These interviews took place on October 30, 2013, in Montreal, Canada, at the annual meeting of the International Leadership Association and on July 7, 2014 at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.Learn more about Henry Mintzberg
Part oneSkip to next interview transcript
SCARPINO: As promised, I’m going to start by reading this statement. Today is October 30, 2013. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History and Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University. Today, I have the privilege to be interviewing Dr. Henry Mintzberg in downtown Montreal in a hotel suite in the Fairmont—The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. I’m conducting this interview on behalf of the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, and we’re both in attendance at the annual conference of the International Leadership Association.
We’ll include a more detailed biographical summary with the interview, so at this point I will provide an abbreviated overview of Dr. Mintzberg’s career. Henry Mintzberg is presently the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He earned his Ph.D. in Management from the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1968, and his Masters from the Sloan School of Management, MIT, in 1965. Since earning his Ph.D. in 1968, he has worked for McGill University with time out for a number of visiting positions including part time at INSEAD, Fountainebleau, France, 1991–1999. Professor Mintzberg has published about 160 scholarly articles and 16 books with a focus on organization, strategy, management, and leadership. One window into the significance of the body of his research is his Google Scholar citation index which shows lifetime 91,886 citations for 469 entries with 37,756 since 2008.
MINTZBERG: Say it again; 37 thousand. . .
SCARPINO: . . . 756 since 2008.
MINTZBERG: Since 2008?
MINTZBERG: There are 97,000 entries and half of them are since 2008, you said?
SCARPINO: Yes. Your lifetime total is 91,886 and since 2008, 37,756.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) You said the appropriate word right there.
MINTZBERG: Don’t people have other things to do?
SCARPINO: It’s amazing. Dr. Mintzberg has earned a number of awards and distinctions—just a few of the highlights: 17 honorary degrees between 1983 and 2012, Officer of the Order of Canada, 1998. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the International Academy of Management, World Academy of Productivity Sciences. He twice earned the McKinsey Prize from the Harvard Business Review for the best article in 1975 and the second best in 1987. And, of course, he is a Leadership Legacy Award winner from the International Leadership Association.
As promised, I’m asking your permission to record this interview, to transcribe this interview, and to deposit the recording in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives where it may be used by its patrons and also to deposit it with the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center.
SCARPINO: We’ll get started with the easy questions then. When and where were you born?
MINTZBERG: I was born in Montreal, right here, probably walking distance from where we’re sitting, in 1939. On September 1st, the Germans invaded Poland. On September 2nd, I was born. They took a day off. And on September 3rd, Britain declared war.
SCARPINO: Your parents coordinated all that?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: Where did you grow up?
MINTZBERG: I grew up in Montreal with a mother from New York, so we spent a fair amount of time in New York, but I grew up basically in Montreal, and maybe just as importantly, in the Laurentian Mountains north of here. We always had a place in the country and that’s in my blood and I still have my own place.
SCARPINO: You’re a cross-country skier up there in the Laurentians?
MINTZBERG: I’m a cross-country skier off track, mostly off trail, bushwhacking where we have wide skis and big boots and cables. We go looking for lakes and looking for ridges and crests. We did that for many years every Saturday.
SCARPINO: When you learned to cross-country ski, you were using the kind of skis where you pine tar the bottoms and have 10 or 15 different kinds of wax?
MINTZBERG: Going back, yeah. I went back to those days, except that there was a guy named Jackrabbit Johannsen who created skiing, not just skiing in North America. He was a Norwegian who lived to 113. He brought cross-country skiing here. He also created the first downhill skiing anywhere by hooking up a cable around the flywheel of a car. They came out with a Johannsen Wet and Johannsen Dry, and I threw all the other waxes away. In fact, I still have them. I never look at them. I just did Johannsen Wet and Johannsen Dry.
SCARPINO: I asked you that because I used to be a cross-country skier and I still have all my wax in a box in a closet.
MINTZBERG: So do I, but I never used anything—well first, I don’t use Johannsen Wet because it’s no fun when it’s wet, but I use Johannsen Dry. That’s it.
SCARPINO: Any brothers or sisters?
MINTZBERG: I have one brother who passed away about three years ago.
SCARPINO: Tell me who your parents were.
MINTZBERG: My parents were Mike, or Myer, but Mike was the name he used. He was a dress manufacturer. My mother was Irene from New York who met my father in New York when he was working there. Then they moved back here during the Depression because he got a good job during the Depression. My mother was basically a housewife who loved to write poems and things.
SCARPINO: You said your dad was a dress manufacturer?
SCARPINO: He was a designer?
MINTZBERG: No, no. I mean he owned the dress company. He was in the inside guy. His Irish partner—classic Jewish-Irish—his Irish partner was the outside guy. He ran production and all that. They owned it jointly.
SCARPINO: Were your family practicing Jews?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. There is such a range of practicing Judaism, but yeah. They always belonged to a synagogue and that kind of thing. They weren’t very devout, but my mother kept the house kosher and that kind of thing.
SCARPINO: Did that have any impact on you as you grew up and became a man?
MINTZBERG: I sort of keep marginal ties. I belong to a synagogue here, which is called Reconstruction, so it’s a little bit like Unitarian in a way. That’s not entirely fair. It’s more of a kind of thoughtful Judaism. So, I keep ties. I think being Jewish, being a Montrealer and being Canadian, have all influenced how I view the world in some ways; the fact that I tend to be rather critical. Some people say I’m—what do you call it? Um, a contrarian? I don’t think I’m a contrarian, but some people say that. I think that probably. . .
SCARPINO: (Laughing) I can’t say I have never heard that.
MINTZBERG: Right. I wouldn’t say I’m contrarian. It comes partly from being Jewish because I think there is a long tradition of that, but also being Canadian. Not that Canadians are contrarian at all or critical at all, but we live in a small country against a big neighbor and we’re always very suspicious of our big neighbor the way the Dutch are suspicious of the Germans or the New Zealanders are suspicious of the Australians. I think that has probably had an influence, too, because my mother being American, I’m almost American. Most Canadians are almost American anyway, but I’m more almost American and yet Canadian. So it’s enabled me to see things differently than people in the US mainstream, I think.
SCARPINO: Do you think it’s important for somebody to be able to look at the world through eyes that are different than their own culture?
MINTZBERG: Oh yeah, absolutely. Although, I’m not sure I would say that. I would say I look at the world through eyes different than the dominant culture, which is not our own culture, but the US culture.
SCARPINO: You’re talking about the United States?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. The US culture is so dominant worldwide and, especially, we’re on the frontline.
SCARPINO: Pierre Trudeau used to talk about the United States in terms of sleeping with an elephant.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. He said we’re the mouse and when the elephant rolls over, friendly as it may be, you’re in trouble. There is a bit of that, yeah.
SCARPINO: Do you think that that has really had an influence on the way you look at the world and the way you develop your scholarship and that kind of thing?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Being Canadian, particularly, and being a Montrealer as well because Montreal is different from Toronto or Vancouver or other places in the sense that it’s a very eclectic culture in Montreal. It’s a very eclectic city. People who want to be in Europe but have to be in North America favor Montreal because it’s kind of the closest you can get. In that sense, you’re raised in a very open, kind of interesting world.
SCARPINO: You think that the openness of Montreal society has had an influence on the way you look at the world and practice your scholarship?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I mean, you’re the historian so you can answer that question better than I can (Laughing).
SCARPINO: (Laughing) But I’m not supposed to lead the witness.
MINTZBERG: Everything, presumably, has an influence. What that influence is is hard to tell. It’s a question of interpretation, and that’s your job in a way, although I know historians are just supposed to tell it like it is.
SCARPINO: No, we interpret. We interpret.
MINTZBERG: Historian. You’re not allowed to develop theory if you’re a good historian, but some of the most interesting historians develop very interesting theories.
SCARPINO: I’m sure they do. I’m going to ask you a question to see if I can get you to reflect on your childhood and youth. Either this will work or it won’t. Just for the record and for somebody using this interview, I’m going to ask you a series of questions organized around the question: Who is Henry Mintzberg or how did Henry Mintzberg become the person that William Litwack referred to as “Henry Mintzberg” in quotes or the Steven Spielberg of his profession? More broadly, how did you become the person that the Economist referred to as “Guru Henry Mintzberg” or the Harvard Business Review ranked as one of the “50 Most Influential Management Gurus” of all time? Do you think of yourself as a guru heading off in new scholarly directions that people can follow if they want to?
MINTZBERG: I don’t like the word guru. I prefer swami.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) Alright, why?
MINTZBERG: (Laughing) Partly—that’s contrariness—but partly because guru is so misused and overused and has been used for some people who have been very superficial, not all but some. So I’m more of a swami in the sense that I’m an educator and a kind of opener of thought, I hope. What are you asking?
SCARPINO: Do you think of yourself that way?
MINTZBERG: Oh, do I think of myself that way? No. I don’t think of myself—well, do I think of myself as a guru? I guess the sort of broader way of thinking of that question is what influence have I had on other people because that’s, I think, the same question in a way.
MINTZBERG: It’s kind of interesting. Those citation figures are interesting. I haven’t seen them. I know I have influenced many people and I hear from many people. I don’t think I have had sort of a compelling influence on the way things are going since I would say that almost everything I have done or I have proposed—not proposed, but stood for—has been diametrically contradicted or contradicted by what has been going on. In other words, it’s almost as if if I said something, the world will automatically go the other way. Now, I don’t have enough influence for that to happen. I might kid myself into believing that I slowed it down a bit in the sense through questions—questioning things that were happening—but I think there is something going on now. That’s why I’m talking about those figures you cited because I’m getting more and more kind of approaches from different kinds of people. I mean I know that in strategy or general management or whatever, people read my stuff and they know it, but I’m getting all kinds of people in all kinds of ways that—I have no reputation outside of management as far as I’m concerned—but it seems to be getting around somehow. My ideas seem to be getting around; maybe because things are so out of whack right now in my view, and I guess we’ll get back to that. I think things are so out of whack right now that maybe I, as one of people, stand for sort of an alternate way of viewing the world, of viewing management, of viewing organizations, and what I’m working on now, of viewing the whole trend in society.
SCARPINO: I’m going to follow up and ask you an open-ended question, and I know it’s open-ended, but what do you think is out of whack?
MINTZBERG: That’s my pamphlet, my electronic pamphlet called “Rebalancing Society.” In a nutshell, this pamphlet is about the imbalance that is happening increasingly so in society today. I go farther back, but I go back to 1789 when I believe that the US Constitution, in order to counter the effect of royalty, emphasized individual rights at the expense of collective rights. I think America has been on a steady course to imbalance on the side of individual rights. I think in 1989 was a kind of tipping point in the sense that the interpretation of the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe was that capitalism had triumphed. I think balance triumphed in the sense that the Eastern European countries were utterly out of balance on the side of their public sectors and we had balance, more or less, the US—even the US although less so, but still; France, Canada, Germany more so—balance between public, private, and I prefer to call it pleural sector. Call it civil society, whatever you want. But because we misinterpreted that, we have been going steadily—or the US, in particular—has been going steadily out of balance ever since on the side of the private sector. That’s what I’m kind of challenging right now. That’s what I’m writing about right now.
SCARPINO: How do you think Canada has done in terms of that balance?
MINTZBERG: Canada was quite balanced. Our current prime minister is off the scale.
SCARPINO: And in trouble.
MINTZBERG: Right. This week. Couldn’t happen to a more miserable guy. He’s a miserable guy. He’s a bully. He’s in deeper and deeper every day. The more he tries to get out, the deeper he gets, like a swamp. But Canada, itself, has been shifting. To me, it always held the line in terms of not subscribing to a lot of things that were popular in the US. The most obvious example being Medicare, which is sacred in Canada. It’s not just a program. It’s sacred. Even that’s under attack now. Partly it’s quite a right wing government, probably the most right wing government in the Western world, but partly there is a shift in Canada happening. There is a kind of meanness that I find shocking because this is not a country of mean people. It shows up in hockey most obviously in a crazy way, but it shows up in lots of other ways. There are lots of thoughtful, decent Canadians, just as there are lots of thoughtful, decent Americans, but the thoughtful, decent Americans have lost control of their country, I think. You just look at what is going on in Congress and so on. We’re in the first wave, but this is going across the entire country. Now with the trade talks between the EU and the US where the lobbyists are swarming around it, particularly American, and they are forcing a kind of lowest common denominator regulatory system. If the Europeans give in to that, I think that’s a tipping point for them, too, and the world.
SCARPINO: I’m going to back way up and ask you a question, then we’re going to come back to some of these topics. This relates to your childhood and youth and I’m going to set this up for the benefit of anybody who listens to this. In October of 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manfred Kets de Vries at the ILA meeting in London and in prepping for that I read an article that he published in 1994 called “The Leadership Mystique.” You knew him. You worked at INSEAD.
MINTZBERG: We’re friends, yeah.
SCARPINO: He says in this article and I will just read a couple of lines and then I want to see if I can get you to comment on that. He said, “All of us possess some kind of inner theater and are strongly motivated by a specific inner script. Over time, through interactions with caretakers, teachers, and other influential people, this inner theater develops. Our inner theater, in which the patterns that underlie our character come into play, influences our behavior throughout our lives and plays an essential role in the molding of leaders.” So, here is the question: If we use Kets de Vries’ description of inner theater, can you tell me about your inner theater? What is it? Who did you interact with as a youth or what experiences did you have that shaped the person that you are now?
MINTZBERG: I’m not sure I can pinpoint any specific experiences. I see myself as kind of a “why not” person instead of a “why” person in the sense of I kind of like slightly nutty ideas if they’re thoughtful. There are plenty of crazy ideas out there, but I like the idea of breaking away and doing something different and seeing the world a little differently. I have always had that. But I can’t point to any sort of event or mentor or anything like that that pushed me that way. I can’t think of any of that in my past.
SCARPINO: Father or mother?
MINTZBERG: No. My father was more conventional. My mother was very loving and very accepting. I’m not sure she pushed me to think differently. I wouldn’t say that. In fact, the community I was raised in, kind of quite a narrow Jewish community, was not one for thinking differently. I mean, it was one for thinking creatively and all that, but not one for breaking away particularly. It was very narrow. In fact, this community is probably one of the strongest communities in North America in support of Israel, despite the things that I think are going on that shouldn’t be going on, so a fairly conventional, conservative community. But somehow as soon as I hit McGill—in high school, you’re in your geographic community—as soon as I hit McGill, I immediately got involved with all kinds of other people and all kinds of other things, but not because anything dragged me into, but because I was predisposed to it, I guess. There was a turning point actually and you can read about it because I wrote it up. There was a turning point, although I think I was headed there anyway. I did an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Planning on the Left Side and Managing on the Right.” It was about the two hemispheres of the brain and how that kind of influences behavior. I sent that to Herbert Simon who, to me, was the most outstanding management thinker ever—Carnegie Mellon and responsible for a whole new wave of management education that started in the ‘50s at Carnegie and so on. He had become a cognitive psychologist and I thought ‘well, he knows more about this stuff than I do.’ I sent it to him and said, “What do you think?” He wrote back essentially saying it’s bunk. He just dismissed it. He was polite and pleasant and wrote a nice letter, but he basically dismissed it. And then I got a telegram at that point—I was in France—saying we need the article, from the Harvard Business Review, saying we need the article immediately and I had like 24 hours or 48 hours.
SCARPINO: And it wasn’t quite done?
MINTZBERG: It was done.
MINTZBERG: It was done, but should I pull it? The decision rested on whether Simon knew something I didn’t or whether Simon was blocked, and I decided he was blocked. And I never looked back. That correspondence, including my reply to him, is in a book called Mintzberg on Management. There is a little section that has that correspondence, which I think you might find interesting.
SCARPINO: Do you remember approximately when that was?
MINTZBERG: Well, it’s in there. Well, 1976 I think was the publication of that article.
SCARPINO: You actually have two undergraduate degrees. You mentioned McGill, but you attended McGill University here in Montreal, majored in mechanical engineering, 1961 I think you entered?
SCARPINO: McGill was one of two English language universities here at that point?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Still.
SCARPINO: Why McGill and why mechanical engineering?
MINTZBERG: Probably for no better reason than I liked to take engines apart and put them back together with a few screws missing, so I always had that predisposition. I think I’m kind of like a mechanical engineer. I was at a conference years later, turned out to be with a bunch of mechanical engineers. I hadn’t spent time with those guys since I graduated. It was like 20 years later. They were kooky. We were taking a shortcut through a field and getting mud up to our knees and I thought these guys are as crazy as I am. There must be something about mechanical engineers. So I think I am sort of predisposed; Manfred’s theater script that maybe I’m a mechanical engineer at heart. The one thing that has always been left is I use a lot of graphs and a lot of diagrams in what I write. I don’t think that necessarily comes from mechanical engineering, but it’s probably the reason I went into mechanical engineering. I just have that predisposition.
SCARPINO: Were you one of these teenagers that was in an engine up to his elbows with grease all over his hands?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, sometimes, yeah, particularly outboard motors up in the country. I don’t know why, I just got old ones that nobody wanted and take them apart to look at what’s going on. I forget what I was leading up to. Where were we? Anyway, just my predisposition for—oh, why mechanical engineering?
MINTZBERG: Probably nothing more than that because I never practiced it.
SCARPINO: At the same time that you were at McGill earning your degree in mechanical engineering, you were also busy earning a BA in General Arts from what was then Sir George Williams, now Concordia, in the evenings.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. That was actually sequential because they only required me to do about five courses to get a BA, so I did it while I was working for the Canadian National Railways. I just thought with all this engineering, I should get educated, so I took some English courses and things like that.
SCARPINO: It was just because you wanted a different kind of education?
MINTZBERG: I just wanted to get educated, just to get more broadly educated.
SCARPINO: Sir George Williams at that time was the other English language?
MINTZBERG: Concordia was a merger of Sir George Williams and Loyola.
MINTZBERG: So there were technically three.
SCARPINO: You have lived in Quebec and Montreal most of your life. Do you speak French?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. We can do this in French if you would like.
SCARPINO: No, no, no. (Laughing) I can read French, but my pronunciation is awful.
MINTZBERG: I lecture in French. I think I counted about eight years abroad—just Europe—not counting four years in the US at MIT. About eight years abroad, I think five of those counting summers and everything in France.
SCARPINO: Here you’re, you have taken a degree in mechanical engineering, you then go to work for Canadian National Railways, you’re earning a night degree in a completely area at a different university. At what point did you realize that you really weren’t like most other people?
MINTZBERG: (Laughing) Interesting question. I think the answer to that is from day one, and never.
MINTZBERG: Well, we’re all like each other. I don’t think I’m so much unlike other people in some respects. I mean, we’re all unlike everybody else and we’re all like everybody else. I don’t think I ever reached a point where I kind of thought ‘I’m just a different person.’ There are people like painters or whoever, or maybe Van Gogh kind of realized very early that he just wasn’t like other people. I don’t think psychologically I ever felt I was unlike other people. What I did discover gradually over time is that I have a capacity for synthesis. But there was no moment, it was just sort of built up. I realized that what I do best is synthesize and categorize. I’m a quintessential categorizer.
SCARPINO: I’m just trying to imagine how many other successful people there are who begin their education as an engineer, realize they need further study in the humanities, and then combine the two of those and are willing to work at both of them.
MINTZBERG: Probably some. There are a lot of engineers who have gone on to different—Chomsky is an engineer, isn’t he?
SCARPINO: That’s true.
MINTZBERG: So there are people like that, but actually a few others. What’s his name—a very controversial writer in the US? He is also, I think, a mechanical engineer. Short guy, wrote a book about Marilyn Monroe, very famous guy.
