Soils & the TBL

October 27, 2011

As organizations begin to think about their impacts on the soil environment, I think it is very important to conceptualize the idea according to the triple bottom line (TBL).  For example, when I was looking through the Museum of Modern Art’s winter catalog this morning, I kept thinking about how the producers of the artistic plastic bowls, nifty kitchen gadgets and abstract reprints ever consider the impacts in the production of those items on the pedosphere.  Even if you made the factual case that the plastic bowl is derived from the extraction of oil reserves, I feel few businesses would really care.  The triple bottom line concept, on the other hand, allows for a framework and language to be utilized so we as MBA candidates can convince these entities of the importance of understanding soils and their place in business.

The Intervale Center is a great example of an organization that has utilized a TBL approach to build a series of thriving community businesses that all began around the idea of healthy soil and the connection to this resource.  Will Raap, the founder of the Intervale Center, smartly realized the economic, social and environmental impacts of creating a healthy soil landscape related to community farming and composting.  His emphasis on providing an economic leg to the organization is something that other organizations can latch onto, realizing that often times what is looked upon as waste can actually be a source of profit.  From a social and environmental perspective, he was also wise to nest his organization into the community through the quantifiable goals of recycling 10% of Burlington’s waste while providing 10% of their food.  By quantifying his place in the community in this regard, Raap creates a financial framework that all businesses can understand.

Will Raap and the Intervale Center are most likely an anomaly in the larger business context, however, as he has fully embraced his reliance on the pedosphere.  For the producers of the plastic bowls and kitchen gadgets that were discussed earlier, it may be harder to make the case for the reliance on soil as they rarely come into contact with the brown stuff.  A more appropriate place to begin the discussion with these organizations is to talk about corporate social responsibility and the marketing appeal that “green” products have on the average consumer.  This could provide a starting point for these organizations to examine their reliance on soil related to their most commonly analyzed factor, the financial bottom line.  As the organizations begin tracking their commodity sources, for example, they may find a financial motive for possibly closing wasted energy streams related to the pedosphere or a mass marketing appeal related to their material acquisitions.


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.

Heifetz/Linsky and Brown Talk

September 27, 2011

Heifetz and Brown would talk about leadership during a time of crisis.  Heifitz would suggest that because the changes required of people during a long-term crisis are adaptive in nature, the leadership tasks would be extremely difficult, as adaptive changes require people to go through significant discomfort as they find ways to deal with new problems. Adaptive challenges also take a lot more time to solve than technical solutions, and leaders will have to ask people to endure considerable conflict while new solutions are worked out over time.  The solutions to how we will live with diminishing resources and in a different climate are not ones that will come easily.

Brown would suggest to Heifetz that these leaders are not, by and large, the current political leaders.  Brown has little faith in international leadership and processes, and is concerned that the solutions will either take too long or never happen at all if we are waiting to be given solutions from international climate summits.  It is questionable whether Brown has any interest in leadership at all.  I did a search for the word “leadership”, and it appears only 13 times in the entire book.  Brown is concerned primarily with technical solutions to the complex ecological system challenges ahead.

Of course, both adaptive and technical of solutions will be needed to meet the coming challenges.  Some countries will be able to face these adaptive challenges more gracefully than others.  Japan displayed astounding adaptive behavior during the tsunami and earthquake disaster earlier this year.  This ability is rooted deeply in cultural values and experiences.  The US, by contrast, seems to be working itself into a frightening frenzy as we approach the next presidential election and the issues at hand are increasingly serious, suggesting that the more dire things get, the worse we will act.  How will we, as a country, face these challenges?

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

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M.  (2002).  Leading with an open heart.  Leader to Leader, (26), 28-33.


Laurie aka Duck, MBA 2013

Heifetz & Brown Discussion

September 22, 2011


If a meeting were to occur between Heifetz and Brown, I believe the discussion would be centered upon recent American governmental activities given the overlap that has existed between President Obama’s challenges, which could be categorized as adaptive in nature, and the complex ecological, financial and social issues of 2010 and 2011.

