Dean Katrin Muff

Message from the BSL Dean


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My favorite book this summer!

Among the large pile of books I read through this summer, one stood out and has left a pleasant after-taste: REINVENTING ORGANIZATIONS by Frederic Laloux (Belgium). Frederic has attempted to do mission impossible and has actually come up with something of incredible value. He took the human development perspective and applied it to business. The idea is simple and has been considered for centuries: human beings develop over a life-time and societies develop over centuries into increasingly developed forms and belief systems. Why not organizations as well. Based on much work done by Integral Studies (Ken Wilber et al but also many other developmentalists such as Jean Gebser, Don Beck, Jean Piaget), Frederic developed first a historical overview of the development of organizations and then created a white space of the organization of the future. And here comes the magic – rather than just leaving things there, he went out and found a dozen companies of all sizes and from various industries and developed small case studies to understand how these companies are living already today partially or fully the principles of the organization of the future.

But don’t take my word for it, here is an excellent New York Times review on the book

We are running a Collaboratory event that I will facilitate together with other BSL colleagues featuring Frederic Laloux, Christian Felber and others on November 21-22, 2014 in Vienna in association with LiFT and the Zentrum für Integrale Führung led by Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller. If you are interested to join us, please let me know!

 

 


There is hope – alternatives to cloning Paul Polman!

I am not the only one to have suggested that if we want to save the (corporate) world, we have no choice but to clone Paul Polman. As a matter of fact, this is one of the comments Kate Robertson (Co-founder of One Young World), who received a Dr. Honoris Causa from BSL along with Paul, made to Paul and me on Saturday. The idea of cloning Paul Polman has two elements:

  • First, it is a great compliment to Paul who has in the past 4 years risen to be recognized as the most admired “poster boy” of corporate sustainability – a direct result of his relentless drive in not only transforming Unilever but also be co-initiating a long list of coalitions both in front and behind the scenes in a great many domains that were traditionally considered beyond reach for a CEO.
  • And second, it expresses a certain frustration if not desperation of many observers that there are not many in these influential positions who define their responsibility in such a way that what they do truly serve society and the planet while – of course – ensuring the continued success of the organization they are leading.

BSL Swiss Sustainability Hub Forum

Reflecting back on our big BSL day last Saturday, 20th September, I cannot but help realize that our two big events converged into something bigger. Paul Polman was a part of both events in a significant way – maybe this was part of the magic (more here):

  • The Swiss Sustainability Hub: the kick-off session to set up a Coalition to bring Switzerland to assume a leading role in the sustainability movement (short for: all people living well and within the limits of the planet)
  • The annual BSL Graduation with more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries

Mark Drewell, outgoing CEO of GRLI and one of our BSL Academic Advisory Board members, shared his impression of the event as follows: “the change of energy from previous years was palpable. You have now accomplished the shift at BSL – the community is really there and there is a powerful sense that there is not only willingness and desire to contribute to this new world we need, but also competencies, determination and real action.

And indeed, as I observed our graduates receive their diplomas, proudly spending a moment with their classmates and continuing the bond they started to build during their studies, I sense more determination, clarity, courage and passion to find a way to contribute to this world than I have ever picked up before (and it is not that we have lacked high-spirited students in previous years!). Bruno Oberli, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) commented on it during the Swiss Sustainability Hub panel discussion. We had our audience vote on who should drive the launch of the Swiss Sustainability Hub, government or business, and just about everybody broke the voting rule by holding up both options. Bruno laughed and said: “If you are able to shift beyond either/or to a new paradigm of both/and that easily, then we really don’t have anything to worry about as you understand the key element of what we need in future: a pragmatically new way of considering our options!”

A big part of this sense was also how smoothly and collaboratively our BSL team worked for, during and after this big event. Despite perfect preparations, events like this always require many miracles behind the scene dealing with changes, emergencies, adapting what was planned to the emergent reality. There is nobody I would like to rather work with than the BSL team consisting of Aurea, David, Denitsa, Katarzyna, Mary, Massimo, Olivier, Teresa and Yasmina. If everybody assumes their place and space with the same sense of service, dedication, passion for the common good and spirit of collaboration as our team, then maybe there are alternatives to cloning Paul Polman.