SCARPINO: I know who you mean.
MINTZBERG: Anyway. I think he was an engineer, too, so it happens. I think that turning point with the Simon article sort of took me off a knife edge coming from the analytic side, mechanical engineering, and also working in operations research, which was very analytic, and just kind of having that predisposition to—in fact, the only thing I would ever I think repudiate what I wrote is a chapter of my first book that’s a very mechanistic view of managerial work. I never wrote anything like that since. But, there was this kind of analysis intuition thing and I think after that Simon correspondence, it kind of legitimized my own sense of going on the other side and being much more open to things like intuition.
SCARPINO: A mechanistic view of management; is that something that was influenced by what you were reading at the time or who you were studying?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, at MIT. It was kind of like sort of a series of programs or flow charts for describing managerial work. Now I have a collection of notes for a book I want to do eventually called What I Really Think. That probably reveals more than anything because I think all kinds of things that I’m not supposed to think, not that it gets in my harm’s way. People say I’m very courageous. I’m not courageous. I’ll sit in my basement and write outrageous things. That’s not courageous. People who are on battlefields or dealing with the wounded or whatever are courageous.
SCARPINO: There are different kinds of courage.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. But I don’t think it takes much courage to write things that people say “Oh boy, that’s not conventional.” I don’t think that takes much courage. For example, the way I’m going to open that book is by quoting an article that appeared in the New York Times about the equinox. It was an article by a proper academic, obviously, about all the mysticism and other things that go with the equinox. And at one point he writes, “People even think you can set eggs on their end during the equinox. Can you imagine that?” This is like lobbing me a ball that I can hit over the fence. So I wrote to him and I said “Well, have you ever tried?” After all this is the most testable. . .
SCARPINO: Right, right.
MINTZBERG: . . .experiment you can possibly do. I do it every equinox. I’m not joking with you. I do it every equinox. Maybe you should try it. Then at the end I said “but don’t tell your friends” because he is obviously a very pretentious academic. So I’m going to open with this story and I’m going to talk about the pretentiousness of those scientists who believe that everything that hasn’t been discovered can’t possibly exist. So I have no hesitation at all in setting eggs up on their end and flaunting it. So here we go. I’ll find them for you. I used to have them on this screen, but I took it off. Not that I mind having it on this screen. Anyway, keep talking and I will find you the eggs.
SCARPINO: No. He is looking at the screen on his phone for the picture of the eggs on end. I actually wanted to ask you to talk briefly, when you got your undergraduate degree you went into operational research for Canadian National Railway. What did you do there? What were you doing for Canadian National Railway?
MINTZBERG: I was fishing in a hump yard mostly.
SCARPINO: You were doing what?
MINTZBERG: I was fishing in a hump yard.
SCARPINO: So what does that mean? Oh my goodness, there it is.
MINTZBERG: That’s on our stove at home.
SCARPINO: Now, does it only work on the equinox?
MINTZBERG: It works on the Chinese New Year. No, I kid you not. I once said to somebody about this and they said, “Yeah it works on the Chinese New Year, too,” which it does. It works three days a year; a bit more because you can usually do it a little bit before and after.
Operations research—it was operational research, which is the British term—and operations research, the American term. But the Americans like Arnoff and Ackoff and Churchman and those people took it much more—especially Ackoff—took it much more into a toolkit, a bag of tools, whereas for the Brits it was just creative problem solving using numbers and using analytical thinking. So we had a hump yard. A hump yard is where you re-sort the cars as they come off. They back the car up and they release the cars one by one over a little hill and then calculate the exit speed necessary for that car to go on any one of 80 tracks to couple with the other cars to go out, so each track would have a train going to a different place. Well, it wasn’t working. It was chaos because the measurements were just too—it was an analog computer—but it was much too sophisticated and it wasn’t working. Either the cars would come short, which would use up track and create problems, or they would smash into each other at 12 miles an hour. I saw cars saying “Chinaware, do not hump” smashing. So they sent me out to the hump yard with a fishing rod and the fishing rod had a magnet on the end. As one car was approaching, I was sort of sampling, I would put the magnet on the car, it would come out, there was a speedometer and I would record the speed. Then I did a histogram which should have looked like from 2 to 4 or 5 miles an hour like this. Instead, there was a big 0 miles an hour. It never made it and then this thing went up to about 12 miles an hour. If you want to find out how organizations work, watch a boxcar hitting another boxcar at 12 miles an hour. That’s very impressive. There were coupling gear all over the yard and all. The vice president—I was just a kid—the vice president in charge of research who I worked for through the OR group and reported to—there was a meeting of vice presidents, and the head of the St. Lawrence region was at that meeting praising his yard. This other guy threw this histogram in front of him and said, “Here, this is what’s going in your yard.” That was the thing I most remember doing at the Canadian National Railway. So they were very creative people.
SCARPINO: Were you able to help them? Did your work fix the problem?
MINTZBERG: I didn’t last that long to find out. I was just sort of a flunky sent out to—I’m not a flunky—the new kid on the block sent out to check what the speeds were. I worked with very creative people. One guy, he is always a good friend, John Gratwig, and it’s a long story, but he was going to get rid of engines altogether and have these mushrooms installed on tracks. They actually came up with these mushrooms—somebody in the UK came up with these mushrooms—where if a car hit the mushroom at too low a speed, it would let the car go by but boost it on the way up. If it came at too fast a speed, it would put resistance and slow it down. So this guy thought we could install these mushrooms across 22,000 miles of track and get rid of engines; just send the cars out one at a time. That’s the kind of creative thinking that was going on there.
SCARPINO: I was going to ask you what you learned from this experience before you moved on. The value of creativity?
MINTZBERG: You also learn about the fact that you can be creative and you can come up with outrageous ideas. You’re going to get slapped down by someone, but I didn’t get raised in a bureaucrat environment that said protect your rear end. When I went to vocational testing in high school, mechanical sort of things came up top, so they said I should be an accountant. Why? Because a good Jewish boy shouldn’t be an engineer, he should be an accountant. So for a couple of weeks I walked around—I think there was a company called Ross, Ross, Ross, and Ross and a friend of mine said it’s going to be called Ross, Ross, Ross, Ross, and Mintzberg. But anyway, I walked around for about two weeks and at the end of two weeks I thought what kind of nonsense is this? I can’t think of anything less suited to me than accounting, so I went into mechanical engineering. So I did have the courage to sort of not go with the flow kind of thing.
SCARPINO: You left the Canadian Railroad in 1963. You went on to do graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Masters in 1965, Ph.D. in 1968.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I actually didn’t want to go to business school at all. I didn’t want to be involved with those guys. I always wanted to do industrial engineering, but McGill didn’t have it so I did mechanical engineering. Then I applied to NYU and got in, in industrial engineering. Then I was in New York and I called to ask if I could see some people and they gave me a run around and I said this isn’t good. So I applied to Columbia, got in there. Then on a lark, I applied to MIT. It was called a Master of Science. It wasn’t called an MBA at that time. I spoke to a really lovely guy named Sebastian B. Littauer who was running the industrial engineering department at Columbia and I said “I got into MIT” and he said, “Go there, they’ll do much better for you.” It was one of these wonderful turning points. So I went there. Then I swung over completely to the other side, you know, away from the OR sort of analytical side.
SCARPINO: So you really kind of stumbled into MIT as opposed to. . .?
MINTZBERG: I think I probably stumbled into most everything that worked, yeah.
SCARPINO: You wrote a dissertation titled The Manager at Work. . .
MINTZBERG: I mean I stumbled and I didn’t. I did apply to MIT.
SCARPINO: I know that, but I mean you didn’t—there was not a straight line from McGill to MIT.
MINTZBERG: No, no, exactly.
SCARPINO: I didn’t mean that in a pejorative sense.
MINTZBERG: No, no, no. I know. No, no, no. I accept that I stumbled into it, but I think there was some—you know what Isaac Bashevis Singer said about free will? He said, “You’ve got to believe in free will. You’ve got no choice.”
SCARPINO: That’s right.
MINTZBERG: Things happen and opportunities happen. You never know why. You bump into the right people and things work out perfectly or whatever, but you also kind of set them up, too. Or at least you open up the possibilities that these things can happen.
SCARPINO: I’m going to read the title of your dissertation to get it in the work: The Manager at Work—Determining his Activities, Roles, and Programs by Structured Observation, which with additional work became your first book, The Nature of Managerial Work in 1973?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. See the programs is the part I was talking about earlier.
SCARPINO: What I was actually interested in was the part about the observational study of managers at work.
MINTZBERG: I remember my advisor telling me that a thesis has to be elegant.
MINTZBERG: I always prided myself in the fact that my thesis was not elegant. The results may have been elegant, but the method—he was referring to the method—the method wasn’t elegant. I have written a number of pieces on research, kind of boasting about the fact that I prefer inelegant methods, because people get so caught up discussing statistical tests and everything else. At one point I said “What’s wrong with a sample of one?” Piaget studied his own children.
SCARPINO: So for the benefit of somebody who might listen to this recording and be way outside of your field, could you just very briefly explain what structured observation is and then I want to follow up on that?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. It’s nothing very fancy. It just means that you’re observing. You’re a fly on the wall. In this case observing managers. So you’re a fly on the wall. You’re following them around for a week. And structured in the sense that I had all these categories that I—you know I was writing down the duration of activities, who they were with, what the subject matter was, all that kind of thing. So in a way it was observation, but entering the data in kind of structured categories as well as taking notes about the general …
SCARPINO: Was structured observation an accepted method in that field at that time?
MINTZBERG: I think I coined the term.
SCARPINO: That’s what I’m asking you without trying to …
MINTZBERG: Okay. Yeah, yeah. I think I used that term. To that point, there were almost no studies of managerial work, almost none. There was a woman in England named Rosemary Stewart who was doing diary studies. She was studying the written diary but, of course, you miss a lot of the informal stuff that way because a lot of things happen that aren’t put in a diary.
SCARPINO: So there were few managerial studies. . .
MINTZBERG: Almost none.
SCARPINO: . . .and no one was doing what you called structured observation?
MINTZBERG: Not that I came across. They were also doing activity sampling where when a bell went off they would write down what they are doing or something. Nobody to my mind was doing structured observation. Not a big thing. I mean, it’s obvious. If you want to find out what managers do, just go look.
SCARPINO: Well, it was obvious to you, but no one else was doing it. What led you down that path?
MINTZBERG: Oh well, actually, that story is articulated somewhere. James Webb was running NASA at the time and he wanted to be studied because he thought he had some secrets to management. He knew people at the Sloan School in MIT, so he approached them with this idea. There was no policy department. There was no general management department. There was nothing. I wanted to do my doctorate in what was called policy, or strategy now, and there was no professor of strategy. There was no department of strategy. But MIT is a wonderful “live and let live” kind of place, like the OR department at the Canadian National. I guess I always sort of ended up in places like that now that I think about it. Of course, it’s the engineering sort of orientation, too. I’m sure about that.
SCARPINO: But they were willing to give you that creative license?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Absolutely. So Webb invited the bunch of them to go in his plane to tour all the facilities. There was only one doctoral student who was remotely interested in anything like that, so they invited me along. We went to Cape Canaveral and we met Wernher von Braun and we had a great trip. I got back and said “Look, this is crazy. I can’t study this guy for a Ph.D. thesis at MIT.” So I tried to do something else and it didn’t get anywhere. I was going to do a thesis on strategic planning, believe it or not, which I ended up criticizing in another book. By that time, Webb was involved in politics and unavailable so I found five other people to study and I observed them.
SCARPINO: You basically developed this method of structured observation?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. I don’t take much credit for that one. I think it’s pretty straightforward.
SCARPINO: Did it catch on?
MINTZBERG: Let’s face it, that’s what anthropologists do.
SCARPINO: I was going to say that. It does sound a little bit like the methodology in anthropology.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. It’s kind of anthropologic. Sure, sure, sure. People have pointed that out.
SCARPINO: But did you know that at the time?
MINTZBERG: No. No. I had not probably read a single article in anthropology at that point. I had read Geertz later, but no, I hadn’t read anything like that.
SCARPINO: Did that method then catch on in your field?
SCARPINO: Nobody? Have you continued to do it?
MINTZBERG: A little bit. I did it. Yeah. I studied these five people in ’68 and then—or ’67 I guess. Then many years later in the mid to late ’90s, I observed 29 managers for a day each. So, my sample is not 29 managers, it’s 29 managerial days. My book, Managing, and now a short version that I call Simply Managing is based significantly on that. So I did go back and do that. It was not structured observation. It was more observation. I was just writing down things more or less informally.
SCARPINO: When you were in graduate school, who were the gurus? Who were the people, the must-reads?
MINTZBERG: Simon, Simon, and Simon. March was starting. Well, March had done some earlier books with Simon that were important. Cyert. They were with that whole Carnegie crowd. Levitt was kind of big—at Stanford—was kind of big in organizational behavior. In operations research, you had the Churchman, Arnoff, Ackoff book and those people. Igor Ansoff wrote a book in 1965 on strategic planning. I’m trying to think. There were Harvard people. Andrews’ book on strategy, Ken Andrews. He wrote a book, but also they did the case book; a bunch of them together, Joe Bower, Andrews, and all those people. Probably a lot of others I can’t think of.
SCARPINO: At what point did you begin to realize that you disagreed with much of the received wisdom?
MINTZBERG: Right from the beginning, I think. I mean the beginning of my academic career. Certainly my thesis was a very harsh critique of conventional view of managing as planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling from Fayol. Then, Kunce and O’Donnell and all those people, they were the Principles of Management people that I was very critical of because it just did not match with what I saw in that office. Right from the beginning, I’m looking at this saying “my God, what’s going on here? This is nothing like what you read.”
SCARPINO: For the benefit, again, of somebody who is going to listen to this recording or read the transcript and they are really not in your field, what was the nature of your critique? What were the key elements?
MINTZBERG: In managerial work?
SCARPINO: Yeah, yeah.
MINTZBERG: That managers get interrupted a lot, that they jump from one thing to another, that the job is largely oral. They don’t do a lot of reading. That it’s very action oriented. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. No time to be thoughtful, that kind of thing.
SCARPINO: So here you are; you write this dissertation, you defend your dissertation, you’re going to launch a career as a young scholar. Did you ever worry about swimming against the academic current?
SCARPINO: Never? No concern at all?
MINTZBERG: Not for a minute.
MINTZBERG: I don’t think that ever entered my head. But I will tell you how I got tenure, if you want. I took a sabbatical in France, in Aix-en-Provence, and we stayed a second year because we were having such a good time and they paid—in France—for the second year. The dean called. I can’t remember if it was the first year or the second year. He said “Congratulations, you got tenure.” I said “Oh, I didn’t even know I was up for tenure.”
SCARPINO: No dossier, no letters?
MINTZBERG: Nothing. You could say McGill was sloppy. I don’t think McGill is sloppy. I think McGill is a very tolerant place.
SCARPINO: That was the common procedure in those days, too, as well I think.
MINTZBERG: I guess it was a much less formal procedure. A colleague of mine just did a 100-page dossier for her tenure review, which I think is completely nuts. So, I set out to write a book right away.
MINTZBERG: If you look at my publication of articles at the start, by the time—if I had to go up for a five-year tenure review or six-year tenure review now—just at the edge of it I had a Harvard Business Review McKinsey Prize Winner. But, of course, that doesn’t count because that’s not an A journal.
SCARPINO: Is that right?
MINTZBERG: For proper academics. I had some refereed publications, but not a lot. I probably would have got tenure, but it would have been marginal. I spent my time writing a book called The Nature of Managerial Work, or at least revising my thesis.
SCARPINO: We talked a little earlier when the recording was off about the fact that you hired a young man to basically help you edit your dissertation, and it was William Litwack.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. It was grammatical kind of. I remember by the way—this is a cute anecdote—I was up north and I was working on it. My mother was kind of helping me a bit, too, and she kept saying, “Henry, what about this? Henry, what about this?” and I was doing something and I said “Mom, just put ACK in the margin.” She said “ACK?” And I said “Yeah, awkward, awkward.”
MINTZBERG: I was a good engineer.
SCARPINO: Okay. So I’m going to ask you a couple of questions and the first one is: When you started out, were you a good writer?
MINTZBERG: Ask Bill that question.
SCARPINO: I did.
MINTZBERG: He said no. I’m sure he said no.
SCARPINO: I don’t know if I should betray a confidence. He did say no.
MINTZBERG: Of course he said no. I think I had a certain flair, but Bill would be concerned about misuse of words, terrible grammar, all that, and in that sense he was absolutely right. Yesterday, he was picking up words and telling me “That’s a misuse of that word. That’s not what you mean.” So I still do that, but much less often now.
SCARPINO: He told me he yells at his clients. Did he yell at you?
MINTZBERG: His clients? He yells at me more than anybody. Are you kidding? I was once with a friend and Bill was—she couldn’t believe—by this time my reputation was established, and she was a professor of business, and she couldn’t believe this guy is screaming at me about how this is wrong and that’s wrong. He’s the only one who ever did it that way. I have had—like Nan Stone, when she was editor of the Harvard Business Review, edited my piece “Crafting Strategy” and she was brilliant, but she never yelled at me.
SCARPINO: I have read enough of your work to—I think your writing is quite elegant—but did you. . .
MINTZBERG: Most of it is not edited.
SCARPINO: . . .did you have to work hard at becoming a good writer? That’s the question that I’m after? Was it a skill that you had to develop over a period of time?
MINTZBERG: Bill would say yes, but I think writing came naturally to me. I just needed to smooth out a lot of rough edges. I don’t think I became a good writer. I think I probably had a predisposition to be able to say things in ways that were compelling to some people, but I think what I needed to learn is how to just—it was very, very sloppy. It’s like making a nice piece of furniture, but it’s very rough until you bring the sandpaper.
SCARPINO: What do you think the secret to good writing is? Effective writing?
MINTZBERG: I’m not sure if it’s everybody’s secret, but I write for myself. Bill notwithstanding, I am my own harshest critic, much harsher than Bill. I can show you by now maybe 15 drafts of this pamphlet I’m working on, and you will see stuff slashed out, crossed out, all over the place from beginning to end. I remember once reading that there are poets who write it all down, and there is a poem that went through 93 drafts. I’m like the second kind.
SCARPINO: The 93 drafts poet?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I just revise and revise and revise and revise until it just reads right to me. If it doesn’t read right to me, I just keep revising.
SCARPINO: I understand you write in longhand?
SCARPINO: Don’t use a computer?
MINTZBERG: No. It goes to Santa and then I correct on hard copy and it goes back to Santa. Maybe by the last draft, I’ll enter it myself. Occasionally, I’ll do—I did something, a piece on Japan, about the 10 lost years. I think I did that straight on the computer. I can do it, but I find the computer takes over. Your keyboard takes over. Writing is about integrating. Writing is taking a phenomenon that’s not linear unless it’s a diary and putting it in linear form. Whatever you’re writing about is not linear. Managerial work is not linear, but a book on managerial work has a first word and a last word and all the words in between, except for diagrams give you a bit more flexibility, but otherwise it’s all linear.
MINTZBERG: So the hard part of writing is to express something that’s not linear in linear form. That’s the hardest part of writing. So outlines matter. I forget what I was about to say, but to me that’s the key to—your question was learning about writing, but what did you ask?
SCARPINO: I asked you two questions. I said, “Did you have to learn to become a good writer, and what would you say would be the secret to effective writing?”
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I guess it’s to convey a nonlinear phenomenon in linear order, but also to be able to come to a turn of phrase that kind of engages people.
