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 is your outlook?
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: I tend to be a natural optimist. I tend to talk positively about things. So my answer has to be "it depends. I think that if we continue current trends … current trends, many of them look negative. Current trends are that the income divide is widening around the world. Health problems coming from one place to another are getting scarier … that we might have pandemics that we're not prepared for. I mean those are a horror show of potential problems. On the other hand I am optimistic because I see more people paying attention to that. I see more leaders in institutions. I see more optimistic and hopeful candidates that don't want to turn their back on the world . . . that wanna solve problems. I'm seeing more young people who wanna get involved and make a difference. And I think it depends. If we encourage that kind of leadership … if we vote for those kinds of candidates …. if we each say, “What could I do to recycle? I have a friend who started a company called “One Bag at a Time so that we don't have to use as many grocery bags. Well it's true. If each one of us takes some small steps, those add up. If each one of us takes a positive agenda seriously . . . but we have to believe it's possible. Let's not give up.
I end “America the Principled", my new book, by do… writing what I call a “pep talk for America". Well, you know that sounds … kind of sounds like a cheerleader; but sometimes I think the country does need a pep talk. I hear too many people to say, "These problems are too big. We can't possibly do something about them. But yes we can. We have millions of people. Let's educate some more. Let's improve public education. Let's get high school students working on pieces of some of these problems. There was a set of high school students in New Hampshire that worked on an alternative fuel made from used cooking oil from local restaurants. And they were doing that as a science project. Well who knows? Maybe they'll have a breakthrough and we'll run all of our hybrid cars on used cooking oil from New Hampshire restaurants. I think it's possible. It's a matter of confidence.
Recorded on: 6/13/07
The major investment that’s required for the future is in human capital.