Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. Her strategic and practical insights have guided leaders of large and small organizations worldwide for over 25 years, through teaching, writing, and direct consultation to major corporations and governments. The former Editor of Harvard Business Review (1989-1992), Professor Kanter has been named to lists of the "50 most powerful women in the world" (Times of London), and the "50 most influential business thinkers in the world" (Accenture and Thinkers 50 research). In 2001, she received the Academy of Management's Distinguished Career Award for her scholarly contributions to management knowledge, and in 2002 was named "Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year" by the World Teleport Association.
Kanter is well known for her classic 1977 study of "tokenism" on how being a minority can affect one's performance due to enhanced visibility and performance pressure. She is the author or co-author of 17 books, focused largely on business management techniques, especially change management. Her most recent book, America the Principled: 6 Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again sets forward a positive agenda for the nation. Her previous book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End was a New York Times business bestseller and a BusinessWeek #1 bestseller. The book draws on more than 300 interviews with leaders in business, sport and politics to explore the role confidence plays in the performance of institutions and individuals.
Question: What inspires you?
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: What inspires me are people who lift spirits and make a difference. I don’t know how to put it differently. I mean, the cofounders of the model for America’s National Service Program – AmeriCorps – the two co-founders who were then recent Harvard Law graduates in the 1980s … Alan Khazei and Michael Brown … they inspired me. In fact I’ve been on their board for over 14 years. They inspired me because they had a vision for powerful improvement that would get people excited, make a difference. I loved that. I mean that keeps me going. And from organizations like that, I feel that I get more than I give, even though I have to give a lot. So I’m inspired by that. I’m inspired by small acts, small actions that have the potential to make a big difference. I love small wins. I think it’s great to have the big vision, and that’s inspiring. But if you don’t translate it into everyday events, everyday accomplishments, you can’t get to the big vision. So I’m inspired sometimes by just knocking things off the “To Do” list and say, “Boy! It is possible to get things done!” and then go on to the next one.
I’m inspired by young people a great deal. And it’s … The many reasons I’m at university … I mean I could do other things. I could consult. I could have an executive position. For a while I was on a college president track, but I turned down various invitations and offers because I love the process of generating ideas and teaching. Well my young people at Harvard Business School are in their late 20s, so they’re already kind of grown up. But I’m still having the opportunity to influence people while they’re fresh, while they have the energy. And you know, the power of ideas and vision and inspiration and confidence, it gives you more physical energy. And so inspiration and the energy to achieve go together.
Recorded on: 6/13/07