SCARPINO: Is that where the humanist meets the engineer? Finding that turn of phrase?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. You could say the linear order is the engineer. Yes. I never thought about it that way, but yeah. And the turn of phrase is a very intuitive thing. It happened yesterday, or this morning I think, sometimes I’m writing and I’m searching for a word and it pops into my head and I write it down and I sort of think, ‘well, I’m the medium.’ I sort of say thank you, like wherever this is coming from. Now there was a guy, an uneducated guy in Brazil, who ostensibly wrote about 150 books, each of them in the style of some dead scientist. So he wrote books about chemistry and all these things. The only possible explanation is that he is some kind of medium through which they are publishing their unpublished books. If you think of that, it’s crazy, but why is it crazy? Why isn’t it possible? I’m not a mystic, but I do say there are lots of things we don’t understand, so why can’t that be possible? Why not? How do dogs find their way home 500 miles? They don’t smell it.
MINTZBERG: There is something going on and there are these phenomena, like eggs going up on their end and all that. I’m not sure I’m a medium for everything I do. I think a lot about what I’m writing, but I do get these things popping into my head. There was a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and the only thing incomprehensible is the title. The rest of the book is actually quite easy to read, as I recall. It basically says that there was a time that God spoke directly to us. This is our perception. Then it became that God spoke to our leaders, like Moses or Jesus, and then there was a time when God spoke to our ancestors, like Moses and Jesus, and that’s where we are now. But we almost call that intuition, like if we’re getting this information or these ideas, we’re assuming we’re very clever, but who knows? So I’m not running around promoting this idea, but I’m just saying “yeah, why not?” It’s as good a hypothesis as any other.
SCARPINO: When you got Litwack to look at your dissertation and your book, he was a relatively young man. We were talking earlier before when the recorder was off about how young, but certainly early twenties.
MINTZBERG: Early twenties.
SCARPINO: We also mentioned Jonathan Gosling, who when you first encountered him was a relatively young person as an assistant professor.
MINTZBERG: Not that young. It was much later. I met Jonathan around, maybe 1992, 1993, something like that. He was probably in his thirties, I think.
SCARPINO: But at the beginning of his career, though, right? He was an assistant professor?
MINTZBERG: He was on the faculty at Lancaster University. I’m not sure how much earlier he came there. But he had done a number of things in life before, ran NGOs and things.
SCARPINO: I was really struck by the fact that you were willing to trust your dissertation and your first book to such a young person, even if it was just technical editing. Do you think that one of the things that stood out about your career is that you have the ability to identify young talent and work with it?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, maybe. My doctoral students have been a very interesting group of people. Right now, we have a doctoral student who has just turned 30, and we have him teaching executives as a doctoral student. He has never done it before. Well, he might have done it in some ways. He is a member of the committee—we’re doing a MOOC now—and he is part of the committee that’s doing this MOOC. Yesterday, he came up with a question. I only remember once in my entire life this happening before, where somebody asked a question that absolutely startled me and sent me in another direction. That happened yesterday, maybe not as significant. The first time was when I was working on my book on different forms of organizing. I had all these categories, like different machine organizations and different things, combining all these elements of organizations. And by the way, I think that’s my most coherent book, The Structuring of Organizations, or Structuring Fives is the short form. This doctoral student at NOL came up to me and said “Are you playing jigsaw puzzle or Lego with these elements?” It just hit me; what a fabulous question because I was playing jigsaw puzzle, putting together like Chinese things where you put together four forms. And he is saying these could be building blocks. It really set me on another course in that book. Yesterday, we were designing our MOOC which is about social initiatives for groups. We’re calling it a GROOC, a GROOC MOOC. So yesterday we were outlining sort of the sessions we want to do and all that. We had this whiteboard and we had great big letters of mobilizing for action and funding and these nice things. And Carlos, Peruvian guy, sitting, writing at the corner of the blackboard; little tiny thing, not saying a word, just writing. Then he says suddenly “Well, we’re a social initiative in developing this MOOC and what if we were taking this MOOC, would this be helping us to do what we’re now doing?” He said, “We’re six months into this and we’re nowhere or at least we’ve just started and we want to do this in 12 weeks for other groups?” Everybody stopped, like ‘oh, my god.’ It’s like ‘wow’ and it just got us completely breakthrough thinking about we’ve got to rethink how we’re doing this, why we’re doing this, what we’re doing totally if we’re going to get through. Most MOOCs, you just come in and film somebody giving nice lectures and you put in some nice graphics and that’s the MOOC on elements of chemistry. It’s easy enough. You’ve done it all your life, you’re a great professor of chemistry so they come in and film you. We’re trying to engage the audience in groups and we’re sort of thinking all this stuff on the board is not going to engage the audience in groups. We’d better rethink this. So here is Carlos, barely 30, doctoral student, brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
SCARPINO: Just because he has been complimented by his professor in what is going to be a public forum, what is Carlos’ last name?
MINTZBERG: His last name? Carlos Rueda.
SCARPINO: For the benefit of somebody who doesn’t know and is using this interview, what is a MOOC?
MINTZBERG: Massive Open Online Course. These things have become very popular at Harvard and MIT and Stanford, where you open the course up to people around the world so 150,000 sign up and 10,000 finish.
SCARPINO: On your CV, your curriculum vitae, you have got a category called “Other Positions” in which you list a variety of really impressive activities. I will just mention “Founding Partner, Coaching Ourselves,” 2007 to the present, but right at the bottom of that section of your CV you write, and I’m quoting, “I belong to no political party and never have.” What does that say about you? Why is that there, first of all, and what does that say about you?
MINTZBERG: One of the reasons I put that in is the liberals once listed me as a party member.
SCARPINO: Oh (Laughing). They appropriated you.
MINTZBERG: Does it mean I don’t want to engage myself? I think I engage myself. There was this joke about this old lady in Maine who says “I never vote. It only encourages them.”
SCARPINO: I have heard that with different states plugged in.
MINTZBERG: It was a good one.
MINTZBERG: You sort of picture her up in the bush somewhere. I certainly don’t relate to political parties. I’m not very keen on young people who join political parties unless they are very left wing because I think when you’re young you should be sowing your wild oats. It’s a kind of very establishment mentality, too, which if I’m nothing, I am consistently sort of anti-establishment. Although people would say I’m establishment, but I’m not—there is kind of an establishment mentality and there is sort of a non-establishment mentality. Being Canadian, particularly, I’m sort of not part of—although there are plenty of Canadian establishment people, but Canadians in general are sort of underdogs.
SCARPINO: But they all live in Ottawa, right?
MINTZBERG: They are all in Ottawa and Bay Street in general and Calgary, especially Calgary these days with the oil business. I think that’s just a reflection that I’m not a fan of kind of conventional politics, which I think go nowhere for the most part these days.
SCARPINO: There was one other thing that struck me about your CV. You have a really impressive list of accomplishments and publications. You have a category right at the top of your CV called “Background Information” and there is a little bit of background about you, but then it says “Father of Susie and Lisa, grandfather of Laura, Thomas, and Maya.” Again, it’s on your CV, so how important are your children and their children?
MINTZBERG: I’m very close to my two daughters, both of them. Lisa is in London. Susie is here. We see each other a lot. Over time, it gets warmer and warmer I think, so we’re very close. Susie just started a doctoral program in social work linked to psychiatry. We’re very close and the kids are wonderful. Those three grandchildren are wonderful. They are Susie’s kids.
SCARPINO: Did it change your life to become a grandfather?
MINTZBERG: No. No, probably not. I wouldn’t say it changed my life. I love it. I love the kids, but I wouldn’t say it changed my life.
SCARPINO: I, in the interest of full disclosure, will tell you that I talked to three people with your permission about you; Santa Rodriguez, Leslie Breitner, and William Litwack. They all had their own points of view and they were all very helpful, but they all agreed on some of the qualities that have made you successful. Right at the top of everyone’s list was focus, self-discipline, and hard work. They said it differently, but they all said it. Litwack remembered that when your children were quite young every morning you would go in a room in your basement and put a sign on the door that said something like “don’t disturb daddy.” He also said that you were the person who put in the work on research and on drafting and re-drafting until you got your prose and your argument exactly the way you wanted them. So do you see focus and discipline and hard work as part of your core of who you are?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. I’m a Virgo. Virgos are obsessive compulsive often. I once tried to learn to sail on a windsurf. After I climbed up the thirtieth time, somebody said “You’re compulsive,” and I said, “No, I’m tenacious.” We asked a friend what the difference was and he said the spelling.
SCARPINO: Did you really have a sign on the door saying “don’t disturb daddy” or something like that?
MINTZBERG: I don’t remember. What I do remember—they were in school after a while anyway, but what I do remember is we rented a farmhouse in the Perigeau region of France for many summers and I have one wonderful picture of the kids appearing at the window, which I took a picture. Lisa is barely above the window sill like that and Susie is about like this. Then I took the same picture about three years later and Lisa is up there and Susie is up there, always interrupting daddy.
SCARPINO: Each of the people I talked to and a lot of what I read also described you as intensely skeptical of received wisdom. Do you think of yourself that way?
MINTZBERG: Well you see, I don’t think of myself as a contrarian because so much received wisdom is just nonsense, but not all of it.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) I will bite—who gets to decide?
MINTZBERG: I can make the case. I will give you an example. Capitalism triumphed in 1989. Nonsense! Nonsense. Capitalism is a way of raising money for enterprises.
SCARPINO: It is, isn’t it?
MINTZBERG: There is a lot more to the American or any other economy than capitalism. Capitalism didn’t triumph. A balanced society triumphed. Often I see everybody marching in one direction—I’m trying to think of other examples—and I say “They’re all wrong.” Every single one of them is wrong.” I’m trying to think. Maybe some examples will hit me. You could say, nothing to do with me, but sort of Heil Hitler in Germany kind of thing, but 67% of the Quebec population favors this dastardly legislation here. Have you been reading about this with the charter of values in Quebec? Sixty-seven percent of the population favors that, as if having a policeman with a Sikh turban on his head is going to do them great harm. I would like to know what proportion of that 67% has ever met a Muslim.
MINTZBERG: Now, that’s not going against received wisdom because anybody—thinking people in Quebec and elsewhere—are totally opposed to this. I’m not. I’m in the mainstream, not of the 67% but of. . .
SCARPINO: But of the thinking people?
MINTZBERG: . . .but of the thinking people in Quebec. So it’s not a good example. I’m trying to think because so often people will jump on the bandwagon in the US about something. Some things will occur to me. But where you see—again I was hardly alone, but it occurred to me very early that—Well, one bandwagon effect was certainly the Iraq war where even the New York Times and Washington Post would get aboard that bandwagon, and it seemed pretty obvious. It was not obvious that they had or did not have nuclear weapons, but it was certainly there for the seeing that the New American Century—have you ever looked at that document?
MINTZBERG: Signed by Rove and that whole gang. They were talking about going after Iraq years before. They were obsessed with attacking Iraq. It was just on the agenda. It had nothing to do with…
SCARPINO: I had a question I was going to ask you about that and I’m going to pull it up right now, which is why I turned the pages. March 20, 2003, the United States under President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. February 20, 2003, you published an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, which for Americans and others listening is like Canada’s newspaper. The article was titled, “But Mr. Bush, Why Now?” You speculated on the likely cost of such a war including more terrorism, political instability, economic depression, and wholesale death. I’m going to read a line from this because I think it’s so cool and because I want to listen.
MINTZBERG: I don’t even remember that.
SCARPINO: Then I will refresh your memory.
MINTZBERG: Is that on my list of articles, by the way?
SCARPINO: No. I searched until I found this.
MINTZBERG: I’m going to put that on because I think I left it out.
SCARPINO: I’ll give you this. It’s on your CV under “Other.” You concluded and you said, “Choose any or all of the above. But add in a good dose of ideological groupthink, that mindless collective drive toward a flawed course of action. This happened before in America, most notably in the 1960s when the greatest brain trust ever put together in an administration couldn’t distinguish between a nationalist movement from a communist one. Groupthink also occurred in the 1950s when a paranoid senator named Joe McCarthy managed to take control of the American political agenda for a time. Then, too, it was communism. Or was it? Now it’s terrorism. Or is it?”
MINTZBERG: That’s well written, isn’t it?
SCARPINO: This is lovely.
MINTZBERG: I can’t believe I wrote that.
SCARPINO: It’s got your name on it. I’m wondering, how do you assess ideological groupthink in terms of leadership and management?
MINTZBERG: Oh yeah. Shareholder value.
SCARPINO: Can you talk about that a bit?
MINTZBERG: That’s a perfect example. It was nonsense from the first day, absolute nonsense, and it became such a cult. The idea that companies exist for day traders, for example, who buy in the morning and sell in the afternoon, and employees there for 25 years doesn’t count, but a day trader owns the company. Obviously they own the company the way ownership is defined, but to exclude everybody else. We did an article called “Beyond Selfishness” with Bob Simons who used to be one of my doctoral students. He is Chair in Accounting at Harvard and another guy, Kunal Basu. We talked about two statements from the business round table, a business round table of the most prominent American chief executives. The first statement was maybe ‘81 or ‘82, and it basically said the corporation exists for various stakeholders. Then comes this new statement, I think in ‘87 or maybe later, whenever it was, that said that not only did the corporation only exist for the shareholders, but if it existed for any other people, management would have no basis for making decisions about the allocation of resources. I said “Yeah, that’s true, no basis except judgment.” What these people are saying is there is no more judgment in the executive suites of the American corporations. Now Jack Welsh, who is on record in recent years as saying that shareholder value is the dumbest idea ever, but Jack Welsh, as I understand it, not only was a member of that business round table group but champion of that statement. He, of course, doesn’t have to look back or apologize or anything. He just changed his mind, so he is writing new things now. Can you trust him with the new ones if you couldn’t trust him with the old ones? Michael Jensen, who has found truth and everything and is a nice guy who really does care, seems to care. He wrote a piece on shareholder value, and he is probably more responsible for shareholder value than anybody else. After the damage was done, he reneges saying that—and by the way, let me say something about the finance guy in the US in a minute—but in that piece they tell a story—Jensen and Meckling article—they tell a story about George Bernard Shaw on a boat crossing the ocean and saying to this famous actress “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” And she said “Of course.” And he said, “Well, how about ten dollars?” You know the story. And she said, “Who do you think I’m?” He said, “We’ve determined that. We’re haggling about the price.” They follow that up with a statement something like, “Like it or not we all have our price.” Jensen taught the most popular elective course at Harvard for years. He was teaching students that everybody is a whore. That’s what he was teaching students. I’m sure Skilling was in that class. Everybody is a whore. That’s what they were doing.
SCARPINO: The Skilling of Enron?
MINTZBERG: Skilling of Enron. Now what’s his name—what is the name of the guy who ran the Fed, the most famous American economist? He is retired now.
SCARPINO: I know, um. . .
MINTZBERG: He was interviewed on radio yesterday on CBC. He has just come out with a new book.
SCARPINO: Well, for right now, we’ll say that he was the former head of the Fed because it’s rattling around on the edge of my brain here.
MINTZBERG: With a G, hey? Greenwald or Greenspan. Greenspan.
SCARPINO: Greenspan. Alan Greenspan. Yes.
MINTZBERG: So he has discovered his mistake. His mistake sounds like something really obscure. He describes it in a weird way and I’m thinking that’s not your mistake. Your mistake is that you were captured by a dogma and weren’t smart enough to see past your dogma, your Chicago economic dogma. That’s your mistake. Your mistake was not a mistake. Your mistake was a character flaw. I think there is a difference between mistakes and flaws. I once rang the doorbell of a friend’s house. We were playing tennis. We had played tennis often. He opens the door. It’s one of these events where it sticks in your mind because you can see it. I can see the doorstep. He opens the door with his tennis racket, all dressed and ready to go and he said “Did you hear that Alec shot himself last night? Killed himself.” Alec was a very dear friend of mine when I was young. He could not understand why I wouldn’t play tennis that day. I never argued with him. I never said anything to him. I never saw him again, ever. There was vendetta. That wasn’t a mistake. That was a character flaw.
MINTZBERG: Greenspan did not make a mistake. Greenspan had the character flaw that characterizes Milton Friedman and the rest of that gang who have been dragging us into this nonsense because they are absolutely captured by a narrow-minded dogma that is extremely destructive. Greenspan said it.
SCARPINO: Can you articulate that narrow-minded dogma that’s extremely destructive?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Straight out of my pamphlet. Greed is good, markets are sacrosanct, property is sacred, and governments are suspect. That’s the narrow-minded dogma. It’s one of the key things in my pamphlet. Then I say as one view of human nature that makes sense, some sense. As the view of human nature, it’s nonsense. For them, it was the view. He couldn’t see past it. He made a statement I just picked up peripherally because I was turning it off—I was doing something else and it was on the radio—about everybody is driven by—he didn’t say a dogma—he said a world view or something like that. No. No. No. Intelligent people are able to say, “Wait a minute, maybe it’s wrong.” He could not see it. He was blind. So this great hero—this is another example of how everybody is marching one way and I’m marching another.
SCARPINO: So the marching takes place when dogma triumphs over intelligence?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, over thinking. Yeah. Over thinking, I would say, yeah.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a question and either this is going to work or it’s not. It sort of aimed at where do ideas come from. Everyone that I talked to, one of the things that was at the top of the list when they mentioned you was curiosity. Litwack told me, he said that your first wife was a potter and she had a considerable reputation as a potter and she had a studio in your home. He said that her work as a craftsperson influenced one of your very best all-time articles called “Crafting Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, in 1987, and he added and I will add that “Crafting Strategy” is 12th on your all-time citation list, which is pretty impressive. In 1987, you won the McKinsey Prize for the second best article in Harvard Business Review, which I assume was for “Crafting Strategy.”
MINTZBERG: Yeah. It was.
SCARPINO: For the benefit, again, of people who are going to listen to this or look at the transcript, I’m going to read a line from “Crafting Strategy.” In it you wrote, “Imagine someone planning strategy. What likely springs to mind is an image of orderly thinking: A senior manager, or a group of them, sitting in an office formulating courses of action that everyone else will implement on schedule. The keynote is reason-rational control, the systematic analysis of competitors and markets, of company strengths and weaknesses. A combination of these analyses produces clear, explicit, full-blown strategies. Now imagine someone crafting strategy; a wholly different image results.” Long setup for a short question is: How did the craftsperson, that is your wife, the potter, influence your thinking in “Crafting Strategy?” How did you connect the dots?
MINTZBERG: I think I do a lot of connecting of dots actually. It’s sort of something I do. The thing that influenced me most was not her, but a colleague of hers in Australia who was a very famous potter. I think it might be mentioned in that article. Somebody wanted to study him, like I study managers. And they said that they were going to study him and watch him and learn how he does his pottery. He claimed that was the dumbest idea he ever heard, and he proposed the following. He said, “I will make 1,000 pots and you watch how the pots evolve over these 1,000 pots and then you’ll learn what I’m doing.” I thought that’s fabulous, like it evolves.
MINTZBERG: And strategies evolve kind of like that. The funniest thing is, he told my wife “Don’t tell anybody; somebody will steal the idea.”
SCARPINO: (Laughing) Somebody did.
