Brown-Heifetz Discussion

October 4, 2011

In his book Plan B 4.0 eco-economist Lester Brown details an immense set of problems facing our civilization.  He compares our current situation to the collapse of the Sumerian and Mayan civilizations due to food supply failure, and asks if we are facing the same future.

He describes a network of crises including global climate change, loss of usable cropland, dwindling water tables, growing global and urban populations, dependency of world agriculture on fossil fuels, and limitations in further advances in agricultural technology as we approach the upper boundary of our planet’s biological productivity.

Brown notes that:

Business as usual is not longer a viable option. Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries collectively mobilize to stabilize population, stabilize climate, stabilize aquifers, conserve soils, protect cropland, and restrict the use of grain to produce fuel for cars. (Brown, 2009, p. 9)

Brown further notes that a result of world food insecurity, the geopolitical situation is growing dangerous in new and unanticipated ways.  Food scarcity is a major contributor to the emergence of failed states, and we are increasingly seeing a practice of more developed countries leasing or purchasing agricultural land (and the land’s associated water rights) from other, usually less developed, countries.

Brown notes that our global economy is functioning in many ways as a Ponzi Scheme.  He quotes Paul Hawken: “At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product” (P. Hawken, in Brown, 2009, p. 15).

Brown’s solution to this global, systemic, and complex crisis is what he calls “Plan B – A Plan to Save Civilization”.  He describes the resolution of the crisis as “an integrated system with four interdependent goals” (Brown, 2009, p. 25).  That is to say that it is a high-level blueprint for an adaptive solution to a complex systems issue.  He lists the four component goals as and 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, holding global population to a limit of 8 billion or less, ending global poverty, and restoring the Earth’s soils, aquifers, forests, grasslands, and fisheries. (Brown, 2009, pp. 23 – 24).  He stresses that this is an urgent and ambitious plan, and one that is absolutely necessary if our global civilization is to survive this crisis.  He stresses that we must approach this with “wartime speed” (Brown, 2009 p. 27).

In his article Leading with an Open Heart, Ronald  Heifetz describes complex problems such as the global crises described by Brown as Adaptive Challenges, which must be met with Adaptive Change. Heifetz defines Adaptive Change as being qualitatively different than a linear technical solution in that it requires people to change.  He stresses that such change is often painful and that leading people through such an experience is never easy, and often dangerous. (Heifetz, 2002, p. 28).

Heifetz notes that a leader working with an adaptive challenge will have to put ego aside and tell the people he or she is leading something like this:

We can’t go keep going on this way, but the new direction is yet undetermined, and how effective any plan will be in enabling us to thrive – or even survive – in the new environment is also unknown.  We’re going to have to go through disagreements and conflicts as we sort through what’s precious and what’s expendable; loss as we abandon comfortable pieces of the past, old routines, and even lose relationships with people; feelings of incompetence as we strive to innovate and learn new ways; doubt and uncertainty as we make inevitable wrong turns along the way (Heifetz, 2002, p 29).

How can we lead others in meeting adaptive challenges?  Heifetz reminds us that not having a specific linear fix for a problem, or even a good sense of what the problem is can be frightening.  We are tempted to pretend we know what we are doing.  This can lead to what Heifetz terms “Collusion”, or the blind leading the blind. We need to develop an open heart and avoid the usual idea that a leader must be thick skinned.  We must approach complex problems from a position of what the Buddhists call “Beginner’s Mind”.  We must approach such problems with innocence and naivete.  We need an open curiosity; and we must avoid cynicism. And above all, we must approach the challenge with compassion (Heifetz, 2002, pp. 29 – 33).

Heifetz summarizes this as “Five Challenges in Leading Adaptive Change” (Heifetz, 2002, p 30). Briefly, he describes these as

  • “Get off the dance floor and onto the balcony”  — Maintain a contemplative state even in the midst of action
  • “Think politically” — Build and maintain support networks and allies
  • “Orchestrate conflict” — Remember that conflict is often where new ideas come from.
  • “Give the work back” – People must be accountable for the adaptive change. It must be theirs, not the leaders’.  Adaptive change cannot be imposed from above.
  • “Hold steady” – Sometimes leaders must refrain from immediate action to allow the conflicting views to generate new ideas and solutions.

If Brown and Heifetz were to meet and discuss their points of view, what would they tell one another?  Clearly they share a vision of complex challenges and adaptive solutions.  Even if he does not use the same descriptive terminology, Brown’s Plan B is an interlocking set of adaptive changes which address a problem of almost limitless complexity. These are precisely the types of problems that Heifetz is working with. Where the two authors differ is in what portion of the problem they are addressing.  Brown is describing a problem from what sometimes is called the 10,000 foot level, while Heifetz is considering how leadership can be best employed to help implement such changes at the ground level. And this might lead to some considerable misunderstanding.

