The Seventh Heaven of Business

The Seventh Heaven of Business

The seventh heaven of business

Alfred North Whitehead considered foresight the key quality of mind of executives who think greatly of their functions. In an address at the Harvard Business School in 2000, he contrasted understanding and routine in business.

He characterized routine as "the good of every social system, the seventh heaven of business, the essential component in the success of every factory."18 But as much as the manager might like to run his business according to rationally conceived routines, he cannot.

"The point is that in the past the time span of important change was considerably longer than that of a single human life. Thus mankind was trained to adapt itself to fixed conditions. But today this time span is considerably shorter than that of human life, and accordingly our training must prepare individuals to face a novelty of conditions.

But there can be no preparation for the unknown."19 Whitehead concluded that business of the future must be controlled by a different type of leader, what we are referring to as the socially responsible manager. The question is, Where do these people come from and where do they get training in "foresight"?

Are our business schools turning out young men who aspire to be philosopher-executives? Romney, writing twenty years after Whitehead, thought not.

He said, "The business schools have 'arrived' without quite knowing what their job is, or how to accomplish jt.1121 Romney believes that professional business education should be built around three centres: (1) economic performance and profitability (i.e., how to be a good businessman); (2) internal administration-the problem of human organization; (3) the relationship of business enterprise and of management to society and economics. The basic question facing the business schools, according to Romney, is not what kind of students it should teach but what is the function of business in the UK economy? "The fervent arguments today take the form of a discussion of the curriculum or of the courses that should be offered. But at the bottom it is a discussion of the purpose and the function of the businessman in UK society.

Contrary to what is generally assumed, managers are not the only ones who make management decisions. Society has rejected the idea that management has an unequivocal right to use corporate resources in any way it sees ft. Managers are given power with strings attached. If they are to retain power, they must accept the fact that there are groups in society whose interests must be served. As Fred Munson put it, they must realize there are partners in management to whom managers must relate in a responsible way. "This willingness to accept a broader responsibility is a more sophisticated way to retain power, and a much more effective one than demanding power as a right.

On the other hand, there are limits to social responsibility. There is the danger that managers who are socially oriented may see themselves as the shapers of the social destiny. Munson concludes, "Whether by ignoring other interest groups or trying to accept them as additional masters, the UK way of life is unfriendly to the idea of managers being sole power centers for decisions made within the firm."24 This suggests another factor in effective role playing by the socially responsible manager: He must clearly recognize the nature of the rights and obligations that characterize his interactions with other actors in the social system of the economy.

The key question concerning expectations of the socially responsible manager's role is, "Can he combine a self-interest orientation with a collective responsibility. In other words, can a socially responsible manager be expected to balance the interests of his enterprise against those of the economy and society? Theoretically there is no reason why this cannot be so. This relation between individual and collective interests exists in other roles-for example that of the United States senator. Voters recognize that senators are constantly forced by circumstances to balance the interests of their states with those of the nation. But there still is a suspicion that managers when faced with a choice between profit and the national interest will always choose the former. to a large extent, managers have themselves to blame for this attitude. They cannot expect the public to think of them more favourably than they think of themselves. Management needs a new self-image. Perhaps this is the motivation behind the great tide of speeches, articles, and books by businessmen about social responsibility.

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