MINTZBERG: No, but steal it in the sense of making 1,000 pots. You’re right, I stole the idea. (Laughing) But, that’s true, I did steal it. I think that’s kind of the link in a way that when you sit down and you’re looking at the wheel—and Yvette is an extremely creative person, but she’s not well; hasn’t been well for a long, long time—but extremely creative person. So she will start to do something and it will break and go all over the place. The next thing you know, she has got some lovely shape that came out of there. Basically, a lot of great things are serendipitous. I like to talk about two kinds of creativity. She had this kind of spectacular creativity, the kind of Picasso, Guernica, kind of creativity, or my favorite example is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. How anybody could do that is beyond me; just a level of creativity that’s spectacular. The creativity that probably has more influence in the world is very ordinary. A guy is doing research in a laboratory and he has got these samples of bacteria and some mold gets into a cup of them and he said, “I’ve got to throw it out.” Then he said, “Well, wait a minute. If the mold is killing the bacteria, maybe we could use that to kill bacteria in the body.” This is the most astounding medical discovery of the 20th century, penicillin and antibiotics and such. Is that like unbelievably creative? He just switched things.
MINTZBERG: All he did was switch it around. It’s serendipitous in a way; serendipitous that the mold got in. He found 31 footnotes in other articles that said mold got into the bacteria and I had to throw samples away. In other words, Fleming was saying, “Any one of those people could have done what I did. They just didn’t see it.”
MINTZBERG: Jokes are like this little flipping around. It’s not my joke. I want to die like my grandfather died, quietly in his sleep, not like those other people in the car who died yelling and screaming. Just flipping it around. You’ve got this image of grandfather in bed and, of course, he’s driving the car. I came up with a little joke yesterday I thought was kind of cute because I was feeling under the weather. I said, “One astronaut says to the other astronaut as they land on the ground, thank God we’re under the weather.” These are just flipping things around, right?
SCARPINO: But you know, maybe real creativity is the one out of 27 people who realized not to throw the mold away.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. But what I mean is it’s not of the order of writing the violin concerto—Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto—which is an amazing synthesis of sounds and they have a hundred pieces in the orchestra or whatever it was in those days; just amazing synthesis.
SCARPINO: As you look at this tremendous body of work that you have produced, is that like the concerto? This amazing synthesis?
MINTZBERG: Well, I don’t want to compare myself to some concerto.
SCARPINO: I know, I did that. You can just run with it.
MINTZBERG: I don’t mind if you do. Yeah, maybe. Maybe the “Structuring of Organizations” was kind of like that. Maybe it’s just a hundred little things all combined. One hundred little switches all combined. It could be.
SCARPINO: When I talked to Litwack, he told me that he had introduced you in his home city of Bangalore, India. When you were there, he provided an introduction, and he was kind enough to give me a copy so I had a chance to read it, in which he talked about you as a cross-country skier in Canada. I’m going to read a line. He said, “Most people who cross-country ski do it on prepared trails that are carefully maintained and groomed, but not Henry. He insists on what is called bushwhacking, going off trail, straight into the snow—and in Canada it’s sometimes deep snow—and breaking his own trails. Could there be more of a perfect image for how he has approached his research and writing?” I will say in the interest of full disclosure that I did some bushwhacking in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana so I know what it involves. But is he right? Is that a perfect image for your research and writing?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, maybe so. Yeah, probably. The way it started was I was skiing with a friend and we were going on a trail beside a lake and I said let’s just go on the lake. It’s nicer to go on the lake. So we kind of went along the lake and then when we came to the end of the lake we were going to join back on the trail. Then we looked at the map and we said “Well, you know what, this trail goes off like this but there is another trail in the woods that’s going like this. Let’s go to that trail.” So we went and connected to the other trail. After that, we were off trails totally. We were totally off trails. Every Saturday, a compass and a topographical map and off we went. There were no GPS in those days. And off we went and we just explored. We loved it. We absolutely loved it. That is absolutely in my bones to do that kind of thing.
SCARPINO: So have you been breaking trails as a scholar?
SCARPINO: As a scholar, are you figuratively breaking trail?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I guess so. Certainly with the IMPM and those new programs, yeah. Yeah, I think I have done a lot of that. Now, I write short stories and I wrote one called “Going Off Track with Frank,” which if you want to see is about that experience. It’s about everything I did with Frank, but it’s basically about our bushwhacking.
SCARPINO: I will. You have traveled all over the world, cities all over the world. I understand from talking to Mr. Litwack that you don’t like museums. Why is that? Is that true and why?
MINTZBERG: It’s probably a little less true than what I used to articulate with Bill. I remember once going through the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and saying, “The most beautiful thing in the Musee d’Orsay is the musee itself.”
MINTZBERG: The only thing worth going to see is the museum itself. I have since been to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and because I love van Gogh. I mean, I certainly liked to see it. But it’s dead. It’s dead. I think art should be live. You go in Mexico City, it’s all over the—murals all over the walls. Art should not be hidden away.
SCARPINO: Diego Rivera.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. They should not just hide all this art in museums. It should be living. So, in that sense, it’s a bit boring. Now there is this glass exhibition. Do you know about that? I think it’s finished now, but have you seen that?
MINTZBERG: This American guy from. . .
SCARPINO: Seattle? Chihuly?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Have you seen his?
SCARPINO: I have seen his work, yes.
MINTZBERG: It’s amazing. I mean that was in a museum. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.
SCARPINO: I also understand that when you travel to various cities that, at least you used to, like to get on a bicycle and ride around?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I have done overnight bicycling like three or four days or more in 15 different countries, sometimes by myself. Three days in Japan by myself. I crossed France. I did two 800 kilometer trips in France. One by myself. One north-south, one east-west.
SCARPINO: Why? What attracts you?
MINTZBERG: I love bicycling. It’s just the right speed. It’s the perfect speed. It’s exercise and yet it’s leisure in the sense you don’t have to go fast. I never like these handlebars. I want to sit up there and look around. It’s wonderful. If you’re walking—I love to hike. I have done tons of hiking. I have climbed Mont Blanc once. But I love to bicycle. Hiking, unless you’re in a spectacular area like a lake district or the Alps or something, it’s slow from city to city. Cars, you just whiz by. You don’t see anything. You see it and it’s gone. A bicycle is just the perfect speed for seeing things. You’re getting exercise. It’s wonderful. I love bicycling.
SCARPINO: When you tell me that you didn’t like museums because the stuff in there is dead, and you enjoy riding a bicycle because of the pace and the experience it gives you, do those points of view in any way connect to Henry Mintzberg the scholar? The researcher? I can focus that, but let me see what you can do.
MINTZBERG: I think observation and the exploring in the research is a bit like the bicycling. The museum—the “Structuring of Organizations” was based on published material for the most part, which is sort of like going into the archives. I think maybe it’s the show of it. I’m not big on spectacles. I’m not big on theater. I don’t mean theater-theater. Actually, I like movies much more than theater. I don’t like people to make a fuss about me so I tend to sort of—I don’t look for the limelight. I’m doing it today, but I was honored to do it.
SCARPINO: Well, you were invited into the limelight, too.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. I don’t go looking for it. I would have to think about that.
SCARPINO: We talked at the beginning when we were first chatting about your Canadian perspective and how that influences the way you look at the world and the kind of scholarship that you have done. I want to do a followup on that. You lived for most of your adult life in French-speaking Quebec and you told me—I don’t remember if we had the recorder on or not—that you’re fluent in French. Tensions between the Francophone/Catholic part of Canada and Quebec and the Anglophone/protestant parts of the rest of the country are an important theme in Canadian history. There was an indigenous terrorist movement here in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois, unsuccessful referendum in 1980. You’ve got the Meech Lake Accord in 1987, which sort of broke apart when some of the provinces didn’t approve it. In 1995, separatists lost another referendum in Quebec. I’m wondering if living in this area where there has been this tension between Francophone and Anglophone Canada has had any impact on you as you developed, particularly thinking in terms of management, strategy, leadership?
MINTZBERG: No, I doubt it. The conflict in Canada, unlike Belgium and Northern Ireland and many other countries, is rarely personal. It’s more on the plane of communities and cultures. French Canadian people are among the friendliest, warmest people I know anywhere, much like the Irish, not the Northern Irish, the Republic Irish. They are among the nicest, warmest people I have ever met. They are very interbred with French Canadians because they were both poor Catholics so they could intermarry. I have never experienced a lot of tension between Francophones and Anglophones, like personal tension on the street. Sure, things happen. They happen in any society, but you don’t get the kind of things you saw in Northern Ireland or that you see in Belgium; real kind of hatred. I don’t think it’s been characterized by that. So in that sense, it’s never felt like—there has been violence occasionally, but actually remarkably little if you think about independence movements. There is this financial threat. There is this threat of sort of having to uproot, but there is not this threat of personal safety.
SCARPINO: The 1995 referendum was remarkably close.
MINTZBERG: A few tenths of a percent.
SCARPINO: Had it been successful, do you think that it would have transformed this place in ways that might have been difficult to adjust to?
MINTZBERG: Investments you said?
SCARPINO: No. Would it have transformed this place in ways that would have been difficult to adjust to?
MINTZBERG: I think so in a way because Montrealers are here because it’s such an eclectic place. It sends out a signal basically saying it’s for certain people and not for other people. Regardless of what they say, that’s the case. Nobody has particularly written about this, but it could have led to dire consequences because by cutting off the Eastern provinces you create a kind of Bangladesh/Pakistan situation. I would think the Maritime Provinces would almost have had to go their own way. Then you have a Canada that consists of Ontario and the West with the majority of voters in Ontario. That wouldn’t be stable either. So you would have a breakup, I think, every which way. You would have a West or maybe an abridged Columbia and the prairies or maybe an Alberta by itself. You would have an East. You would have Ontario. It would have been dire, I think. Not just what happens in Quebec, but just that split would have been dire, I think. That could have led to violence so that could have made things go really, really bad.
SCARPINO: Did you ever write about that?
MINTZBERG: Did I write about that?
MINTZBERG: I wrote a book for the second referendum. It was the fastest thing I ever did because I thought if I could influence a few votes. It’s called The Canadian Condition. Santa can give you a copy. We have got lots of copies. It actually sold about 6,000 copies, which wasn’t bad. It’s a little paperback sort of expressing a point of view about this great battle between the Francophones and the Anglophones is a battle between significantly Celtic Anglophones, Irish and Scottish, and significantly Celtic French who come significantly from Normandy and Brittany. In fact, the most famous dishes in Quebec are actually dishes from the other side of the English Canal. What is it called—the English Canal? No, what do you call it?
SCARPINO: The English Channel.
MINTZBERG: English Channel. So I wrote a constitution that I said if it’s going to be taken seriously it has to be in one page. I had dinner that night of the referendum with a very famous Quebec woman and her husband. She is French Canadian. I wrote it in the morning and I said this is serious because I wrote it this morning, and I put it in a blue package with a red ribbon and, “Can I bring you chocolate or wine?” Her husband is the conductor of the Montreal Symphony, Charles DuToit, very famous guy. She is married to Kravis now of KKR. So I wasn’t going to bring chocolates or a bottle of wine, so I brought a constitution. Then I published it in this little book.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you one more question about yourself and then switch topics completely in the time we have left. Santa Rodriguez told me that when you’re working that you scribble ideas on little pieces of paper and shove them in your pockets, and that you take them home and put them in stacks and that eventually you reorganize the little pieces of paper. Is that true and what does that say about your creative process?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, it’s true. Thousands and thousands of little pieces of paper. I’ve got thousands of little pieces of paper. Well, it’s just a question of coding. It’s a question of having single ideas, particular ideas, and then coding them all to get them into some kind of structure. This is written up a bit in the piece called “Developing Theory About the Development of Theory.” You can see it. I love that piece. That’s the most playful thing I have ever written.
SCARPINO: We have a little bit of time left. I’m going switch and talk to you about leadership because we’re here on behalf of the International Leadership Association. The first question I want to ask you is: Do you think of yourself as a leader?
MINTZBERG: No. Maybe a thought leader, but I’ve never particularly strived for leadership positions so I’m not a leader in that conventional sense. Now, thinkers are leaders if people choose to follow their thoughts, so they become leaders by the attribution of what they have written to things that people want to think about. So in that sense, sure. Any article that becomes popular leads if it says new things. So in that sense, yeah. I think we certainly set out to lead in this changing of management education, this redefining of management education. We certainly took the lead in trying to sort of make a breakthrough and change that around.
SCARPINO: What did you hope the nature of that breakthrough would be?
MINTZBERG: It’s not happening. They say that Karl Marx learned how to ride a horse so he could lead the revolution. I don’t know if that’s true or not. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: (Laughing) I don’t know if it’s true either. I doubt it, but I don’t know.
MINTZBERG: It’s apocryphal. It was my hope, and it seemed to me obvious and still seems to me obvious, that MBA programs are geared for people going into analytical positions, like marketing research or financial analysis, and that we’re not training managers and we need programs to train and help develop managers. That means taking people who are managers and giving them a chance to reflect on their own experience and learn from each other. That’s what we hoped would catch fire and go all over the place.
SCARPINO: Let’s do this and I’ll just leave it hanging until the next time I get a chance to talk to you. There are actually two questions. The first one is: How do you define leadership? How do you know it when you see it?
MINTZBERG: I will tell you how I don’t define leadership. . .
SCARPINO: That will work, too.
MINTZBERG: . . .as externally determined; that senior people decide who are young leaders. I hate that term ‘young leaders.’ Leadership is exhibited by people wanting to follow someone in doing something. So it’s the led who determine leadership, not the superiors. You could say leadership is defined as characteristics that make people want to follow someone going somewhere.
SCARPINO: Such as?
SCARPINO: No. I mean characteristics. Sorry.
MINTZBERG: Everything from Gandhi to Hitler. It’s something compelling about a vision or a direction, but also a belief that that person can actually make it happen. You talk about voting with your feet. Nobody voted with his feet the way Gandhi did; literally with his feet, with the Salt March and all that.
SCARPINO: So is leadership practiced or earned?
MINTZBERG: Practiced or?
MINTZBERG: But it’s certainly earned. Yeah. There are a lot of people running around thumping their chests calling themselves leaders who are—look, I’m on record as saying that any chief executive who accepts to be paid several hundred times as much as the workers is not a leader.
SCARPINO: Right. I read that several places.
MINTZBERG: That means the Fortune 500 has no leaders or almost no leaders. Here is another example of where everybody is out of step. How could all these chief executives—how could almost none of them—step back and say “What effect is my salary having on this organization?” How can almost none of them step back and say—the first time I published about this was in the Financial Times where I wrote a letter as if from a chief executive to the Board saying, “How can you do this to me? If you choose to pay me this way, if you choose to single me out this way, how can I possibly think long term if you’re paying me in bonuses? And how can I possibly build teamwork that I’m busy talking about when you want to pay me this way? Please cut my salary.” Of course, they weren’t breaking down the doors. But you would think a few of them would sort of step back and say, “What am I here for? Am I here to demonstrate that mine is bigger than everybody else’s? Or am I here to lead this company in the best way I possibly can? And the first signal I’m sending out is how I’m being paid.”
SCARPINO: I’m going to respect the opportunity for you to have a little downtime before your next session.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. I will need about 10-15 minutes.
SCARPINO: I will turn these recorders off.
MINTZBERG: Your questions are fabulous, Phil.
SCARPINO: Thank you.
SCARPINO: This should be the main recorder so we should be live.
SCARPINO: And, as I said when the recorder was off, I’m going to read a short statement just to say who I’m and who you are and why we’re here. Then I’m going to ask your permission and then we will go ahead with the interview. So, today is July 7, 2014. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History at Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis, and Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence. I have the privilege to be interviewing Dr. Henry Mintzberg in his office on the campus of McGill University, Montreal, Canada. I’m conducting this interview on behalf of the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence. This is the second interview with Dr. Mintzberg, the first one having taken place on October 30, 2013. There is a brief biography of Dr. Mintzberg at the start of the first interview and a more extended one will accompany the audio recordings and transcripts when they are deposited into the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, as well as the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association. So, I will simply note that Dr. Mintzberg is the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He has published about 160 scholarly articles and 16 books with a focus on organization, strategy, management, and leadership. And, of course, he is a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association.
So, I would like to ask your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview, and then to deposit the recording and the transcription with IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, the International Leadership Association, and the Tobias Center, which may include them posting all or parts of these to their websites.
MINTZBERG: Okay, so I’m Henry Mintzberg and I’m in agreement with all that.
SCARPINO: Thank you. So, just in case somebody jumps into the middle here, at the end of our first session I had begun to talk to you about leadership. I had asked you if you thought of yourself as a mentor and if you considered yourself to be a leader, and I’m going to follow up and talk to you about leadership, but first I want to ask a question that was actually prompted when I re-listened to our first interview. But before I do that, I’m going to do something. I sat in your office looking at the lovely view here in Mount Royal. It’s always interesting to see what people have in their office. I’m not going to give away your secrets, but I do notice that one of the themes in here is pieces of wood chewed by beavers. And you have on the wall here a rather sculptural-looking piece. It looks like it’s poplar or aspen that has been chewed on branches and on the ends by beavers. I’m just wondering what attracted you to beavers that you decorated your wall with their cuttings.
MINTZBERG: I suspect it’s not poplar. I think it’s probably maple.
SCARPINO: Okay. I was just guessing at that.
MINTZBERG: But I’m not sure. Somebody came up to the house who did cartoons and he did one that shows a beaver swimming, another beaver next to him, the other beaver saying, “I thought we decided to go with maple.”
SCARPINO: This is a charming piece. The beaver did a good job.
MINTZBERG: And it’s actually on Mintzberg.org/beaver and I think it’s the last photograph on there. It was taken on the wall actually. We have a house in the country. We just came back from there yesterday. It’s called Lac Castor, which means Beaver Lake in French.
SCARPINO: Sure, yeah.
MINTZBERG: And a lot of pieces like that one were picked up in that lake, and I don’t take what the beavers use. I take what they leave behind.
MINTZBERG: What they use is always straight because they take everything off so it’s not interesting anyway. But I take what they leave behind. This was just floating in the water.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, and I got dozens of them.
SCARPINO: Is there anything that you find particularly fascinating about beavers?
MINTZBERG: It’s not so much beavers—well, beavers are fascinating because they are such engineers and they’re the symbol of Canada because they are the ultimate engineers in nature; I mean of non-human ones, although the Hoover Dam claims to have gotten the idea for arching the dam, which obviously structurally is much stronger, from beavers. And beavers will arch their dams.
MINTZBERG: And beavers will also build series of dams if there is too much force in the water.
MINTZBERG: I have also seen a beaver dam that has been as long as, I think, four hundred feet, although somewhere in the Northwest Territories there is one that goes for kilometers apparently.
SCARPINO: They are pretty amazing. Anyway, I was just struck by that and I actually have seen the pictures on your website, but seeing it in the flesh, so to speak, is . . .
MINTZBERG: It’s beautiful. That one is absolutely beautiful. You know it’s not like driftwood. It’s worked. It’s not worked intentionally.
MINTZBERG: I mean, it’s worked intentionally, but not for artistic purposes. I have a big argument with a friend who is kind of snobby and says it’s not art. So I say okay, so it’s craft.
SCARPINO: Art is in the eye of the beholder.
SCARPINO: Alright, so onto a more serious subject. I just could not resist asking you about that.
MINTZBERG: Nothing is more serious than that.
SCARPINO: The topic that I want to bring up is balance or a balanced society, and this will, I think, allow us to make some connections to your recent interests in a minute. I’m going to set this question up in case somebody just jumped into the middle and hasn’t listened to the first interview. Twice during our first recording session you referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. And as most people know, November 9, 1989, German people tore down the Berlin Wall, one of the most powerful symbols of the Cold War, and that act symbolically marked the collapse of the Soviet Union. But, you noted the widespread interpretation of tearing down the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union as the end of capitalism, or triumph of capitalism. Sorry. And your response . . .