Marking his presidential term by one of the largest environmental disasters (BP oil spill), a debt crisis and tense bipartisanship, President Obama has dealt with all of the problems according to what Heifetz has identified as challenges to leading adaptive changes and echoes some of the larger issues that Brown has identified in his book.  He has, for example, indirectly confronted poverty issues on the American front pushing through universal health care, which highlights his ability to “Get off the dance floor and onto the balcony” (Heifetz, 2002, pg 30) and see the larger needs of the citizens.

I think that Heifetz would have a few recommendations for Brown in regards to leadership.  First, I think Heifetz would advocate for an increased presence of the United Nations as it pertains to large-scale environmental issues, which parallels with the need to think politically and network countries in an objective way.  Secondly, he would propose for more events to take place such as the G8 Summit and the Kyoto Protocol, that place emphasis on global environmental understanding and efforts. I also feel he would emphasize the presence of developing and impoverished countries, in addition to the traditionally developed centric participants at such events.  Lastly, Heifetz would recommend that both leaders and citizens of all nations maintain an innocence and curiosity that has not been present in past environmental realms related to the merging of scientific, economic and social necessities as adaptive changes are met.

From Brown’s perspective, he could easily suggest that the model he describes in his book be used as a case study for the leadership changes that Heifetz recommends.  An example of this could be the financial woes that the European Union (EU) have dealt with over the past few years and more specifically, the political structuring that has provided support to countries such as Greece.  There has been much reporting about this issue as of late and it highlights the advantages and disadvantages of multinational organizations like the EU.

Brown would also have real world examples of countries that are currently facing and overcoming the five challenges to leading adaptive change that Heifetz describes.  Saudi Arabia, for example, could easily ride out its fossil fuel glory that has economically developed a large portion of the country.  To their credit, however, the Saudis have successfully faced the realization that they will soon run out of oil and have begun to invest in more sustainable technologies that will prepare them for future markets.  According to Brown, they were also the first country to project country wide aquifer depletion as it relates to grain production, which shows not only an amazing ability to face conflict, but also to project in long-term models.


Heifetz, Ronald and Linsky, Marty. (Fall 2002) Leading with an open heart.  Leader to Leader.  p 28-33.

Casey, MBA Candiate 2013

Fall 2011 – Blog#1

September 17, 2011

Brown’s approach to the adaptive challenges outlined within “Plan B 4.0” is very direct.  He certainly is not afraid to confront complex ecological system challenges associated with increased carbon emissions, rapidly growing global populations, poverty, and the reduced availability of earth’s natural resources such as fertile soils and water.  He clearly articulates the technical attributes of this challenge through the use of data and citing current events occurring around the world.  It is evident that Brown agrees with the hazards of collusion that Hiefetz discusses within Leading with an Open Heart.  The solution Brown presents with Plan B addresses the issues he presents and does not ignore the hard cultural and life style changes humanity will have to embrace in order sustain to itself.


In a discussion between Brown and Hiefetz, Hiefetz would likely emphasis to Brown the Five Challenges in Leading Adaptive Change; specifically, give the work back, and hold steady because these are the hardest of the five.  His point being when any one of us is confronted with a challenge we must become accountable for our actions; this is what makes adaptive challenge so difficult.  A leader must endure during this process because progress may be slow.  This is where Brown may struggle as an effective leader because of the sense of urgency he is advocating with Plan B.  The challenge is not only to build a new economy but to do it at wartime speed before we miss so many of nature’s deadlines that the economic system begins to unravel. (Brown, 2009)

Brown, L. (2009). Plan B 4.0 Moblilizing to Save Civilization. Earth Policy Institute.

Andrew Lacourciere MBA 2013

Performance Appraisal

September 22, 2008

Alice has worked part time for the bank for several years. Last year, she was charged with being a manager in the Training and Development department. Her primary responsibility is to train bank tellers. Alice took a class in training and knows that adults learn better with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

The bank is trying to hire and promote more racial minorities. The bank has been the target of several discrimination lawsuits in the last few years and wants to change its image.

Joanne is an African-American teller trainee. All of the other trainees in this particular group are white. Joanne is having a very hard time learning the material but does not appreciate Alice’s constructive criticism. Joanne insists that Alice is treating her differently because of her race and threatens to file a formal complaint unless Alice eases up on her.


1. What should Alice do?

2. What role does the bank play here?