If the BSL team and our graduates have this sense of purpose, then we know that it is possible to create environments that stimulate such alignment of purpose, competency and cooperation. We all know that there are many many teams and individuals who are truly connected to an inner sense of purpose in many places around the world. And maybe rather than waiting for cloning technology to get up to speed, we  simply need to trust in the human capacity and in the emerging leadership that is happening across so many organizations at so many levels. What we can do in the meantime is getting better in building the right environments and capacities to speed this up. Educational institutions are an obvious starting place AND any other organization that has people showing up for work. This reminds me of what Mischa Liatowitsch, who graduated on Saturday from our MBA program, said during his studies (see short 1 minute video here).


“Why School?” Collaboratory in Stockholm

We arrived in Thursday evening, August 21, 2014 for a 4-day Collaboratory event. The water looked dark, deep and much colder than turqouise water I have just returned from. Yet in great contrast, the people are super friendly and engaging. The four days ahead were structured as follows: Day 1 was our LiFT internal pre-collaboratory callibration day, Day 2 was the big public event of the “Why School?” Collaboratory. At the end of Day 2 we would leave to „the island“, Ekskäret is a private island transformed into a personal and societal development center by its visionary owner Thomas Bjorkman, where we would be staying for Day 3 and 4.

During the preparatory Day 1, we learned about the specific challenges around the school issue in Sweden. I was surprised to learn about how badly the voucher system works (each student is free to select his/her school of choice and brings the related government funding to the chosen school). This liberal practice seems to have brought down the educationsl level due to the fact that a number of venture capitalists have invested in new educational institutions and have focussed on maximizing their return rather than investing in facilities and quality teachers. And I had always thought that a Voucher system could help innovate the Swiss schooling system.

In addition, the facilitation team walked us step by step through their vision and resulting schedule for the next day. They had made interesting changes to the basic Collaboratory and I became very curious about how this amendment to the Collaboratory would work out.

Why School Collaboaratory in Stockholm

Picture 1: Pre-collaboratory day among LiFT team with Collaboratoy books in center

The 1-day Collaboratory session moderated by Jonathan Reams (Norway), Christiane Seuhs-Schoeller (Vienna) and Anne Caspari (Basel) started in a plenuary setting with a short film on being “awe-struck”. Jonathan set the stage for the day with his deep, reflective introduction hinting at the opportunity that schools could be places that kids leave “awe-struck”. Both his reflective tone and future orientation brought a light energy that somehow guided us through the entire day.

Overview of the large meeting space

Picture 2: Overview of the large meeting space

The room was large enough to have three different spaces set-up in advance. The 70+ participants shifted from the plenary to the Collaboratory circle setting (see picture 2), where selected experts highlighted important critical perspectives on the subject of school in Sweden (see picture 3). We had the founder of the School-Spring movement, an enlightened teacher, a school-drop out with an appetite to bring about change in the school system, a highly committed CEO who was concerned about graduates, an academic from Austria with a European perspective on school challenges and responsible leadership. What surprised me most was the significant degree of mutual respect, the appreciative inquiry among these experts. While there could have been much reason for debate and dispute, the tone was incredibly constructive.

The Collaboratory Circle

Picture 3: The Collaboratory Circle

In a next phase, these insights were discussed and reflected on in eight small group sessions of 6-8 participants, allowing again for each participant to be heard and to remain engaged. Leaders from each team shared back in the Collaboratory circle after lunch their key findings, setting the stage for the visioning phase that Christiane mastered beautifully, taking us on a journey of creative exploration.

Rather than debriefing the visioning in the circle, the facilitation team introduced a highly effective, one-to-one debriefing and sharing by having people get up and reflect on 3 key questions in every-changing pair settings (see picture 4). This brought not only movement and thus energy into the room, but also allowed every single participant to be personally concerned and involved, bringing individual and collective visions and ideas quickly to the surface.