MINTZBERG: A little difference.
SCARPINO: Yeah. The triumph.
MINTZBERG: It might still prove to be.
SCARPINO: Well, you’re going to get to that one. But your response to this interpretation is the triumph of capitalism was “nonsense” and that is a quote from you. You said, “Capitalism didn’t triumph; a balanced society triumphed.” So I’m wondering if you could explain what you meant when you said capitalism did not triumph; a balanced society triumphed.
MINTZBERG: The Eastern European countries collapsed largely under their own weight. They were certainly pushed by the United States and by western countries, but they collapsed under their own weight. They were just so completely out of whack and totally out of balance in the sense that their private sectors were very weak, their plural sectors, their community sectors, community organizations were extremely weak because they wouldn’t allow them to grow. In fact, the first crack in those regimes really happened in Poland thanks to the survival of two plural sector or community sector organizations; the Catholic church, and as a result, the Solidarity Union was able to get a foothold. So they were completely out of balance. We were, in fact, rather in balance at that point. In fact, you could argue that from 1945 to 1989, the US experienced the greatest period of development, not only economic, but political and social, in the history of any country ever. I think that could be argued. The US was in balance or relatively speaking was in balance. There were strong welfare programs. Reagan was starting to undermine those, but that only came in the last few years.
MINTZBERG: There were very strong welfare programs under Johnson and so on.
SCARPINO: Great Society.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, and there was a very strong plural sector. So the US was very balanced at that point, and if this was a contest between the two, and I’m not sure it’s totally fair to say that, because, as I said, I think the East collapsed under its own weight not because it was pushed, although that helped. If this was a balance between the two—if this was a battle between the two then it was a battle between countries that were balanced and countries that were imbalanced. The misinterpretation of that has been throwing us out of balance ever since.
SCARPINO: So, assuming that you are right and the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a triumph of a balanced society, why do you think so many smart people got it wrong?
MINTZBERG: Well, that wasn’t the first time.
SCARPINO: Okay. (Laughter)
MINTZBERG: And it won’t be the last time. What about all the smart people who went to Iraq?
MINTZBERG: What about all the smart people, like McNamara, who were responsible for the Vietnam War? And that includes Kennedy, by the way, who voluntarily escalated. What about all the smart people around Kennedy, considered the greatest brain trust ever, except maybe Russo, I don’t know, but considered an amazing brain trust. How come they all got it wrong? Because they were blinded.
MINTZBERG: You know, the one thing the US has not come to grips with, because Iraq and maybe Afghanistan, too, are just simply another example of the same phenomenon, the US has never faced, has never faced the reason why it did that, and it continues to do it. And in Iraq did exactly the same thing with not as disastrous a result, but pretty disastrous in loss of lives. It’s this kind of enemy, and the US always seems to need an enemy, and if one goes away, find another one. There’s no question that what Bin Laden did in 9/11, but did that justify what the US did in Iraq? Not at all; not even remotely. So, can smart people be stupid? Yes, very often, especially when they don’t think for themselves. I’m just doing a piece now because what goes with this is Fukuyama’s piece called the End of History.
SCARPINO:End of History, yeah.
MINTZBERG: He just revisited 25 years later and said, well, he was right after all. Well, he’s blind, but that went with it, too. And I’m just writing a rejoinder to that which I’m calling The End of Thinking.
SCARPINO: So why was Fukuyama wrong?
MINTZBERG: Because he was blind. Because they were so caught up in this victory, you know, in this Cold War and this victory of all things good. Fukuyama calls it liberal democracy. Liberal democracy won. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t see liberal democracy either as liberal or as democratic as some other people see it. That is part of the blindness. When people are out in the streets, nobody is looking at the Ukraine now, for example, and saying, well, why are these people in the Russian-speaking East so upset? It’s not just us and them. It’s not just the good guys and the bad guys, although Putin is not a good guy in my books, but there is also reason. So, what people are not reporting much of is that after they brought down their president who was elected, the first thing they did was take away the rights of Russian-speaking . . . I’m putting it badly. Uh, denied Russia as a language of the Ukraine. Well no kidding they were upset. No kidding. Nobody is reporting that. They reported it initially, but nobody is discussing it. It’s all sort of us and them. We’re the good guys; they’re the bad guys.
SCARPINO: Do you think that part of the problem is the way Americans, that is people from the United States, view the world?
MINTZBERG: It’s a sort of major part of the problem. I mean I quote Soros and Friedman, Tom Friedman, from the New York Times, in my pamphlet as seeing that the United States has to solve the world’s problems. Well, the world doesn’t see it that way necessarily. But there are two Americas; what I call noble America and nasty America, and there is not just noble America. All they are seeing is noble America that has to march in and bring democracy to everybody. Well, nasty America supported an awful lot of awful regimes for the sake of American business, like Pinochet and so many others, so yeah.
SCARPINO: Okay. The subject of the balanced society, I’m going to use that as a segue . . .
MINTZBERG: By the way, you started off saying something about why I’m so influential or something. I forget. You were going to ask something right at the beginning to go back to the previous. You started to ask something.
SCARPINO: Oh, I just mentioned at the beginning that the last time we talked that I had brought up the subject of leadership and I asked you if you thought of yourself as a leader, and we talked about that.
SCARPINO: And, if you thought of yourself as a mentor, and we talked about that.
SCARPINO: Balanced society; I’m going to mention the manuscript that you are working on now, “Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center.” The last version that I read was published March 14, 2014 on your website, www.mintzberg.org.
MINTZBERG: Actually February 28th.
SCARPINO: February 28th, okay.
MINTZBERG: By the way, I’m not working on it now. I sent it to the publisher this morning.
SCARPINO: Oh. (Laughing)
MINTZBERG: The book version.
SCARPINO: So it’s literally hot off the press.
MINTZBERG: I’m not working on it this afternoon. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: Okay, but you were this morning.
SCARPINO: Okay, alright. Among the topics you address in there is leadership, and I’m going to come back to that in a few minutes. The version that I read had an executive summary, which is just a few lines long. It says, “We have to leave behind the linear politics of left, right, and center, to understand thata balanced society, like a stable stool, has to rest on three solid legs: a public sector of political forces rooted in respected governments, a private sector of economic forces based on responsible business, and a plural sector of social forces manifested in robust communities.” So we have the three legs of a balanced society; public sector, private sector, and plural sector. Why is a balanced society important? Why does it matter?
MINTZBERG: Well, if you go through history and look at societies where one of those sectors dominated, including the plural sector, they are not hard to find and they’re not very pretty. So communism was an example of the public sector dominating, but a lot of kingdoms and a lot of distortion, a lot of state despotism was based on the public sector being all powerful. There is no shortage of that. We are seeing now the effects of the private sector dominating, and it’s turning out to be not very pretty at all. That’s what a lot of what I’m doing in the pamphlet is about. And not very pretty in two respects. One is the domination, both domestically in the US and other countries and globally, of corporate forces. You know, we live in corporate societies not market economies, as far as I’m concerned. Also if you look at an enormous number of shocking statistics about life in the US today. I’m talking about incarceration rates. I’m talking about obesity. I’m talking about voter turnout. I’m talking about social mobility, which is way down, which is shocking of all. I can go on and on and on.
MINTZBERG: Poverty, income disparities.
SCARPINO: Gun violence.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, so you can just go on and on. That’s not very pretty. To me, domination of the plural sector is what Nazism is basically about. Fascism starts largely as community movements. The Taliban is a community organization. That’s not pretty either. So any society in which one of them dominates is not very good. China today, two of them kind of dominate; the public and the private sector, and the plural sector is totally marginalized. That’s not good either. So it looks like healthy societies find balance. And as I say, the US between ’45 and ’89 was rather balanced.
SCARPINO: So, what happened after 1989 to put the US in a position where . . .
MINTZBERG: The end of thinking. The end of thinking, the end of history, and this belief—I think there are two sets of factors. One is the marginalization of government. I was at a party in Virginia a few years ago, in rural Virginia, and these guys were going on and on and on about taxes and government and how awful. At one point I said, “You’re all retired military people. You never earned a nickel of income that didn’t come out of those taxes.” It never dawned on them, never dawned on them. It’s such a knee-jerk—talk about the end of thinking—it’s such a knee-jerk belief. If you say good, we will get rid of government, let’s start with the police forces. I mean, let’s start with the military. Is not that government? I thought the military was government or am I mistaken? Americans have the right to bear arms. Do Americans have the right to bear nuclear arms? Has anybody ever addressed that question with the gun lobby?
MINTZBERG: I have this imaginary conversation with the gun lobby saying, “Alright, Americans have the right to bear nuclear (sic) arms. Do they have the right to bear nuclear arms?” And they’ll say, “What kind of nut are you.” And I say, “Well, we have established—It’s just a question of where we draw the line. Now I draw the line between knives and pistols. Where do you draw the line? Cluster bombs?” Like, where do you draw the line? It’s just a question of drawing the line.
SCARPINO: Your first chapter of Rebalancing Society is called “The Triumph of Imbalance” and it’s largely, although not completely, about the United States. Why did you focus that chapter on the US?
MINTZBERG: Well, actually I have a section now that—it might have been there, too—but where I have a conversation with a guy from Sweden who says, “You know, why the United States? Sweden is in great shape.” I basically said, “Just you wait.” The forces of globalization are undermining governments everywhere and it’s led largely by the United States. The United States is not alone on this grand march to imbalance, but it’s leading the march. That’s why there’s a need to focus on the United States. There is also this belief that the world is kind of running out of control and only America can save it, which is sort of the Soros-Friedman thing I talked about a minute ago. There was a biographer of Napoleon I once read who said that Napoleon was a real visionary because he saw united Europe long before the EU. And I’m saying, well, did the Prussians and the Russians see it that way; Napoleon’s version of a united Europe? You know, it’s America’s version of the united world, which is a world that could be a world of predatory capitalism, I mean with income disparities and all the other things that go with it.
SCARPINO: I’m going to see if I can get you to respond to a few of the things that you wrote in that chapter. The first thing that struck me was on page 7 of the version that I read, you refer to a “ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 1886 which reinforced property rights,” you said, “with a vengeance. Corporations were recognized as ‘persons,’ with ‘equal protection of the laws’ accorded in the Fourteenth Amendment (which was enacted to protect the emancipated slaves), and this has made all the difference. From the liberties for individuals enshrined in the American Constitution sprang the entitlements for corporations. This proved to be a major step on America’s long march toward imbalance.” I think that case was ta Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. I think I looked up the right one, but why do you see this Supreme Court ruling as an important step on the road to imbalance in the United States?
MINTZBERG: First of all, it was never decided by the Supreme Court or debated by the Supreme Court, it was assumed by the Supreme Court. The note was, in fact, written by a clerk who was, I think at the time, the president of a bank. And that was called a header note or something like that, something like top note, and they got rid of that. They got rid of those later, but by then the damage was done. He wrote it, they just assumed it, and suddenly corporations became persons. You’re seeing it today with this current Supreme Court enabling corporations to donate what they like to political campaigns. It’s absurd. It’s completely absurd. You know in the last election, the United States—not the United States—but different groups and parties spent billions and yet some states did not have the money to staff the polling booths. Just think about it. There were billions of dollars spent on the election and some states couldn’t even staff polling booths. We are talking thousands of dollars. If that is not imbalance, I don’t know what is.
SCARPINO: Is that a failure of a balanced society or a failure of leadership?
MINTZBERG: Well, I would say a failure of a balanced society is a failure of leadership in a way. But it’s also a failure of leadership in two respects I would argue. One is that clearly whoever is leading is not leading in a very constructive or enlightened way but, two, is that the overemphasis on leadership overemphasizes the individual. And part of one of my points in the pamphlet is that America did not invent democracy; it just gave impetus to a particularly individualistic form of democracy. But real democracy, it seems to me, across the three sectors is both individualistic and collective and communal and some balance between those, whereas US democracy is largely tilted towards individualistic democracy. And leadership is rooted in individualism because as soon as you say leader, you are talking about one person. You are never talking about the collectivity. The word leader means one person. It may be a leader who is energizing other people and helping them and even facilitating their energy and their activity, but it’s always focused on an individual and that is part of the problem.
SCARPINO: On page nine, again in that chapter, you said, “In 1989, 200 years after the US Constitution went into effect, the stage was set for America’s free-fall into imbalance. The only thing required was a push. That push came as the Cold War ended, indeed because the Cold War ended.” Why did the end of the Cold War push the US over the edge into free-fall?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, this is not my point. Other people made this point, too, but the point is that communism—not so much communism—but certainly socialism or left-wing parties, act as a constraint on free-flowing capitalism. And with that constraint largely removed, certainly the communist constraint was removed, but even the whole left side of the political spectrum was dismissed because if those governments were bad then the assumption was all governments are bad, so the left was extremely weakened and the right became much more powerful. Not only the right, but the center, and the center became very paralyzed, as it’s right now in the United States, which is fine for the private sector. There is nothing more encouraging of people who believe in that kind of philosophy than to have governments that are in straitjackets because then they do what they like. And do you know where we are seeing it now? You can see it everywhere, but where we are seeing it now is in things like—just in the last few weeks—in things like Facebook and Amazon where they are kind of doing what they like. The regulations are very weak, government is very weak, and you find Facebook is suddenly taking 700,000 people and manipulating their emails for the purpose of some research, which by the way seems like absolutely silly, completely silly research. But the attitude is as long as we can get away with it, we will do what we like. And by the way, if you get caught, you don’t have to worry because if you’re wearing a white collar, you never go to jail if you are wearing a white collar, very rarely. You go to jail if you are wearing a blue collar.
SCARPINO: Little accountability for white collar crime.
MINTZBERG: If you steal a banana, they put you in jail. But, if you steal from all kinds of people by manipulative financial deals, like supposedly Goldman Sachs did with recycled aluminum, then that’s okay. If there were managers and engineers in General Motors who knew about the dangers of these lock switches and did nothing about them, they should be tried for manslaughter. It’s cut and dried. It’s manslaughter. People died because of their irresponsibility. That’s manslaughter. Is anybody ever going to be tried on manslaughter? People knew.
MINTZBERG: They knew that people were dying and they did not do a damn thing about it. That’s manslaughter.
SCARPINO: Probably they are not going to go to trial for that.
MINTZBERG: But as soon as they did, soon as they did, it would stop because engineers and managers would say I’m sorry, but I have to go public with this because I could end up in jail. It would stop.
SCARPINO: So what do you think . . .
MINTZBERG: It wouldn’t stop completely, but a lot of it would stop. As long as it’s going on this way, it keeps going.
SCARPINO: What do you think is going on in the United States that causes Americans to go after blue collar criminals and not white collar criminals?
MINTZBERG: Well, like every other country on earth, there is a very strong status difference. I was just talking yesterday about this guy in the country who looks after our house, and he refused to tu toi me even though the Quebecers tu toi everybody normally, so in turn I refused to tu toi him, and the question is why does not he want to tu toi me? Somehow because I own a nicer house or I’m a professor or something, there is sort of a status difference. Every country has it, and the US has it, too. If you’re sort of not quite as high status because you’re a truck driver who killed someone on the highway then they’ll try you for manslaughter, but if you are—of course, if you are white collar, too, for that matter on that thing. But if you are causing the deaths of dozens of people by your irresponsibility in an automobile company, that’s okay.
SCARPINO: I’m going to do a technical followup here because I’m guessing that the person who is going to transcribe this does not either read or speak French.
MINTZBERG: Oh yeah.
SCARPINO: So what you are saying is that the guy who takes care of your house would not address you in the familiar form?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. The tu is thou, which is long gone in English and vous is you. And it’s as if when you and I are friendly, I would say, “Well Phil, thou art a nice guy.” And if we were informal with each other, I would have to say, “You are a nice guy.” It does not exist anymore in English, but it’s completely current in French.
SCARPINO: Alright, so on pages 9 and 10, you said, “Supporting this march toward imbalance, especially in the last half century, has been an economic perspective that has grown into a prevailing dogma. In its boldest form, this centers on an ‘economic man’ for whom greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect. As one view of human society, this makes sense; as the view of human society, it’s nonsense.” Why is the view that greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect nonsense when it’s the primary view of human society? What is wrong with that?
MINTZBERG: If we lived in a society with nothing but greed, it would just be horrible. If we lived in a society in which markets are everything, we would end up in absurd situations where we are going—and there are economists who believe this—there is something called common property, which we would all fight to retain. For example, if somebody could buy and own the ocean so that nobody could sail on it, there would be a hell of an outcry. The ocean is common property. What is under the ocean, the fish under the ocean, are supposedly national property up to 200 miles or whatever it is. And what is the fourth one? Greed, markets, and governments are suspect. Well, if governments are suspect then we’d better close down the military. It’s just silly. It’s just silly. As I say, as one view, it’s fine. It’s one view of human nature, but it has become for some idiot savant—a lot of economists are idiot savants in the sense that they understand their theory, but they cannot tie their shoelaces. In other words, they can’t see past their theories. And that is a very dangerous point of view. An example of the way we sort of deal with economics is some economists in the Bank of Sweden created a prize in honor of Alfred Nobel and now everybody calls it a Nobel Prize. It’s not a Nobel Prize. Alfred Nobel was long dead when they created this prize and yet they get away with it. If the psychologists created a prize for themselves, nobody would call it Nobel. We might as well have a Nobel Prize in astrology. It would not be that far from what some economists are doing these days.
SCARPINO: Our former colleague at Indiana University, Elinor Ostrom, made a good career for herself looking at common property issues.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah, I know. I cite her.
SCARPINO: So what do you think needs to happen to rebalance society? Let me back up and ask another question. Is it even possible? And then what needs to happen if it is possible?
MINTZBERG: I prefer not to say. It’s certainly not possible if it is the end of history. In other words, if we destroy ourselves, which we are doing a good job of moving toward between environmental warming and potential for nuclear war and so on, then it’s not possible. Otherwise, it will certainly be possible under the worst possible scenarios other than those, which is that we end up in a fascist world and wake up at some point and reverse that. But short of all that, we had better make it possible when we wake up. I have a new section in the book now called the “Irene—all the stuff you quoted before, almost all the points are still in; there are just a few new things—what I call the “Irene Question.” Irene is the wife of one of my doctoral students who is quite a mature, sophisticated guy, and she is a finance manager who is working in the private sector and the plural sector. And so Joe, her husband, gave it to her and she read it and said, “You know, I knew this was going on, but I never realized to this extent.” And then she said, “What can I do?” And I call that the “Irene Question.” And the Irene question is what . . .
SCARPINO: What can I do?
MINTZBERG: I maintain that there are kind of three sort of thrusts that are necessary. One is that the worst behaviors have to be reversed, like not putting people into jail for committing crimes, and dispensing with the legal corruption, like bribery in elections. It’s bribery. It’s nothing but bribery. We point to some of the African countries and say there is terrible corruption. The difference in the US and other countries, to some extent, is that the bribery is legal. Bribery is perfectly legal in the United States.
SCARPINO: You are talking about political advertising.
MINTZBERG: Well, I’m talking about political advertising. I’m also talking about political donations.
SCARPINO: Ah, yes, that kind of bribery.
MINTZBERG: Like the gun lobby.
SCARPINO: Yes, yes.