I could envision Brown stressing the absolute urgency of the problem facing the world, and finding Heifetz’s contemplative approach to be far too slow and open-ended.  For his part, Heifetz might point out that the changes called out in Plan B will require changes in the way that we all live our lives, and that these sorts of changes must be generated from the bottom up, not from the top down.  Even allowing for a kind of global benign despotism, it would be difficult for Heifetz to picture Plan B being successfully imposed from above.

Heifetz might point out that Brown is not allowing for the fears and changes that people will have to go through to arrive at the solutions called out in Plan B, and Brown might reply that that we simply don’t have the time to indulge in a more democratic process.  I would hope that after further discussion they might arrive at a point where this impasse is resolved.  The fact is that people will be have to be considered in a solution for the global crisis, and the fact is that the global crisis is very near the tipping point right now.  Let’s see if we can get these two talking.


Brown, Lester. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Heifetz, Ronald and Linsky, Marty. (Fall 2002) Leading with an Open Heart. Leader to Leader. pp. 28-33.

Peter MBA Candidate 2013


PB & Bananas with Elvis? No, Mexican with Jennifer Aniston!

October 4, 2011

It is probably one of the most common icebreaker questions, if you could pick one person (dead or alive), who would you like to have lunch with?  Of course this is a super hard question.  I have heard people say musicians, actors, philosophers and sometimes a family member who has passed away.

So what would happen if Ronald Heifetz and Lester Brown had lunch?  What would they say?  Would they sit in a booth or a table?  Maybe the bar?  What would they order?  I envision it starting out with politeness.  Each one of them sharing what they do for a living and talking about their families.  I think that they would have a lot in common.  They would share a bottle of local, organic red wine and toast to all the leaders in the sustainability industry.

I’m sure that Ronald would talk about the Five Challenges in Leading Adaptive Change because he probably would see Lester as a great leader.   Lester would ask how Ronald did his research and came up with his findings.  I think Lester would ask Ronald how to help leaders get out of their own way?  How do we  get people to ask questions?  How do we get people to be naive?  I’m sure he is frustrated with how things are done and wants to know how to change it.  But that is the ultimate question, how to change people’s minds?  Of course that won’t be solved over one lunch!

At the end of the lunch, I think that Ronald would leave Lester with this thought…”Innocence will enable you to maintain hope when a situation seems hopeless, at least to some people.  And your capacity to maintain faith will be self-fulfilling in the sense that it will give other people courage to hope that life can be better” (Heifetz, 2002).

Amanda Gourgue, CMP, LEED AP, MBA Candidate 2013


Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M.  (2002).  Leading with an open heart.  Leader to Leader.

Paying to protect whom??

October 2, 2008

In 1997 Chiquita banana began paying ”protection money” to a group know as the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) rather than pull out of the rejoin, an area the buisness had been working in going back several generations. Had they not paid employees villages would have been massacred as well as stockholder value would have dropped. In September of 2000 an internal audit showed the practice of payoffs to the board. On September 10, 2001 the AUC was declared a terrorist organization by the Untied States, making it illegal for the corporation to continue the practice.

On April 24 of 2003 Chiquita approached the U.S. Justice Department and voluntarily self-disclosed the practice. Michael Chertoff, then assistant attorney general (currently Secretary to Homeland Security) told the corporation what they were doing was illegal and said they would receive instructions on what to do. AUC remains an opposition group to FARC, another terrorist organization, and it was clear if Chiquita were to divest from the rejoin then U.S. security interest would be jeopardized. AUC was not networked to international terrorist groups such as FARC is.

No reply was received from the government despite repeated inquiries from Chiquita. During this time a new government in Colombia, which backed Bush’s anti-terrorism protocol, was established. It was clear to the U.S. government that speaking against this issue would up set the political foot hold the U.S. was losing in South America.

            By the summer of 2007 the U.S. government responded.  Chiquita had paid $1.7 million to the AUC up until that point. The government placed a $25 million dollar fine on the buisness due to the decade of funding terrorism despite Chiquita’s approaching them 5 years earlier and the reclassification of the AUC in 2001.


Should the date of the AUC’s terrorist classification effect how they were delt with?

Other than stockholders were there other stakeholders Chiquita was obligated to take into consideration?

Was the government’s reaction appropriate?

 Tim Stillman

Eastern Problems

September 29, 2008

Horizon Trading Company: John Smith’s dilemma

Ethic’s Case found on Babson College website


John Smith is a new Regional Supervisor for Horizon, an American based company, in their Russian operations sector. Early in his introduction to these on-going operations he is presented with the “fact” that the company alters its sales accounts to avoid what are said to be the exorbitant state and local taxes imposed by different Russian agencies. He is asked to comply with the ongoing obfuscation by everyone involved with Horizon company management that he meets during his orientation. One day, a week after his arrival, when he is visiting a profitable Horizon retail outlet in Moscow he discovers that sales registers are turned off and paper sales receipts are used to lower the traceable income generated. He does nothing to alter this practice, but he stays to observe the activities in the store. While the store manager is at lunch a Russian agent from the state tax authority enters the shop and asks why the registers are turned off.

