Bangalore: Henry Mintzberg, ranked the 9th most influential management thinker by the Wall Street Journal, has been coming to India since 1996 on a joint course with the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore. On Tuesday, the McGill University professor was at IIM-Bangalore to deliver a talk on how nations need to move beyond the politics of the left and the right and achieve a balanced society. In an interview, he spoke on the need to balance the private and public sectors with what he calls the plural sector. Edited excerpts:
When did the idea of moving beyond the politics of the left and the right strike you?
I’ve been working on this since 1991 when I sketched some of these ideas. I’ve always been troubled since 1989 by what was going on in the whole world, and particularly the US. When the Communist regimes started to collapse in 1989, the conclusion in the US was capitalism had triumphed. That was dangerous. What triumphed was balance. In the Western countries, we were balanced between the public sector, private sector, and what I call the plural sector. Because of the conclusion that capitalism had triumphed, we seem to be going out of balance, and in the US, totally in favour of the private sector.
So, this is in a sense a counter to the end of history argument put by Francis Fukuyama and others?
That was the most idiotic manifestation or statement of that perspective that history had somehow ended. Thinking ended, but not history. That book was absurd. The idea that we had reached perfection was a ridiculous hypothesis. It was part of the arrogance of the time and things have been swinging totally out of balance since then.
So how should people think about these issues?
There is a fault with the conception of the political process, that there is a line between the right and left connecting the centre. I saw a speech by Sarah Palin recently. I’m sort of left-liberal, but I agreed with her in that speech, because she said the enemy are big organizations and corporations. I can sympathise with that position. My intention is to take this line and turn it into a circle. We need to balance private and public sector with communities.
What do you mean by the plural sector?
The plural sector consists of entities outside of private enterprises and the public sector. These are either owned by nobody, like Greenpeace or Harvard University, or member-based organizations like unions and co-operatives. I would add two more to this category: social organisations like Grameen Bank, and social movements like the one at Tahrir square. These are essentially communal activities.
Change is not going to come from private sector—corporate social responsibility is a fine idea, but it won’t solve corporate social irresponsibility. And governments are not going to solve our problems, because they are increasingly co-opted by the private sector. This is where the plural sector comes in.
How do you see the question of balance between these sectors in India?
The government is hardly a minor player in India. In Brazil, it (the government) is capable of doing bigger things. India has had very left-wing governments, so there has been a correction over the last few years towards the private sector.
Brazil and India interest me the most. Brazil has among the best balance among the three sectors. It’s got a very strong private sector, a very active government, and the plural sector is extremely strong. In India, the problem is the invisibility of the plural sector.
You also have some radical views on reforming management education. What needs to be changed?
It’s simple. You can’t create a manager in a classroom. And if you give someone the impression that they can become a manager because they sat still in a classroom for a year or two, then you’re creating hubris. The Harvard case-study approach is silly. You read 10 or 20 pithy pages on a company that you have never heard of, and the next day, you are forced to pronounce what that company should do.