MINTZBERG: Okay, and both of those things are—advertising is not bribery, but it’s distortion. It’s using money to distort. But political donations are bribery and that has to stop. It’s completely crazy. The British don’t allow paid advertising for their elections, so people do it. In the Canadian election, the last federal election, government was elected with 39% of the popular vote. Every single English language newspaper except one supported the conservative party. We don’t have a free press. We have a corporate press. And that does not help either. We also have stock analysts who are going after Brazil because it had the nerve to elect socialist governments or populist governments. So, all of that has got to somehow be corrected somehow. And we need to reverse immediately the worst of it and, frankly, it’s going to take the kinds of things that Saul Alinsky used to do. You remember Saul Alinksy? He was the brilliant creative guy who led a lot of the programs or the initiatives to stop, for example, the Kodak where the blacks felt they were not being well treated by Kodak. He sort of led that movement. He was just a clever guy to get around them and under them. He was the David with a slingshot. And we have to do more of those kinds of clever things. There were people in San Antonio, Texas, who were mad at their phone company so they all overpaid their bills by one cent and it just tied the bureaucracy in knots. I mean there are clever ways of stopping the worst of it and bringing attention to the worst of it. And then we need to develop all kinds of new ways of doing things, not only in the public/private sector, but also especially in the plural sector. And there are things like the Grameen Bank, which is an economic initiative in the plural sector for microfinancing. So, I mean there are all kinds of economic as well as social and political initiatives in the plural sector. We need much more of that. Then we will get reform from government and socially responsible business when they get the message from other people. Anybody who thinks that corporate social responsibility is going to compensate for the corporate social irresponsibility we have now as living in a win-win wonderland.
SCARPINO: So government follows public opinion. It does not create it.
MINTZBERG: To a large extent, yes. Sure, to a significant extent.
SCARPINO: So you spent most of your professional career studying one leg of the stool; the business . . .
MINTZBERG: Well, actually, I didn’t. Actually, I didn’t. I’m in a business school. My first research was my doctoral thesis where I observed five chief executives. Three came from business, one came from healthcare, and one came from education or government. Almost all my research has always been—what is the word in religion when you are—agnostic; has almost all been agnostic about sectors. So I have studied a lot. We did a major study of Volkswagen and a big supermarket chain, but we also did a study of US strategy in Vietnam. We did a study of the National Film Board of Canada, which is a government-owned agency, so I have always been agnostic about it. I have done plenty of things for business, but lots in healthcare and other things.
SCARPINO: The question I wanted to ask you is how did you get from your study of, maybe I should have said organizations, to a balanced society?
MINTZBERG: You know, I’m just writing about that now because I put a new piece in the—it’s not so much new—but I put a piece the book. They usually do it in Berrett-Koehler, it’s about the author, but I put about the author and this effort. I sort of have a paragraph about who I’m, where I came from, that I’m an engineer who worked for the railroad and all that and then I say why am I doing this? And I visited Prague in 1991, which was two years after the Velvet Revolution, after the fall communism, and right then, and that is actually recorded, I could not figure out how to publish that article. It turns out the Scandinavian Journal of Management published it and I’m glad they did because it got it on record that right then and there I was talking about three sectors. I was talking about imbalance. I was talking about the need for balance. I was talking about how capitalism triumph is not the answer. So I had all that back in 1992, or 1991 actually when I was there and published in 1992, and since then it has hardly gotten better.
SCARPINO: So it was what you experienced when you were in Prague in 1991 that sort of brought that into focus for you the first time?
MINTZBERG: I have no recollection of anything before that, although I was always suspicious of global forces and corporate forces that were not responsible, but I think it brought it into juxtaposition with East versus West.
SCARPINO: So you are a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Leadership Association, and so I do want to spend some time talking to you about leadership. But I will note that I haven’t read everything you wrote because that would be a lie if I said I did, but I read quite a bit and in various places I would say you have expressed intense skepticism about leadership and how it’s addressed in the literature. And the piece that I liked, which is just my opinion here, is one of your publications entitled “Enough Leadership” which appeared in the Harvard Business Review in November 2004. I’m going to read a couple of lines and get you to respond to those. But I will say that I really found your opening lines in this article to be bold and challenging and provocative. I assume that is what you were after because you certainly got that reaction out of me.
MINTZBERG: It happens.
SCARPINO: It worked. Here is what you said in the opening line. You said, “Leadership. We all know what that is. It stimulates teamwork. Takes the long view. Builds trust. And more. Right? So let me ask a few questions.” And then you posed a few questions. “If leadership is about stimulating teamwork, how are the stock options distributed in your company? If leadership is about taking the long view, how many of those stock options can be cashed in, in the short run? If leadership is about building trust, if people are really your ‘greatest assets,’ how many of these assets have been shown the door in recent years? And how much trust has that engendered among those who remain?” Then you wrapped up by saying, “In many companies, the answer to these questions expose a cult of leadership that is dragging business down.” So I read the article, but I’m going to use your quote to try to get you to talk about some of these things. What do you mean by cult of leadership that is dragging business down?
MINTZBERG: I mean that there is such an overemphasis on the chief executive of big businesses or business in general, though in entrepreneurial companies I’m more sympathetic to it, but there is such an emphasis on it that teamwork becomes much more difficult. Look, it’s what I call bloodletting, contemporary bloodletting. You don’t make your numbers on Wall Street so you fire 5000 people. It’s almost knee-jerk. It’s almost automatic. You don’t make your numbers so you fire 5000 people. If those 5000 people were redundant today, how come they weren’t redundant last week before you issued these numbers? And you were running the company last week, how come you didn’t notice? Did they become redundant just coincidentally the day after you issued your numbers? What kind of game is this? And what affect does this have on the people left behind when these firings are so arbitrary?
SCARPINO: Are these firings a necessary step on the road to efficiency or a symbolic act that has no meaning other than the symbol?
MINTZBERG: Look, if a company has its back to the wall and is going bankrupt, obviously it’s going to have to do things like that. We are not talking—we are talking about Pfizer that did not quite make its obscene numbers that it did previously so it’s firing left and right. It’s a message to stock analysts that we are listening to you. We are listening to what? Listening to your short-term pressures. That is what we are listening to, and it’s no way to build a sustainable enterprise. We have this in politics. The game is—we have it in sort of parliamentary politics, but you get it anyway—the game is that if you have a new prime minister and something goes wrong a week later, it’s his or her fault. It’s like idiotic. I don’t mean a decision they made. I mean the civil service screwed up so it’s their fault; after all, you have been in power for a week. It’s just a symbolic game, but it’s sort of blaming the leaders. Either we praise the leaders to the sky for everything that gets done or we blame them for everything that happens. Now they are certainly responsible for some good things and some bad things, but this attribution is childish. It’s just plain childish.
SCARPINO: So is that kind of attribution, in addition to being childish, a tactic for avoiding action? It’s easier to fire somebody than it is to change your system.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, than to find out what’s going on. Yeah, absolutely.
SCARPINO: You mentioned stock options in one of your questions and because I’m a humanist, I know that when people who are not in business schools hear the words stock options their eyes glaze over. So, what do stock options have to do with effective leadership?
MINTZBERG: Nothing. (Laughing) But that is not what you are asking.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) No, it’s not actually. What I’m looking at is this question you posed here about taking the long view.
MINTZBERG: Well, because it rewards chief executives for short-term performance because nobody knows how to reward them for long-term performance. If you are the chief executive of XYZed Corporation, or Z, and you are the chief executive and I say I’m the board chairman and a part-time chairman and I say, “We are going to reward you for options, but 10 years after you’re gone.” And 10 years come along and you say, “Well, I left this company in such great shape and that idiot who followed me destroyed it and now I’m not getting my options.” And I will say, “Well, wait a minute, was it that idiot who followed you or was it the 10-year consequences of those decisions you made back then?” And you get into interminable fights about it. So, the only solution is to get rid of stock options altogether. I wrote that in an article in the Wall Street Journal and the private letters that came, like people wrote to an email address rather than posting on the website, were almost all in favor in the Wall Street Journal, including Volcker who wrote Said Bravo, including people on boards and chief executives who said we are finally glad somebody finally said—almost all unanimous. On the public blog, I was called a fascist, a communist.
SCARPINO: There is an article in that, though, is not there, between the public response and the private response?
MINTZBERG: Fascinating; absolutely fascinating.
SCARPINO: When we look at top executives taking huge salaries and large shares of stock options, when we see companies dismissing employees to reduce expenses, increase profits, or just for symbolic reasons, are we not seeing capitalism working just the way it’s supposed to? Isn’t that capitalism in action doing exactly what it’s supposed to do?
MINTZBERG: Hmm, you mean being responsive?
SCARPINO: Making profits, maximizing profit.
MINTZBERG: Well, maximizing what kind of profits? Short-term or long-term? And that is sustainable or nonsustainable? I mean like we saw with the banks where they were taking massive bonuses and destroying these places so that years later people want to go back and say, “Give back your bloody bonuses, you did great harm to this place.” I would assume that anybody who is open would say that capitalism is about sustainable profits, not short-term profits; and moreover, it’s not only about profit, but corporations are members of society. They should not be dictating social policy, but they should be responsible in their behaviors. And the first I say to any executive who wants to be socially responsible, I say, “Don’t start with greening—greening your packaging or greening your offices—start by getting your business out of my government. Your business has no business in my government. You as an individual have the same right I as an individual have. Your company has no business meddling in my government. And, moreover, claiming that government must not meddle in the affairs of business while business meddles in the affairs of government is hypocrisy.”
SCARPINO: That is not an issue that comes up very often, is it?
MINTZBERG: Well, it’s just taken for granted that these corporate persons can do what they like. I don’t think this is in the first version, I don’t know, but somebody in the United States has a suit, not a suit, some kind of thing going on where he wants chimpanzees to be recognized as persons in the law. And the reason he claims is so they will be well treated. And I maintain, without commenting on that particular thing, I maintain that chimpanzees have a lot stronger claim on personhood than do corporations. They are a lot closer to persons than corporations are. Corporations are not persons. They are collections.
SCARPINO: Would it be possible to conclude that this idea that corporations have personhood, which has certainly gotten stronger and stronger over the course of the twentieth century, is sort of a logical outgrowth of the existence of the corporate structure to begin with? One of the things about the corporate structure that made it work was that they had some of the rights that people had. They could buy and sell and own property. They could sue or be sued or whatever. Isn’t what happened just sort of almost a logical outcome of where we started?
MINTZBERG: Well, first of all, technically not, because as I said the Supreme Court never even discussed it. It has never been debated; never been debated or discussed in the Supreme Court right to this day. It has always been assumed and in recent rulings it’s still assumed. But the original was an assumption. It was never discussed, never debated, never considered, just assumed. So logical? No, not at all. There are certain dimensions of it that are logical. So, for example, you cannot throw me out the window. That would be considered nasty. But you cannot throw this table out the window either because you could hurt somebody down below, you’re going to damage property and so on. So you can throw neither me nor the table out the window. Does that make me the equivalent of this table? Corporations have certain needs that need to be recognized but, by the way, we have a situation here now, very interesting situation where in a place called Lac-Megantic exactly a year ago, this train started rolling by itself and destroyed the center of the village and killed about 45 people. The company conveniently went bankrupt after that. It was the subsidiary of a parent company in Chicago. Now, if that parent company took five cents out of that company then how can it just wash its hands of that and say our subsidiary just went bankrupt? And maybe the money it took out caused—I cannot accuse them of that, I don’t know—but caused cost-cutting which led to this problem. Who knows? But this idea that somehow you can use the corporate umbrella to wipe your hands of something; you can bleed a company dry, suck out its profits, declare bankruptcy, and have no responsibility whatsoever for what it does subsequently. That does not make any sense at all. So this idea of the independence of the corporation is an absurdity in some respects. Now, obviously, the idea is that if we are going to get people to invest in companies they have to limit their liability somehow, but not their social liabilities, maybe their economic liabilities, but not surpassing social irresponsibility.
SCARPINO: What has to happen to get corporations balanced?
MINTZBERG: Being called on activities that are corrupt like the accusation in the New York Times that Goldman Sachs was manipulating this price, or at least the movement of aluminum, and sucking five billion dollars out of that market so that everybody who buys a can of anything is now paying Goldman Sachs for absolutely no contribution whatsoever to society. The purpose of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is that you do well by doing good in the sense that if you are making profit for yourself, you are contributing to society. Well, these things are making profit for Goldman Sachs ostensibly and contributing absolutely nothing to society, but actually taking things out of society. That has to stop. It has to stop totally. It has to be challenged totally so that companies like that can no longer get away with that. So if somebody like the Ponzi scheme guy—what’s his name?
SCARPINO: Bernie Madoff.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, if Madoff just steals directly from people, he ends up in jail. But if Goldman Sachs does something which looks an awful lot like stealing from people, but not so directly, they don’t go to jail. If they started to be challenged on those things aggressively, if we had laws that called corporations on those kinds of things, those things would stop very quickly. If employees started to challenge their own management; for example, if employees started to say, “By paying yourself 500 times as much as us, as our great leader, you are not a leader at all. If you think you are 500 times more important than I am then you are not a leader and you have no business being in that position.” Now how many chief executives would be left of the Fortune 500?
SCARPINO: So, is that a failure of leadership or is there something else at work?
MINTZBERG: It’s worse than a failure of leadership. It’s utter narcissism. I once wrote a piece that appeared in the Financial Times. It was a letter from a chief executive saying to the board, “Please enable me to lead this company. Don’t pay me this way. Don’t offer me these short-term bonuses.” It’s a bit like what Buffet wrote about, please tax me more. How many of Buffet’s friends sort of agreed with him, I mean publicly?
SCARPINO: Not too many.
MINTZBERG: Bill Gates’ father agreed, but I don’t think Bill Gates ever did. I’m not sure about that.
SCARPINO: How do you define leadership?
MINTZBERG: (Laughing) Being smart enough to know your own limitations. How is that? That would be a new one.
SCARPINO: That would be a new one, yeah. Then I will try it from a different direction then. What do you see as the qualities of effective leadership? How do you know it when you see it?
MINTZBERG: I think really good leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. I think they recognize communityship and recognize the importance of community. I’m using the word communityship like leadership or citizenship; communityship, leadership. I think they recognize that effective organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources. Leadership can be very important, but particularly in established organizations, it’s important to the extent that it recognizes the importance of other people, which means we have to get rid of narcissism in the executive suites. Sometimes I think we have nothing but narcissism in the executive suites. We certainly have one hell of a lot of it. Now entrepreneurship is a bit different because when you are creating an enterprise, a lot depends—I’m not going to look at Steve Jobs and say, you know, gee maybe he was narcissistic or maybe he took himself too seriously. I don’t know if he did or did not. I never knew the guy, but that kind of brilliant insight, foresight is another story. But we are talking about people who take over Fortune 500 companies, I mean not take over, get appointed chief executive and act as if somehow they have created the success. And a lot of them are just destroying those companies.
SCARPINO: I’m going to go back to this article “Enough Leadership” where you went on to argue that some companies have too much leadership. Instead, they need less leadership; just enough leadership. How do we encourage just enough leadership, you asked? And you answer that “We could start removing the dysfunctional separation of leadership and management.” So what is the dysfunctional separation of leadership and management?
MINTZBERG: Well, Ben has started this. He is a friend, but I utterly disagree with him. Zaleznik wrote about this and Kotter as usual is sort of playing the same tune.
SCARPINO: So Zaleznik, the Harvard Zaleznik?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. And then Kotter piped in. Kotter usually pipes in after somebody else, and arguing that doing the right things versus doing things right and all these nice glib phrases. I think that has been utterly dysfunctional because the assumption that somehow leadership is separate from management. Management is about getting dirt under your fingernails. It’s about knowing what is going on. It’s about being onsite. It’s about managing details, or at least understanding details. Somehow this idea that leaders sit above all that means they don’t know what is going on. That is what caused the subprime mortgage thing. Either the chief executives were utterly cynical and figured we’ll make a quick buck and dump it on somebody else or they did not know what was going on. How many of those mortgages did these chief executives have to see by getting out of their office and saying, “I would like to meet one or two of these mortgagees at random?” And say, “Well, what is your job? How are you doing? How are you going to be able to pay when the rates go up? It would have been obvious to absolutely anybody. Now, as I said, either they were utterly cynical saying, “We know what is going on, but we are going to dump it on somebody else before we get stuck,” or the ones that got stuck were kind of just out of touch with what they were buying.
SCARPINO: So do you think they were cynical or out of touch?
MINTZBERG: Well, I think there was both going on. I think some of them were cynical and others, many of the others, were out of touch. But this idea that somehow managers do what nurses in operating wards call the scut work. That is scut work for doctors. And the managers do the scut work and leaders do the grand glorious things. Of course, it’s not coincidental that a lot of this comes out of Harvard because Harvard thinks it’s creating the great leaders. And how does it create the great leaders? By studying a bunch of cases. So they understand companies because they read 10 pithy pages about the company, which is the worst possible way to find out what is going on in a company because you think you know what is going on and you don’t know anything.
SCARPINO: You would argue then that the case system I think was pioneered at Harvard.
MINTZBERG: It was. In effect it was. It was a guy from Northwestern, a businessman from Northwestern, who had the idea. He didn’t get anywhere there so he took it to Harvard. Yeah, so it was really developed at Harvard. Yeah, I think it’s all part of the problem that Harvard is creating these great leaders by having them do hundreds and hundreds of these utterly superficial cases where they have never met the people, they have never used the products, they don’t know the markets, but they read 10 or 20 pithy pages. And that is the way George Bush was created as a leader, who thought he was a great manager, but he learned nothing about management at Harvard because nobody can learn management in a school. You learn management on the job. Then you can come back, like we do in our programs, and get them to reflect on their management and their leadership. But management and leadership have to be combined. Nobody wants to be managed by somebody who does not lead. Nobody should want to be led by somebody who does not manage because they don’t know what is going on. And that is not micromanaging. It’s simply knowing what is going on. There is a big difference.
SCARPINO: This will give me a good segue here. Criticism of MBA programs is one of the themes in your writing.
SCARPINO: And when we talked last time you said MBA programs don’t really train managers. Is that part of the reason for the dysfunctional separation between leadership and management is what goes on in those traditional MBA programs?
MINTZBERG: Well, you could anoint people with the holy water of leadership without any justification and basically say you have gone to Harvard or McGill or wherever it’s and, therefore, you are a leader, which is nonsense. It does not make anybody into a leader at all. And they march out thinking they are leaders, which I always said they should have a skull and crossbones branded on their forehead: “warning: not prepared to lead or manage.” And so they walk out thinking they are all set to be great leaders and they are not. They are not, because you earn leadership from the led. And a lot of the danger in businesses, especially where you have an old boys’ network among the prestigious business schools, is you get ahead because after all you are close to previous alumni. This idea that somehow you are anointed by outsiders, by superiors so-called, or people who are more senior than you, is nonsense. The people who know about leadership are the ones who have or have not been led by people. That’s the way you earn leadership. One of my things that I don’t like at all is this idea of young leaders because they are almost always designated by old leaders who don’t have a clue whether they are able to lead or not.
SCARPINO: There are literally probably hundreds of books that claim one way or another to teach somebody to be a leader. There are dozens of programs. And you are arguing, I think, that it’s really not possible to train a leader. You cannot learn to be a leader out of a book or in school.
MINTZBERG: I’m arguing that you don’t create a leader in a classroom. You can take people with leadership and management capabilities and enhance those by giving them some tips and some advice and so on, largely by enabling them to reflect on their own experience. I think people like Morgan McCall have written very eloquently about how leadership really comes from the challenge of difficult jobs and being moved around and having challenges at critical points in your career. That is how you train leadership. But I think a lot of leadership is kind of born or probably established by the age of five, anyway.
