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Rebalancing Society

January 28, 2015


Henry Mintzberg has had enough—believes society has had enough—of the imbalance in power that is destroying democracies, our planet, and ourselves.

The world is out of balance, says Henry Mintzberg, and the consequences are proving fateful: the degradation of our environment, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves, with greed having been raised to some sort of high calling. But it's not too late to set things right.

Mintzberg argues that a healthy society is built on three balanced pillars: a public sector of respected governments, a private sector of responsible enterprises, and what he calls a plural sector of robust voluntary associations (nonprofits, NGOs, etc.). Communism collapsed because the public sector was overbearing—balance triumphed in 1989, not capitalism. But that misunderstanding has led to the private sector becoming overbearing.

Many governments are now so co-opted by their private sectors that they won't be able to lead the process of renewal. Corporate social responsibility, however laudable, cannot compensate for the corporate social irresponsibility we see all around us. Henry Mintzberg outlines specific ideas for strengthening the plural sector so that it can actually lead radical renewal. If we care at all about our planet and our progeny, change must be led by each and every one of us and not by some of "them."

"Enough!" an article by Henry Mintzberg

Imbalance is destroying our planet, our democracies, and ourselves. We require a form of radical renewal unprecedented in the human experience. A healthy society balances power across its public, private, and plural sectors (the last commonly known as "civil society"). The communist regimes of Eastern Europe were brought down by the domination of their public sectors. Many other countries, including some called "democratic", are now being brought down—politically, socially, even economically—by the domination of their private sectors, encouraged by a globalization movement that allows private enterprises to run freely around the globe.

What can stop this? Some people believe that corporate social responsibility is the answer. They are living in a win-win wonderland. This will not compensate for the corporate social irresponsibility that we see around us. Other people expect democratic governments to act. This they must do, but will not so long as their democratic institutions are being undermined by private sector entitlements.

That leaves the plural sector, which is not some "them", but you, and me, and we, acting together. We need to engage in social movements and social initiatives, to challenge destructive practices and replace them with constructive ones. This will happen when we realize that we need not be passive human resources, in the service of imbalance, but can be resourceful human beings, in the service of our progeny and our planet. (Henry Mintzberg, 3 June 2014)


Henry Mintzberg is the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He has is the author of the bestselling books Simply Managing, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Managers Not MBAs, and Mintzberg on Management.

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