John Smith is met with the immediate challenge of whether or not to lie to the tax agent, and if he avoids this immediate situation he must decide what to do about the unofficial company tax avoidance policy. He has been told that if the company pays all of the taxes required that they will not be profitable and people will lose their jobs, information he took at face value. He feels a new manager’s sense of responsibility and does not want to jeopardize company operations or American personnel, or the livelihood of the Russian employees. He did not do any independent research to verify the information he was given.

Questions:  What should John Smith tell the Tax Agent?  What could John Smith have done to prevent his getting into this situation?  If the tax situation in Russia is as corrupt as he has been told, is John doing anything wrong by following expressed company policy?

Submitted by John White

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Is This My Place?

September 28, 2008

Ben is a recent college graduate with an accounting degree, who was hired by a respected non-profit organization, to manage their internal and external reporting. The organization collects donated medical supplies from US producers, and ships them to countries in need. The organization was thinly-staffed and under a lot of stress. Ben soon realized that there was no system in place for the organization to monitor the value of the donated supplies for tax purposes. He had to trust that the donaters were giving him the correct values. He knew that it would be beneficial for the donaters to inflate the values of their products for their own tax purposes, and wondered whether they could be cheating the IRS.  Ben wondered how much it mattered, people in need were still receiving the medical supplies. He worried that if he were to question the donaters, or make them provide proof of value, he would deter them from donating the much needed supplies. He also considered that his boss must have known about this issue and did not seem to think it was a priority. It seemed to be the organization’s belief that a company who donates items is probably altruistic and would provide an honest value. She had told him that it’s all about helping people in need, we don’t care about data. He was quite certain that some of the donaters were cheating the IRS and he did not want to enable their deceitfulness. However, he was happy to be hired right out of college for such a respected organization. Is it his place to say something?


Which is more important, getting people in need their medical supplies, or making sure companies are honest on their taxes?


What would happen to Ben’s career if he were known as a “whistle blower”? Does it matter for the sake of honesty?


Home is Where the House is

September 27, 2008

John and Marcia were excited about the new developments in their life.  John recently accepted a job at a small consulting firm in a new location.  Marcia owned a home-based business, so she was flexible about where she lived.  After many discussions, John and Marcia packed up all of their belongings and moved into a small rented apartment.  The first year at the new job went very well.  The company was thriving, and John and Marcia were thinking about settling down and starting a family.  John decided that he needed to talk with the owner of the firm about his career.  John explained that he wanted to purchase a home and settle into the community, but he wanted to make sure that he fit into the firm’s long-term plans.  The owner of the company praised John for all of his good work, and assured him that he would remain an important asset of the firm. Relieved, John went home to tell Marcia and they immediately started looking for a home.  John later told one of his co-workers, Alexis, about his discussion with the firm owner and his plans to buy a house.  Alexis was very inquisitive about John’s discussion with the owner, and appeared to be caught off guard.  John wasn’t sure what to make of Alexis’ reaction, but he quickly wrote it off as being nothing to be concerned about.
Alexis, on the other hand, was shocked at what she had heard.  Alexis is close friends with the owner of the firm, and knew that there was a good chance the firm would be closing in the near future. The owner was always complaining about the daily stress the business was causing him, and voiced his desire to dissolve the company and spend a year traveling around the world.  Alexis herself had been looking for another job for several months, and was devastated to hear about John’s plans for buying a home.

•    What are the ethical issues?
•    Should Alexis confront the owner about misleading John?
•    Does Alexis have an obligation to tell John the reality of the situation?

Societal Impacts of Marketing

September 26, 2008

Len Quill has been a buyer for Artifacts, Ltd., an importer of ethnic art, for four years. He majored in marketing and cultural anthropology in college and is faced with an ethical decision concerning the demand for a basket made by the Puna Native American tribe. The tribe is a major source of artifacts for Len and his interest in the tribe has inspired him to learn their native language, making him the only person from Artifacts who directly works with the Puna.

Bob is an art gallery owner who is interested in placing a large order for the Puna baskets. However, he wants them within a short time frame and only if he can redesign the baskets with his customers in mind. Each basket’s shape, pattern and color represent important historical events and symbols of the tribe and are only made by the women. Len would have to market this design change to the Punas, as well as the idea of men making the baskets too, in order to meet the short deadline. The Punas will receive a good price for their baskets, which could improve their standard of living. Len’s boss, Mary, is very enthusiastic about this opportunity, for Artifacts, Ltd. will prosper from the large order.

Coming from an anthropological viewpoint, Len isn’t sure he wants to persuade the Punas to alter their artwork or encourage the men to make the baskets. He has learned that these kinds of changes have weakened other cultures and is concerned the Punas are not aware of the negative effects such changes could have on their society. Len needs an agreement from the Puna tribal council before a contract can be signed with Bob, but is conflicted over how to handle the deal.


1. What are the ethical issues Len is faced with?

2. Do you think Len has a moral duty to protect the Puna tribe? If so, why?

Author: Judy Cohen, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Rider College

posted by Wende