SCARPINO: That was the next question I was going to ask you, and I was going to set it up by saying that as a young man I may have had an unreasonable fantasy that I could have been a major league pitcher or something, but I didn’t have the physical skills to do that. So, would you argue that good leaders are born or made or some combination thereof? Can anybody be a leader?
MINTZBERG: No, but it’s surprising how many people can emerge out of the blue with surprising leadership capabilities, constantly surprising ourselves with people who actually nobody expected it of them. Sometimes in a crisis, you will find that somebody will emerge who nobody expected to be and will grab leadership needs and do something with them. So you never quite know. So you could be born with all kinds of capabilities that could come out in all kinds of strange ways, but in my experience a lot of the people who think they were God’s gift to leadership and everybody around thought they were God’s gift to leadership have not turned out to be very pretty. Last night we were watching on CNN—US networks just seem never to get over the history of military endeavors. It’s just like every time I turn on a US station about 11 o’clock at night it’s just like . . .
SCARPINO: So which military endeavor was CNN . . .
MINTZBERG: This was Vietnam. And revisiting the whole thing for the millionth time and, of course, Johnson takes all the hits. Kennedy takes a few, but Johnson takes all the hits. Kennedy was much more responsible for that than Johnson was. Kennedy, and no American wants it—he is too good looking and his wife is too pretty for him to have been anything but grand—it was Kennedy’s fault. Kennedy chose to escalate. Kennedy was blind and surely, surely it could have been obvious to anybody who bothered with a little bit of history that the Vietnamese did not have a history of being pals with the Chinese, and to stop communism in Vietnam was completely idiotic for anybody who bothered to check that history. Yet he chose to escalate it. And after the experience of the French that were defeated, humiliated by the Vietnamese and eventually the Americans, so, I think Iraq . . .
SCARPINO: Dien Bien Phu.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. And I think Iraq is an indication that America learned absolutely nothing from Vietnam, absolutely nothing. And going into Afghanistan because Bin Laden started in Afghanistan when everybody who went into Afghanistan came out with their tails between their legs; everybody. The Russians had just done that. Just like the French had just done it in Vietnam. I don’t think America learned anything from Vietnam because it never stepped back; like people like Soros and Friedman never stood back and said, “Wait a minute, what exactly happened there?” You know?
SCARPINO: Do you think that the mistake that the Bush administration made in going into Afghanistan was ignorance of history or what?
MINTZBERG: Ignorance of lots of things, but ignorance of history.
SCARPINO: Arrogance? I’m trying . . .
MINTZBERG: I think the Bush administration . . .
SCARPINO: I’m putting words in your mouth here, but . . .
MINTZBERG: No, no. I think the Bush administration had a touch of that. Of course, it was arrogance and history. Being a Canadian, we went into Afghanistan. You know why we went into Afghanistan? And anybody in this country would say this. You know why we went into Afghanistan? Because we were in purgatory. We were in purgatory. We did not go into Iraq, so how could we say no to Afghanistan? Look at all the countries that went in and they are all going out with their tails between their legs.
SCARPINO: Of course, Canada has a long history of being involved in peace-keeping missions. You have a nice monument in Ottawa to the peacekeepers.
MINTZBERG: No more. We have a neocon government that is far to the right of certainly Obama and in a league with Bush.
SCARPINO: I’m going to quote one more time from “Rebalancing Society.” In the version that I read this is on page 43, you said, “Leadership is all the rage these days. Have a look at the thousands of books about it on Amazon, and then look for a few on followership. Yet the more we obsess about leadership, the less we get out of it. As one hero goes down the black hole of leadership, a desperate search begins for the next one. Can the very concept of leadership be flawed?” And then you answer your own question. “Yes, in at least two ways. First is the overemphasis on the individual. Mention the word leadership and up comes the image of a single person, no matter how determined he or she may be to involve others. In this world, we need more attention to shared communityship, served by the leadership. Or, if you like, think about communityship as collective leadership. The most effective organizations generally function as communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.” We talked about this a little bit earlier, but what do you mean by the overemphasis on the individual?
MINTZBERG: Well, your laws, one’s laws, any country’s laws can emphasize individual rights. They can emphasize collective rights. They can emphasize communal rights. If you look at the tradeoff between those three in the United States, you find collective rights are relatively weak in the United States compared to individual rights. Communal rights, I’m not sure it’s correct to talk about communal rights, but certainly de Tocqueville devoted a lot of Democracy in America to nonbusiness, nongovernment associations that were always very, very strong in the United States. The force that has weakened them is not just capitalism, but really technology because a lot of these technologies have forced us to become more and more isolated from each other. So, we could be doing this on email and it would not be nearly as effective as you sitting here and us discussing it face to face. But more and more we are sitting in front of screens and the only thing we are in touch with is the keyboard or the screen if you are on an iPhone. So individual rights have been strengthened and collective rights have been weakened. Now, disastrous societies are ones that either overemphasize collective rights, as communism did, although they did not do a very good job of that, but they actually did better in some respects. Literacy in Cuba went up enormously. Healthcare in Cuba went up enormously under communism so they do look after some collective rights. And then communal rights, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was certainly looking after communal rights, but only their own community. The hell with every other community. And in the United States, it has been an emphasis on the right of the individual. I’m wading into ground I don’t know much about, but we don’t have a fifth amendment in Canada that you cannot testify against yourself. That is an example of individual rights, but I’m not sure I should wade into that ground, but I kind of wonder.
SCARPINO: Can you think of any organizations that function as what you call “communities of human beings and not collections of human resources?”
MINTZBERG: Yeah. Find any poll of most admired corporations and they will be on that list for one of two reasons; either that or some entrepreneur who has just been fabulous like Jobs at Apple. I don’t know if people would call Apple a community thing. Maybe, I don’t know. I have not read the books on Apple, but maybe. But whenever you get polls of most admired corporations, usually most of them are there because of that, because they treat people well. So take your pick. There are not that many these days, but there are still plenty around.
SCARPINO: Where they put the emphasis on . . .?
MINTZBERG: Functioning together, collaboration, believing in the company and not just your job. De-emphasis of individual bonuses, de-emphasis of individual performance assessment and more group assessment.
SCARPINO: You argued that there were two things wrong and the first was overemphasis on the individual. “Second is the fashionable but detrimental distinction between leaders and managers. One is grand, “does the right things”; the other is ordinary, “does things right” (Bennis, 1989; see also Zaleznik, 1977). Try doing the right things without doing them right. Indeed, try leading an organization without managing it, as has become so common: you won’t know what’s going on.” I noticed that you started by taking on this second flaw by taking on two of the giants in the scholarship of leadership; Warren Bennis probably best known for On Becoming a Leader. Forbes magazine described him as the dean of leadership gurus, and then Abraham Zaleznik’s path breaking article on leadership “Managers and Leaders,” Harvard Business Review, in 1977. Did you pick these two on purpose? Is this an example of Henry Mintzberg, the contrarian, just . . .
MINTZBERG: No, no, not all.
SCARPINO: . . . slaying the giants.
MINTZBERG: No, no, because they are the specific one. In fact, I had originally quoted Zaleznik and somebody said you better look back at Bennis. He started it.
MINTZBERG: Warren is a friend.
SCARPINO: I actually knew you two knew each other, but yeah.
MINTZBERG: No, he is a friend. I haven’t seen him for some years. Is he okay?
SCARPINO: The recorder is going, but it’s my understanding that he is ill. That is what I have heard.
MINTZBERG: I haven’t heard from him for a while, but he has been a friend. No, no, no. I picked them because they were promoting this leadership, this separation between leadership and management. I could mention Kotter, too, except Kotter is always picking up what other people do.
SCARPINO: Again, you said in “Enough Leadership,” “Let’s involve the followers in the selection of leaders. True leaders earn their leadership through the enthusiastic support of their followers.” How do we do that? It sounds good, but how do we do that?
MINTZBERG: Well, but you see it all the time. You see it when kids are playing and some kids, they just want to follow some other kid because he or she has certain charisma or feeling or is smarter or is a bully and forces them. That is also a dimension of it. But you see that all the time. You see people who just have natural leadership capabilities and they are not necessarily in positions of leadership, but they are admired for their generosity, for their intelligence, for their cleverness, and so on. And when a society is in trouble, it will turn to people who can sort of lead them out of trouble.
SCARPINO: When we talked last time, you said leadership is defined by the led and we more or less talked about that here and you certainly hit that point of view in this article that I have been quoting from “Enough Leadership.” So what is the difference between that kind of leadership and demagoguery?
MINTZBERG: Which kind of leadership?
SCARPINO: The kind where it’s defined by the led, where leaders . . .
MINTZBERG: Oh, I see what you mean. No, but it’s all two-sided. It’s all two-sided. You can’t have one without the other. Not that you can’t have one without the other. What I mean is you get both as a consequence, sure. Or, you get people who are good and who are necessary and who people choose to lead and then once in positions of power become corrupt and become demagogues. So they end up in positions of power for good reason, but should have been pushed out of there long before they became demagogues. So, it’s sometimes the same people who do it. And that happens very often where people who are really admired and are good and capable and necessary just hang on too long, and then don’t want to give up. In politics, especially, but I guess in any position. In politics especially, people don’t want to give up power so they will do anything to hang on and engage in the worse kind of skullduggery.
SCARPINO: Do you think that part of being an effective leader is knowing when to walk away?
SCARPINO: When to throw in the towel and call it quits?
MINTZBERG: Sure, sure. How often does it happen? You can point to cases where it happens, but not often.
SCARPINO: There is an argument in the literature—it happens to be one that I don’t agree with, I will be honest, but it’s out there—and that is that if people are able to persuade other human beings to do bad things, commit genocide for example, that that is not leadership; it’s something else.
MINTZBERG: Oh, it is leadership, unfortunately.
SCARPINO: Well, that is the question that I was going to ask you. If people who are able by force of personality to persuade other people to do bad things, you know, Hitler, Idi Amin, Skilling at Enron, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, I don’t know, are those people leaders?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. We can’t take leadership as just being doing good. We can define leadership any way we like and we can say leadership is doing good, but if you want to define leadership in some fundamental sense, it’s people choosing to follow. But don’t forget, you are in a difficult situation as a nation. Look at Germany. The Germans had some reason to be angry in the ’20s. They had reasons to be angry because they were punished for losing the war, but the war was imbecilic.
SCARPINO: World War I, yes, was imbecilic. That’s right.
MINTZBERG: And they were punished. So they had their comeuppance. So some of them would follow Hitler because he was going to restore their pride. Well, of course, he turned out to be a monster. So, at what point—how do you distinguish these things? You can distinguish the consequences, but sometimes you try to find someone who will lead you to something better. Then after a while maybe they led you to something better, but then they might lead you to something worse after that. It’s not like the record is always positive.
SCARPINO: We talked some at the beginning about your use of the United States as an example about the rise of imbalance. So I’m going to ask you a question that relates to the United States that you are obviously very familiar with. There is a large movement in the United States of people who are unhappy with government, suspicious of people who are different than they are, afraid of change, suspicious of science, and yet they live in what is arguably one of the richest nations in the world in terms of resources and money and quality of life. How do you think that happened?
MINTZBERG: Why they are so negative when they have such privilege?
SCARPINO: Yeah. When you talked about the military people who were complaining at this party you were at in Virginia.
MINTZBERG: A lot of the angst in the United States is coming out of lifestyle and so on. One of my points is that societies that are developed can be de-developed socially. They can develop economically and de-develop socially. So no matter how much wealth you have in the United States, if your kids are on drugs and there is violence all around you and you have to live in a gated community and so on and so forth, that wealth may not be serving you all that well. So it’s not surprising necessarily that this amazingly developed country which has brought so much amazingly progressive stuff to the world is suffering. I think it’s suffering now because the lifestyle that has created this economic development is one of mobility, it’s one of depreciation of community, or not depreciation, but loss of some aspects of community, and it’s one of tremendous pressure, tremendous pressure. Even Canadians, who are quite different in some ways, though they don’t seem different, have much more social stability in Canada. When I meet somebody in the States, “Oh, are you still at McGill?” Canadians don’t say, “Are you still at McGill?” Of course you are still at McGill unless something went wrong. In the States it’s, “Are you still at McGill?” because when the music comes on everybody changes chairs in the United States. So there is a lot, and that is what makes Americans so friendly because they have to make friendships immediately, whereas people in other countries don’t make friendships that quickly. But it doesn’t matter because they don’t move so they take time to make their friendships. But a lot of that has created a lot of angst. The other thing, of course, through the media, sometimes I think America is the land of theater. American politics are just theater most of the time. It’s just one show after another. It’s just amazing kind of what goes on. With this, for example, not passing the budgets and the government running out of money, it’s like theater. It’s almost amusing. It’s like a show. The Brazilians have soap operas and the Americans have reality. I don’t mean reality shows, I mean reality. So there is a lot of instability in life. And when you look at figures on use of illicit drugs, use of antidepressants, just a whole string of awful statistics; 70% of working men are unhappy in their jobs. Think of that. That was one sort of thing I read.
SCARPINO: If leadership is largely defined by the led, could one then conclude that leadership is situational? That is, a person who might be effective in one situation will not be in another?
MINTZBERG: Absolutely, absolutely. Leadership is about the condition, the nature of the people, the kind of people, yes.
SCARPINO: One more question that draws on “Enough Leadership” where you discussed the importance of leaders being engaged. You said, “Leaders engage others by, above all, engaging themselves. These leaders are not perched on top. They work throughout.” How does a leader work throughout? What does that mean?
MINTZBERG: It means that they are out of their offices. They are around. They know what’s going on. They are not micromanaging. They are not trying to meddle in everybody’s affairs. They are simply present. There was a head of a supermarket chain here who used to go shopping in his own stores every Saturday, okay? Not to check people out, he just wanted to see what the service was like, how things were going. He wanted to meet the staff. He would amble around the stores. That’s engagement. And they are engaged and it means you are everywhere. There is a company—I don’t know if they still do it—but a company called Kao in Japan where all their meetings are held in the open. No meetings are held behind closed—it used to be anyway—no meetings behind closed doors. They are all held in the open and anybody can join any meeting. So if a worker is walking by the executive committee, they can just pull up a chair and sit down and join the meeting. If the president is in the factory and the foreman is having a meeting, the president can pull up a chair. Probably you see more of the latter than the former, but you know, and that is what being everywhere means. It’s just open cultures. This idea that somehow corporate activity happens in executive suites and is about the big thing—one of the things in my book Simply Managing I sort of get into is that leaders, senior managers, take the long view and junior managers take the short view. So I observed the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with his executive committee in a morning meeting, and what were they doing? They were looking at clips from the last night TV news to find out where the RCMP was mentioned so that they could preempt, or at least advise, the minister—we have a question period in Canada, right, in Parliament where they ask questions—and to protect the minister from any questions that might be asked because of that. Taking the long view? Is anybody going to say you should not be doing that because that is the short view? Then I observed the front country manager in the Banff National Park. Front country means the civilized part of the park.
SCARPINO: Right. As opposed to the backcountry.
MINTZBERG: Which is supposedly uncivilized. And he was very involved in a big fight over a parking lot; expansion of a parking lot that the environmentalists were dead set against and the impact of that would have been over 10, 20, 30 years. That is the short view? So here is a first-line manager worried about something that is going to have a decade’s long impact. Here is a chief executive of a 22,000 member police force concerned with what is going to happen that afternoon in Parliament. So all these simple things about short run and long run, it’s all nonsense.
SCARPINO: Teamwork, distribution of stock options, people as the greatest assets, trust, artificial separation between leadership and management, involving followers in the selection of leaders, the importance of leaders working throughout; I was going to ask you if there were any companies doing that, but we kind of talked about that, so I’m going to come at this a different way. Are you familiar with something called the Scanlon Plan?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I remember that from years ago where people were paid collectively, yeah. Rewarded collectively, I think, yeah.
SCARPINO: It was implemented by Herman Miller Furniture Company in about 1950.
SCARPINO: Are you familiar enough with that to say that that would be an example of what you are talking about or not?
MINTZBERG: It was certainly an effort to do things like that, yeah, and emphasize community. You see examples of that in different ways all the time as opposed to rewards to individuals and so on. There is a scandal in Montreal now because one of the municipalities, or one part of the city, one of the municipalities was cutting budgets left and right and increased the salaries of their senior employees, senior sort of department heads. And the mayor or whoever it was said, “Well, we are simply rewarding them for performance.” Well, you tell me how you measured that performance. You know what they did? They brought in consultants who they paid to say “Well, yeah, he is really doing well.” You can’t measure. It’s very hard to measure the performance of a manager and know that what looks great today is not going to be wonderful five years from now.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you one more question that relates to leadership and then we will move on, and I’m going to kind of follow up on something we talked about last time. I asked you when we visited last time if you thought of yourself as a leader and you said no. And I will, as we have noted, you have more than once been described as a guru. It’s all over the place. Do you ever feel pressure to live up to the public persona of guru Henry Mintzberg? Do you ever feel like you need to be that person?
MINTZBERG: No. I’m a swami anyway.
SCARPINO: You told me that.
MINTZBERG: No, I just think that vocabulary is meant to be complimentary, but it’s a bit silly. Look, I say I’m not a leader. If people follow my ideas and like my ideas then obviously I’m exhibiting some kind of leadership quality, and I think I’m sort of playing the role. We are developing a MOOC now, one of these massive open online courses called a GROOC.
MINTZBERG: It’s for groups; a MOOC GROOC for groups and, yeah, I’m probably playing a leadership role in it kind of, but we are working very collaboratively together. This is not my baby. There are four of us working very collaboratively together. One is a doctoral student, one is a colleague, one is a person who is administering the whole thing, and we are a team totally.
SCARPINO: But one can be a leader in a team situation.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I mean I think people look to me for certain things in that group. So I can’t deny sort of I have tried to take a leadership position in new forms of management development, new forms of training managers. I tried to take a leadership position there, not that anybody is following or not very many, but maybe someday.
SCARPINO: We are actually going to talk about that. I want to talk to you a little bit about MBA programs of which you have been both highly critical and then developed programs as well, and it’s an element in your body of published work. But for the benefit of somebody who is going to listen to this, I’m just going to mention three, which I hope are highlights, and then ask you some questions. So, in the mid-1980s, as I understand it, you asked your dean here at McGill to reduce your teaching load by taking you out of the rotation of teaching MBA students, something that you had been doing for about 15 years before that. And, as I understand it, you also offered to have him reduce your pay along with the reduced teaching.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I’m half time. I have been half time. He proposed 75%, and a couple years later I said make it 50%.
SCARPINO: And then in 1989, you published, if I counted right, your fifth book, Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations, and one of the chapters is titled, “Training Managers not MBAs.” In 2004, book number 11, Managers not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. If you look at the title of that eleventh book, that sort of continues the theme of the contrarian when you announce you’re taking a hard look, but what do you mean by the soft practice of managing and management development? What is the soft practice?
MINTZBERG: Well, I mean there is nothing very firm about what makes an effective manager. There is nothing very firm about the conventional ways of running MBA programs to train managers. In fact, I think it’s absolutely dysfunctional when it comes to training managers. I don’t think it’s dysfunctional when it comes to imbibing functional skills, like marketing and finance. I think it’s very good at that, but I think it’s dysfunctional when it comes to the training of management. So that is what I mean by the soft practice. If you’re a physician, you have to learn a lot of things to do it right. If you are a manager, there is no place to go, including the business schools, where you can learn how to be a manager except on the firing line. That’s what I mean. And I don’t consider myself a contrarian. A contrarian is someone who opposes for the sake of opposing and wants to be contrary just for its own sake. I don’t think I ever want to be contrary for its own. I think I want to be contrary very often because I think there is so much, pardon the expression, bullshit around that I just find things that I want to fight because I think they’re just wrong. And that doesn’t make me a contrarian, even though everybody else thinks they are right.
