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Global warming and other hot-button issues

Global warming and other hot-button issues
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First Published: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 12 03 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 12 03 AM IST
Virtually every scientist agrees that global warming is destroying our planet. But I’ve heard you suggest that the verdict is still out. You can’t actually feel that way, can you?
Name withheld, New York
In general, we tend to have a “not so fast” attitude when any controversial topic is part of the juggernaut of a political party’s agenda.
The state of the US economy is a case in point. Democrats claim it’s weak and its benefits uneven. The Republicans claim it’s booming, with incomes improving. Or take the war in Iraq. Most Democrats claim we’ve been defeated and need to withdraw. Most Republicans say victory is within reach and a troop surge is our best and final chance for a free Iraq.
With each of these hot-button topics, the debate is less about facts and more about party lines, President Bush and the 2008 election.
And so it goes with global warming. Yes, a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises reasons for concern, both for what it says about the causes of global warming and its environmental impacts. That story, ominous in tone, ran as the lead on the front page of The New York Times.
But within days, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial asserting that the document’s underlying scientific findings actually suggest that global warming will hardly bring about the apocalypse (a point also made in The Times’ article). Indeed, the Journal noted that some new scientific data in the report indicates all the sound and fury about global warming could end up to be ... well, just that.
So, to your question then, what do we believe?
You sensed right— we just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean we would recommend companies do nothing. Just the opposite. In fact, we believe that whether the impact of global warming ends up being mild or severe, companies have to adopt a “here it comes” mindset and mount a well-reasoned plan. Any other response would be, well, bad business.
Our reasoning is hardly original— it’s the same used in the theory known as Pascal’s Wager. Published in 1670, after the French philosopher’s death, Pascal’s Wager basically uses game theory to argue that it is a better “bet” to believe in God because the expected value of believing is always greater than the expected value of not believing.
The same goes for global warming. If you accept it as reality, adapting your strategy and practices, your plants will use less energy and emit lower effluents. Your packaging will be more disposable, and your new products will be positioned to capture any markets created by severe weather effects.
Yes, global warming may not be as damaging as some predict and you might have invested more than was necessary, but it’s just as Pascal said: Given all the possible outcomes, the upside of being ready and prepared for a “fearsome event” surely beats the alternative.
The perfect analogy is globalization. Thirty years ago, rumbling began about the coming world marketplace, where costs would migrate to the lowest bidder. Some companies put on blinders and insisted that their products’ quality would forestall competition from the likes of Mexican and Asian factories.Eventually, of course, many of these companies “got religion” and changed their practices. But years of progress, profits, and jobs were lost in their delay.
Only time will tell if global warming will be minor or catastrophic; if it can be mitigated or will destroy the planet, to use your phrase. But one thing is certain. Companies wouldn’t wait to find out.
Most of us in the corporate world have to deal with a yearly review, and we hate it. How about just letting employees know when they are performing way under or way beyond expectations? That would save companies a lot of wasted time. Is it a good idea
Haihui Niu, Naperville, Ill inois
With all due respect, we think it’s a terrible idea! Look, companies can’t win without great people, and you can’t develop great people without performance appraisals. Now, we’re not talking about elaborate forms and piles of paperwork. That’s way too bureaucratic.All managers need to do is sit down with each direct report and share with him or her a single page that says, “Here’s what you do well,” and “Here’s what you can do better”. And that should happen not once a year but — brace yourself— three or four times, particularly with every raise, bonus or promotion.
We’ve said before in this column that managers have many jobs; in the question above we even added preparations for global warming to the list. But at the end of the day, almost no managerial responsibility trumps building the best team.
And to do that, you can’t just connect with the outliers. Everyone needs to know where he stands, and often.
(This column by Jack and Suzy Welch — the former chairman and CEO of General Electric and his wife, the former editor of Harvard Business Review — explores how to succeed in business and life. Jack and Suzy are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning . They are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering your questions in future columns. You can email them questions at winning@livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city.)
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First Published: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 12 03 AM IST
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