University in 1969; an M.B.A. with high distinction in 1971 from the Harvard Business School, where he was a George F. Baker Scholar; and a Ph.D. in Business Economics from Harvard University in 1973. In 2001, Harvard Business School and Harvard University jointly created the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, dedicated to furthering Porter’s work.


Topic: Identity and Conflict

Michael Porter: I think the thing that scares me the most – and this is well outside my area of expertise – is this enormous conflict across societies and religions which seems to be a battle for an ideology, or a set of values, or a way of living. And that’s very, very scary because I’m an inherently rational person. I believe that we ought to be deciding to do things rationally.

There’s plenty of room for societies to prosper, and individuals to prosper if we make good choices. And yet we seem to be caught in an era where people believe so deeply in certain values or ideologies – or they just want to win; or they just want to be respected; or they just want to exert power – that we’re kind of careening in various different directions that are very unsettling.

I think that’s got to be the big one.

There’s so many human needs that are complicated and difficult to achieve, like health, in various parts of the world where there’s only so many resources, and we have so many afflictions, so many problems, so many people suffering.

I would say this international, this cross-group. Terrorism is just one piece of this broader issue of the clash of societies, and values, and ideologies which we don’t have a good way of sorting through.

I would say, because it’s at the top of my mind, I’ve just been really, amazingly struck with how fundamental the issue of health is, and how to provide health to citizens, which is, I think, a very basic right. And then the just massive poverty, which I think may be the loop around that first issue. It may be that if there’s a lack of a sense of economic and personal opportunity in societies, then that leads us to these destructive kinds of activity where people are striving to give meaning to their lives because there’s no other way to get meaning. So there’s a loop here, but those are the things that really concern me as I look out.

Recorded on: June 11, 2007