Picture 4: Inter-active, dynamic debriefing after the visioning exercise

Picture 4: Inter-active, dynamic debriefing after the visioning exercise

In a dynamic open brainstorming session, the many ideas were first collected and subsequently grouped into major themes. Using open space and the law of two feet (you go where you feel you are adding most value), a variety of theme-teams formed to work on prototypes to translate these ideas into concrete projects that could be implemented. I was most touched to see how the CEO and the drop-out student had hit it off and how they collaborated naturally and easily together in a new exiting project. My secret guess is that beyond everything we had achieved for the school issue in Sweden, that we had witnessed a match made in heaven between these two individuals and I am willing to bet that we are going to hear great things from this young high potential who had shown courage beyond imagination when dropping out of school a few years back to figure out where and how he wanted to spend his energy and drive (I am leaving out names on purpose).

Picture 5: our transfer on a small taxi-boat to the far-away island Ekskäret

Picture 5: our transfer on a small taxi-boat to the far-away island Ekskäret

At the end of the long Collaboratory day, our international LiFT team took off in taxi-boats to Ekskäret (see picture 5), the amazing small island a good two hours away from Stockholm. Karin Finnson, our local LiFT host, had arranged the transfer and for the host Thomas Bjorkman to welcome us to this magic island.

We spent two more days at the island with day 1 focussed on evaluating the „why school“ Collaboratory event and learnings for next sessions and day 2 looking forward to our next Collaboratory session scheduled in November in Vienna, Austria where we were going to look in „the future of organizations“. The playful attitude we had all developed around the Collaboratory methods had worked well. Increasingly, our LiFT team has become comfortable with the philosophy and methodology (see chapter 22 in the „Collaboratory“ book[1] where I had used our Norway LiFT collaboratory to outline a narrative roadmap for designing and delivering a collaboratory).

Picture 6: Welcome with hot tea in the Collaboratory circle at Ekskäret island

Picture 6: Welcome with hot tea in the Collaboratory circle at Ekskäret island

[1]  Muff, K. (ed) (2014) : “The Collaboratory – a co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems”, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield UK


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The Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

What an amazing initiative in the 2014 “E.U. Year Against Food Waste”. To be adopted across super markets around the world! Watch and be amazed!!


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Kicking off Collaboratories in Asia – Towards “Green Living in Hong Kong”

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage: 4th floor Collaboratoy, 8th floor Innovation Think Tank. I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students. Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

IMG_1975

Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.bsl-lausanne.ch/news/school-news/events-and-conferences/bsls-dean-gives-keynote-speech-at-conference-on-renewing-business-education-in-asia


Speeding up for the 50+20 Collaboratory for Asia at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Mont Blanc

12 hours after having seen the gorgeous Mont Blanc stick out above the clouds in the dark blue evening sky, I find myself flying past small fishing villages on the way in from Hong Kong Airport to Kowloon. The air is freezing cold inside and like a steamy sauna outside. I had wondered about dress code and I am still wondering – a choice between freezing and sweating with no way of avoiding one or the other.

The airport express train shows a techie video far ahead of any discussion I have access to in the West: they are discussing a complex new way to automate food and health care deliveries in developing countries, fully banking on latest internet connectivity, showing young hi-tech talents talking excitedly about saving the world. Wow! If we could bring in these brilliant brains into the Collaboratories I am to introduce here. Our idea of places where engaged citizens meet to solve burning societal issues – or, in other words: the university of the future!

Hong Kong

Things are happening faster in this part of the world. I had a similar sense three weeks ago in Beijing. Suburbs of Hong Kong larger than Switzerland. A train travelling at mind-boggling speed. I am grateful for the blue sky that connects me with where I come from. What if we found a way to accelerate our Collaboratory idea? What if we could connect to innovation hubs where new solutions are worked on? Where are these? How do we connect?

In the meantime, I have moved from the fast train to a free hotel shuttle – all perfectly well sign-posted and with no waiting time. One hour after touch-down I have arrived at my hotel – mind-blowing! Time for a shower before my first dinner appointment – from breakfast right to dinner… Time is shifting differently. Let’s feel the flow of a river that is rushing forward, onward… Let’s see where this journey takes me!


Mind the gap between corporate behaviour and sustainability

Here’s a great article by Michael Townsend and The Guardian. Michael Townsend is an important thinker in the space of new economic solutions – this article is important for any concerned business leader!

Enjoy reading the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/gap-between-corporate-bahaviour-sustainability 

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