Archive for April, 2010

What do I mean by understanding diversity and offering mutuality?

April 25, 2010

These days, there is a lot of talk about diversity – and yet I still often feel like there is limited understanding of the notion. Diversity is about more than age or gender, cultural origin (I don’t like the notion of ‘race’, as I consider it a political concept) or religious background, sexual or political orientation, physical or mental ability, socio-economic status  – ultimately it is about respecting each and every person, being and nature as having a right to be and to exist in their own unique and complex ways, defining their own views and their own identity. To me, it extends to understanding that a person does not remain the same over years, but can be different and evolving every single day. I’d like to go as far as to suggest taking nobody for granted, not assuming we ‘know’ somebody, but remaining open and curious – towards your nearest and dearest just as well as towards friends and colleagues or strangers – and to ask every day anew: “Who are you today? What matters to you today?” This is about respect. It is about acceptance. It is about inclusion, and about granting everybody a sense of belonging and a right to participation. It is about something called ‘intersubjectivity’ – seeing, understanding and respecting the other person as a subject in themselves, with their own identity. This is different from perceiving the other person, being or nature as an ‘object’ – which would be about projecting our own meaning-making about them on them (and themhaving no – potentially corrective – voice in that).

These days, we hear about inter-cultural competence. I’d like to lobby for inter-diversity competence, for inter-subjective competence. (With the latter, I thought I might have come up with a slightly odd notion, but I googled it and found indeed a book refering to the same notion: ‘Cosmopolitics – thinking and feeling beyond the nation’, by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins.)

If we each engage in this mutual give-and-take of understanding each other in our highly diverse and complex identities and ways – of seeing the world, making our own meaning and creating our lives – if we all offer each other this kind of understanding, respect and inclusion, then that is about mutuality.

These days, mutuality is the most important thing to me – I find that no relationship of any kind can be satisfying if there isn’t sufficient mutuality offered. To me, this is so in personal relationships just as well as in professional connections. We need it between lovers, between parents and children, between friends and neighbors, between co-workers, between superiors and the people reporting to them, between organisations and their stakeholders, between nation states. If one keeps giving and the other one does not reciprocate or reciprocates badly, the balance is off. I find it is important that we pay attention to always balancing out the mutuality account, in a good way.

I guess these are the two biggest things moving me these days – seeing and understanding each other in our everyday-anew complex identities, and offering each other positive mutuality.

As my wonderful tutor in university, Caryn Vanstone, once said: “We are always in relation. We cannot not be in relation. What matters is the quality of the relationship.” And as mentioned above, that extends beyond people – to all beings, and to nature.


Attending Intl. Corporate Citizenship Conference in Boston, April 11-13

April 22, 2010

It’s been 5 years since I last attended the annual International Corporate Citizenship Conference in Boston. Thank you so much to Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship for inviting me! I got to introduce our book ‘Corporate Community Involvement: The Definitive Guide’ and got to co-facilitate a session. Saw familiar faces again (e.g. Billy Brittingham, Colleen Olphert, Chris Pinney, Angela Kang), met those who I had previously only heard on the phone (e.g. Eileen Blinstrub, Emily Weiner) and made wonderful new contacts (e.g. Phil Clawson, Greg Mangum). Also great fun to meet F2F with fellow Tweeters Chris Jarvis and Ashley Jablow. And I was grateful for the opportunity to thank Brad Googins personally for having so kindly and generously endorsed our book!

In terms of sessions, I enjoyed the breadth of content – there was something for those interested in philanthropy just as well as for those interested in social innovation and entrepreneurship. My personal favorite was Nate Garvis with his talk on ‘Naked Civics’ – one memorable quote: “The law now is the public conversation, building a culture, and that becomes the law.”

My special treat was a conversation with Phil Mirvis and his lovely wife Mary Jo Hatch, an organisational psychologist and an organisational theorist respectively. Wonderful new insights on underbounded and overbounded systems from Phil and reading recommendations on organisational identity from Mary Jo – both topics that I’m currently interested in as part of my ongoing learning around organisation consulting …

And then it was hilarious listening to Nadira Hira and her insights on Gen Y – it was great that she was so straightforwardly outspoken! And I found that a lot of the things Gen Yers expect and take for granted relationally is what I promote in my consulting as the new path for organisations to take. Hopefully, with Gen Y growing up, the whole approach will go inevitably mainstream: with a relaxed work culture, a relational approach, bottom-up participatory input, etc. Useful quote from her, equally regarding customers, stakeholders, employees: “Retention is impacted by building bonds.”

Finally, did I mention that the food was *incredible*?

For more, see the conference recap page here:

For those who could not buy our book at the bookseller’s table at the conference, given it was sold out so quickly, go to to buy with one click.

Btw, our book is out – and there’s an online discussion forum for it!

April 7, 2010

Dear all,

since mid-March the book has been available in Europe, and since April 1st (no, not an April fool’s joke) in the US: Corporate Community Involvement – The Definitive Guide. You can get it through Amazon, and at Stanford University Press and at Greenleaf. Greenleaf will give you 20% off if you order directly from them.

You can order through the site we’ve created for the book: It’s got an online discussion forum – we look forward to receiving your comments, questions, stories there!

More Power to the Connectors

April 7, 2010

I loved this article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, as I’ve always considered myself a connector. Find the full thing on – yet here are the most important excerpts:

America in the 20th century was called a “society of organizations.” Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.

Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one’s portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies. Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effective than centralized or concentrated leadership. Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.

This changes the nature of career success. It is not enough to be technically adept or even to be interpersonally pleasant. Power goes to the “connectors”: those people who actively seek relationships and then serve as bridges between and among groups. Their personal contacts are often as important as their formal assignment. In essence, “She who has the best network wins.”

Connectors have always been more promotable, even in traditional hierarchies. Wherever teamwork across positions is desirable, natural connectors who instinctively reach across divides to form relationships get the plum jobs. Network stars have social capital — a stockpile of personal relationships with many people whom they regularly connect to one another.

To be known is to be in the know. This is why connectors with big networks have so much power. They don’t need to be the formal boss if they have the connections. Nick Donofrio, former IBM executive vice president, encouraged 90,000 technical people to think of themselves as working for him, even though they did not work directly for him in any formal or official way. He answered hundreds of daily emails personally, counting on this as a major bottom-up source of information about issues and opportunities.

Social capital is often, but not entirely, correlated with length of organizational experience. The other factor is whether the nature of the job encourages getting to know large numbers of people — that is, whether the job involves mobility, a portfolio of varied projects, and participation in initiatives that call for communication across groups.

In short, giving people work that spans boundaries is a way to grow the potential for more connectors, in a nice multiplier effect. But ultimately the power of connectors lies in themselves. It comes from their own willingness to continue making relationships, passing on information, and introducing people to one another.