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: Where are we?
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: I finished a book in the early part of 2007 for publication in October 2007 on current and national affairs. Because I think that the most important overarching thing going on is that the United States has to again become the land of opportunity and the land … and the place that operates according to principles. So it's called “America the Principled: Six Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again. And so those six opportunities seem to me to be the most important issues. One is how do we secure our future? And security isn't simply a matter of watchdogs at airports. It's a matter of economic security. That's how we keep jobs in the United States for Americans. That's how we ensure that we have the technology to make us safe. And that requires investments in innovation. And it requires open minds. So the life sciences are so important. And yet they have been so discredited by an administration that has not cared about science, who are not doing enough to educate people in the U.S. in science and math, which are so important to our future. Most of the engineering and science degrees being given in the United States today advanced degrees, PhDs are going to foreign nationals or people of foreign origins. And as far as I'm concerned they're welcome here, but I would also like to see our young people get those degrees. So that's a … that's the first challenge. I'm very concerned about the disappearing middle class and the … the problems of balancing work and family that women have. So pursuing happiness was something that's written into our earliest origins “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." An awful lot of people aren't happy because they don't have healthcare; because they have to take two jobs; they don't …. they're worried about their children. So that's an important issue. Clearly the war in Iraq is an important issue currently, but it's part of a larger problem of how do we engage with the world? Is our form of engagement only saber rattling? Or are we making those grassroots investments in the economic development of other countries and the development of their leaders so that we have more allies and friends around the world? That's a major challenge. We are not liked in many parts of the world. Actually, there's a gap between liking Americans as a people and liking the American government. Many more people like Americans than like the American government.
We have … And speaking of government, we have a problem with respect for government. In fact in recent years, people have discredited government because so many government officials have done things that are “ethically challenged" to put it in a positive way; but a lot of Washington was under indictment for a while. So if we don't restore respect for government .… I'm sick of politicians running against government. “I'm running for this office because I believe that we shouldn't have these offices. It's ridiculous. So we need respect so that good people run for office. In turn, they appoint confident people, and they care about how well government is run. It's a … It's a traditional American principle to say, “That government is best which governs least. But frankly, it can't govern least unless it governs better. Because it's much more costly to have a disaster like Hurricane Katrina than it would have been to invest in the levees in New Orleans in the first place.
And finally I think we need a spirit of service. The partisan divides and the partisan ugliness in America has plagued us. We spend so much time arguing with each other while fighting wars that we can't possibly win and probably shouldn't have been in in the first place, then we will never heal this nation. We need things that bring us together across partisan divides, as well as divides of race, or age, or … or urban vs. rural. And I think community service and the generosity of American philanthropy are things that can unite us again. So those are the themes that I've been writing about. Those are the things that I want on the agenda for the presidential election in 2008. Those are the things in the news that bother me the most, but also inspire me to think about solutions.
Recorded on: 6/13/07
The major investment that’s required for the future is in human capital.