SCARPINO: Actually, I was just about to point out that when it comes to the issues of MBAs that, to use an American expression, you certainly put your money where your mouth is. I mean you practiced what you preached.
SCARPINO: One of the things that you did was to pull together a team, Jonathan Gosling, Lancaster University, UK; Hiro Itami, Hitsosubashi University, Tokyo; Roger Bennett, McGill; Heinz Theinheiser, INSEAD; and then you reached out to the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. In the spring of 1996, you and your team launched the International Practicing Management, which is still in operation today.
MINTZBERG: International Masters in Practicing Management.
SCARPINO: Yeah, IMPM. So, can you talk a little bit about the formation of the IMPM? What happened? How did you get from an idea to a program?
MINTZBERG: Dora Koop is somebody to speak to about that because she was there at the very, very first meeting.
SCARPINO: Dora Cooper?
MINTZBERG: Koop, K-O-O-P.
MINTZBERG: She is here. I don’t know if she is in today, but you could chat with her because she was there and is still there, still running the McGill side of the IMPM and co-running the whole thing. She was there right from the beginning. I was going around badmouthing MBA programs and people were asking a question that is absolutely not fair to ask an academic which is “what are you doing about it?” I’m not supposed to do anything about anything. I’m just supposed to complain.
SCARPINO: Well, you had already given up half your salary so it’s not like you didn’t do anything.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, that happened; yeah, the timing was sort of—yeah, because that was ’85 and it was ’96 when we started. This happened around 1994. I thought okay maybe we should do something about this. So we had some initial meetings. Roger Bennett was more concerned with creating an international kind of program. I was more concerned with creating a learning-from-experience program. So we sort of combined those. I was part time at INSEAD when this was going on, so I thought I will try to partner with INSEAD and they didn’t want a partnership, they wanted an affair, and so I kind of gave up. In fact, it was kind of amusing because I had tried to convince INSEAD to join McGill to do this and I wasn’t getting anywhere, and so I wrote this long letter sort of throwing in the towel. And a dear friend, who is a bit of an unusual guy, and we were using the same secretary and I had handwritten it and he was just reading it. He is not a snoopy guy or anything. He was just reading it because it was sitting on her desk. And he said, “Henry, you can’t do that.” He said, “No, no, no. You can’t do that. You can’t give up on that.” So I realized that INSEAD was perfectly happy to have an affair with a bunch of other schools. So I called Jonathan who I had met, Gosling, and I said, “Well, what do you think about joining a partnership with this?” And he said, “I will call you back in an hour,” and he did. And then I wrote to Hiro Itami who was a friend in Japan not realizing he was running the biggest business school, the most prestigious.
SCARPINO: He was the dean, right?
MINTZBERG: I didn’t know that at that point.
MINTZBERG: He was just a friend who I know as a colleague. So I wrote to him and I said, “Sit down before you read this,” and he wrote back a day later and said, “Why not?” And then we brought in the (word inaudible), so that was four schools and then we brought in the IMB. Actually, Roger Bennett went to visit the IMB as a good possibility for the partnership and when he left, they said to themselves, “Well, that was interesting; we’ll never see him again.”
SCARPINO: Little did they know.
MINTZBERG: Little did they know. So, we set it up and then started problem solving. I mean just to show you where I was at, Nancy Badore—I don’t know if you ever came across Nancy. She set up the executive training development program at Ford and was really good. I had gotten to know Nancy, and she was kind of advising me and I was running things past her. One day on the phone she said, “So how are you going to sit them, Henry?” And I said, “I guess in one of these U-shaped classrooms.” And she said, “Not those obstetric stirrups.” (Laughter) That sort of created an image. So that is how we ended up with the roundtables. And that was critical because if we had put them in U-shaped classrooms. . . So we were just learning as we went along.
SCARPINO: So what is the difference in your program between a roundtable and the obstetric stirrups?
MINTZBERG: Because you lock the students into a non-collegial, non-collaborative physical situation. I mean Harvard talks about their U-shaped classrooms as being collaborative. They’re not collaborative. They simply give the power of individuals to talk to each other, but there is nothing collaborative about the physical setup, whereas we can go in and out of workshops in a moment’s notice. One of my favorite stories was another Japanese guy named Tomo Noda who was at INSEAD after we had started a few years. And one day he said, “Henry, I would like to see the thing in operation.” So I said, “Well, come to the first class. We are having a first meeting in Lancaster in a few days. Why don’t you come?” So he came and he sat in on the class and Jonathan was the head of the whole program at that point, and Jonathan gave a little 10 minute introduction and then said, “Are there any questions?” And everybody was kind of shy, and there were a lot of foreigners, you know, a lot of Japanese and Koreans and all. So nobody put up their hand. So Jonathan talked for a few more minutes and then he said, “Are there any table questions?” And suddenly there was a buzz in the room and Tomo comes up to me with this gleam in his eye and he says, “I see what you mean.” It just took 20 minutes for him to realize how that pedagogy was different.
SCARPINO: What is a table question?
MINTZBERG: A table question was do you have any common questions around your table. Instead of the first hand going up . . .
SCARPINO: Talk to each other.
MINTZBERG: . . . talk to each other and come up with questions, and immediately there was a buzz in the room. And Tomo said, “I see what you mean.” In other words, he had to see it, but once he saw it, he realized it was completely different.
SCARPINO: So that is actually . . .
MINTZBERG: Anybody who has walked into this classroom is amazed at kind of what is going on there.
SCARPINO: I want to get you to describe this in a minute, but I want to follow up on something.
MINTZBERG: We had a woman who came in because she was involved in the healthcare version. She was involved with some activity in a local healthcare region and so she came in to sort of discuss with the class what they were doing. She ended up doing the program and I said anybody who visits this class ends up taking the program because they all see what is going on and say I’ve got to be here.
SCARPINO: I want to get you to describe that, but I want to follow up on something you said and this may get me into trouble, but you said INSEAD wanted to have an affair and not a relationship. I will bite. What is the difference? What were you driving at when you said that? (Laughing)
MINTZBERG: They didn’t want to have a two-school kind of marriage. They wanted to have something a little more casual with five schools.
SCARPINO: Alright, okay. Alright, I understand. Okay. So how did the IMPM program that you created correct the problems that you saw in other MBA programs? What is different about what you are doing?
MINTZBERG: Well, first of all, you don’t come in unless you are a manager, which would be true of a lot of the MBA programs. But second of all, we build on their managerial experience. The whole thing is predicated on them sharing their experience with each other and gaining insights into their own experience. Wharton, in its EMBA program for years has advertised: You get in Wharton EMBA what you get in the Wharton regular MBA. And I’m saying this is astounding. They are boasting that they could do no more for people with 10 or 15 years of experience, some of it managerial, than they do with kids who have never managed a thing in their lives, and they are boasting about this. They are boasting about it. You bring in people with experience and you’re not tapping into it. They probably do more than they admit in that comment, but . . .
SCARPINO: Is part of the secret of what you are doing . . .
MINTZBERG: And by the way, another quote that Harvard was running recently in the Economist where this woman says, “This isn’t theory”—what does she say—”This isn’t theory; this is experience. We do four cases a day.” And I’m saying this is kind of laughable. This isn’t experience; this is laughable. Four cases a day is experience? Our experience is the stuff you are living with day in and day out for years in your job. That is what we call experience, not four cases a day.
SCARPINO: As an instructor in that program, is the trick to draw people out and get them to bring their experience to the table?
MINTZBERG: The trick is to say go.
SCARPINO: Go. (Laughing)
MINTZBERG: We don’t need to draw them out. We don’t need to draw them out at all.
MINTZBERG: We just say go. I’m being overstated, but there is no need to draw them out. The first thing on their minds is what they live with all the time, the stuff they are struggling with, the things they have experienced, the things they live with, the things they want to change.
SCARPINO: But there must be more to it than just sitting people in a circle and saying go?
MINTZBERG: No, no, no. We don’t just say go. No, we drop in our pearls of wisdom, which gives them conceptual frameworks to deal with it. We do all kinds of exercises. But we have a 50/50 rule that says over to them for half the time on their agendas. So the key is not what we want to do; it’s: can you do anything with this? I will give some lectures about emergent compared with deliberate strategy and we will say, “Can you do something with this in what you are doing in your own company or your own organization with this?” And they discuss it and they grab the initiative like you wouldn’t believe. One of my favorite stories is a woman came into our healthcare program. She wasn’t a manager. She had been president of Doctors Without Borders Canada, but she wasn’t a manager at that point. She was an emergency room physician in a children’s hospital. During the program she just built up much more sort of confidence about what she was capable of doing. She decided that maybe she would run for the presidency of Doctors Without Borders Worldwide, and three or four of her classmates formed her campaign committee. She now lives in Geneva and is president of Doctors Without Borders Worldwide, okay? So they don’t need a lot of encouragement. We just need to sort of give them that feeling of what they are capable of.
SCARPINO: So given what you developed was quite a bit different from your competition, how did you persuade companies to send their managers to you? I assume this isn’t cheap and somebody has to pay to be here and pay to live here and pay tuition.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. And that hasn’t been easy, honestly, especially in this environment. It’s been easier with Asian companies and some European companies, like Lufthansa or LG, than it has been with western, although Lufthansa is western, but British or American or even Canadian companies. We have had some sending groups. We are listed in Boeing, but they don’t send groups. It’s on their list of acceptable programs and so on. But that hasn’t been easy in this environment because people usually come to MBA programs paying themselves in order to get a better job and usually getting a better job means in finance or consulting. So that aspect hasn’t been altogether easy.
SCARPINO: In your 2004 book, Managers, not MBAs, you wrote about the IMPM program and one of the things that you wrote really jumped out at me. You said, “It continues to be the delight of my professional life—as you will notice from my enthusiasm in Chapters 10 through 14.” Now, I know that you wrote it in four chapters in your book, but can you summarize why IMPM continues to be the delight of your professional life?
MINTZBERG: Yeah and the IMHL even more so.
SCARPINO: That is the leadership.
MINTZBERG: Health leadership. There is an energy in the class which is quite remarkable. There is just an energy because they are so engaged and so involved. They’re not just sitting here and sort of being fed our stuff or being fed our cases. They are being fed half the time stuff we developed, but—yeah? (Knock at the door and someone comes in. Recording is paused for a moment.)
SCARPINO: Okay, this should be recording.
MINTZBERG: It’s starting over, right?
SCARPINO: Yeah, this one will start over, but this is just my backup.
MINTZBERG: Oh, I see. It’s recording there? Oh, it’s recording here.
SCARPINO: This is the primary.
MINTZBERG: Oh, I see.
SCARPINO: And because I’m recording digitally, if anything happens it’s just gone. This is the safety net right here.
MINTZBERG: Oh, okay.
SCARPINO: But, we are—yeah, we are recording there. Okay. So we were talking about the IMPM. I had asked you to comment on a quote that you wrote in Managers, Not MBAs which you said “It continues to be the delight of my professional life” and I’m not sure if you finished that up or not.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I think so. I just said the energy in the class, the ideas, the bubbling up. We should almost be paying. We learn as much as they learn.
SCARPINO: Do you think that is a part of good teaching? That the teacher learns as much as the students do.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s the part of interesting pedagogy.
MINTZBERG: No, I mean you can give a great lecture and people learn and you don’t learn anything necessarily by giving great lecture. But this is different because you’re getting the feedback on how they are dealing with your ideas, what they are concerned with, what is on their minds. It’s very powerful. And as I say in the IMHL, the health leadership version, people come to a business—did you want to talk more about the IMPM or . . .?
SCARPINO: I wanted to ask you one more question.
SCARPINO: And I know that you want to talk about the health leadership, but again, just sort of sorting this out, you wrote in Managers, not MBAs, you singled out one of your collaborators, Jonathan. I’m going to close this so we don’t get corridor noise.
MINTZBERG: Okay. Let me close the other one because you have to close the other one first.
SCARPINO: That will do the trick. I just didn’t want to pick up the corridor noise. So, you singled out one of your collaborators, Jonathan Gosling, for his contributions to creating the IMPM. You said, “Perhaps people associate the IMPM with me because my name is better known in the literature, but there would have been no IMPM without Jonathan.”
SCARPINO: How come?
MINTZBERG: A lot of the ideas came from Jonathan. All these seating—we used all these weird and wonderful seating arrangements. I talk about those rolling in and rolling out.
SCARPINO: Well, you mentioned putting people in a circle with questions from the table.
MINTZBERG: Eavesdropping. Well, we do, for example, one set of things we do is we have what we call eavesdropping where there will be a group meeting, they will have a group discussion, and one person will have their back to the group just listening, not commenting. Sometimes we will take those people and put them in the middle. This is a combination of three seating arrangements. So, one is eavesdropping. One is a fishbowl, where we have some subset of the class having a discussion among themselves with everybody else listening. It doesn’t have to be, but sometimes it’s the eavesdroppers who sit and they will talk about what they are doing, what they heard. And then we have a third thing—these are all from Jonathan—called rolling in and rolling out, where after the people in the center have had their say, anybody who wants to add to the conversation can’t do it from the outside, but simply taps someone on the shoulder and replaces them on the inside. So it’s a running commentary.
SCARPINO: So the eavesdropper sits with their back to the group that is in a circle talking and then when their discussion is over they come into the circle and report on what they think they heard?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. This is a combination of three separate seating arrangements. One is eavesdropping, which could be just by itself. One is sort of a fishbowl, where a subset of the class is discussing among themselves and everybody else is listening. And it could be that it’s made up of the eavesdropper. It does not mean it has to be. It could be just a discussion about something that a few people in the class are knowledgeable about and they are conversing and everybody else is learning from them. And the third is people want to contribute to that eavesdropping discussion replace—so if there are five chairs—there are only five chairs.
MINTZBERG: We once had a guy who wrote an article about the program in the New York Times, he was with the Harold Tribune, but with the New York Times in effect, and we had him sitting in the middle as part of this conversation. Nobody wanted to replace him. So everybody was coming and going except him. We once had, well it’s a complicated long story, but I don’t know. Do you want long stories?Har We had a guy here who was doing some work on downsizing and dealing with retrenchment. And he was doing a session with the class on retrenchment. So he polled the class ahead of time as to who—this was in the EMBA, but it’s the same design.
MINTZBERG: That is a McGill, I should say McGill University of Montreal Business School Joint Program, but it’s designed after the IMPM.
SCARPINO: I actually saw the flyer for it out front in the street.
MINTZBERG: It’s a similar philosophy. And so he polled the class ahead of time as to who had experience with retrenchment, and some did and some didn’t, and he also asked negative or positive. So there were positive, negative, and no experience. Then he decided that he would use another seating arrangement called clamshell, where two groups sort of debate and discuss among themselves, but he tried to do it with the whole class and that was a class of 40. You are not going to get 20 people facing each other. So we realized that didn’t make much sense. So we were sort of scratching our heads while they are busy moving around. And we said, okay, so let’s seat them by their experience. So we seated them with three or four tables of people with positive experience, three or four tables of people with negative experience to discuss some of their experience. But then we realized what are we going to do with the people with no experience. It doesn’t make sense that they are going to talk to each other about something they don’t know. So we said, well, let’s use those as eavesdroppers. Okay, so they all sat as eavesdroppers and then we brought them into the center and all the people with experience were listening to what all the people without experience were reacting to in the conversation. They loved this. Some of them said—the ones on the outside—they said, “I never learned so much about retrenchment as I learned from listening to their point of view,” because these are experienced managers who just didn’t have experience. And one of the people inside said, “I learned more about retrenchment than anybody in this room in this session.” So that is an example. A lot of this comes from Jonathan, not the specific retrenchment example, but a lot of these mechanisms come from Jonathan.
SCARPINO: And you are about to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this program.
SCARPINO: So it has persisted. I want to ask you a question actually about your dissertation and then I want to ask you about the health. Let’s see here. Okay, so you defended your dissertation in 1968.
SCARPINO: And then, according to what I have read, you sent it out unrevised and it didn’t do so well. You got a bunch of rejections.
MINTZBERG: Yes. There’s a copy up there somewhere, yeah.
SCARPINO: Then faced with those rejections, and I assume you must have talked to people, you revised it, sent it out again and you got several more rejections before Random House finally picked it up.
MINTZBERG: What I said . . . I got one after the other rejections. The committee took a while in deliberations and I thought ‘what’s going on.’ They told me it was a sure thing and they said, “Oh, we’re just discussing publishing possibilities.” So I thought, ‘oh well, if they’re discussing publishing possibilities then just drop it in the mail and you can send the checks to the following address.’ You remember Snoopy? He would be sitting on the doghouse saying, “A letter from my publisher. It must be a check.” They were all rejection letters.
MINTZBERG: And so I just got turned down. And then I said to my wife at that point, I said, “I know this is going to be successful. I don’t care what they all said. I’m going to rewrite it.” And I completely revised—I was planning to revise it anyway. I didn’t think they would publish the thesis. I said I’m going to revise it. So I completely rewrote it. I sent it out again and they all kept turning it down. Initially, I sent it out sequentially. It was my preferred publisher and then when I had got a no—In the second case, I just sent it to them all at once. So there was this wonderful guy at Harper’s who loved it and immediately accepted it and I got a second offer from Random House.
SCARPINO: So I’m wondering what you learned from all that rejection? Did that have any impact on your development as a scholar?
MINTZBERG: No. It could have been exactly the opposite. I could have gone into a shell and that was it.
SCARPINO: Well, you didn’t, though.
MINTZBERG: No, I have kind of thick skin and I just said, “Screw them. They’re wrong.” I’ve done that ever since. If I know I’m right, I don’t care.
SCARPINO: Is that your general approach to scholarship?
SCARPINO: I’m not going to say screw them, but that you have enough confidence in your own ideas to move ahead even when it’s not in the mainstream?
MINTZBERG: Oh, absolutely. Otherwise, I never would have gotten anywhere with anything. I will tell you about—I don’t know if you came across this—but it’s my favorite sort of anecdote about myself. Did I tell you about being interviewed at Heathrow?
SCARPINO: No, you didn’t.
MINTZBERG: It’s probably my favorite. In fact, it’s what belongs on my tombstone I think. You know Dearlove and these two guys in London who do these polls of gurus these days? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. So, we were trying to find a time to interview me and we couldn’t find one. So I said, “Look, I’m getting off a plane at Heathrow”—maybe I was changing planes or something—”why don’t you interview me then?” So at 7:30 in the morning, I’m completely jetlagged, and he is interviewing me. And at one point he says, “So this guru business, how do you deal with it? It must be very competitive.” And I blurted this out and it sounds incredibly arrogant, but it’s not at all I don’t think. I said, “I never set out to be the best. It’s too low a standard. I set out to be good.” And that is what belongs on my tombstone, I think, in a way which is—I wasn’t saying that everybody else is doing junk. I was basically saying you compete with yourself. You try and do as best as you can do in terms of your own skills and you’re not going to get anywhere by trying to be better than somebody else. You are going to get somewhere by doing as well as you can possibly do. And my greatest competitor is myself. If you see drafts—the pamphlet went through 15 drafts—if you see those drafts—you can ask (inaudible) about this; they are scribbled from one end to the other, everything is changed, 15 times. My managing book was about five times in each chapter, but this was 15 times and dramatically shifted. If you will look at the book version—I can send it to you now because I just send it to the publisher—if you look at the book version compared to the pamphlet version on the website, it’s the same idea, but a lot of revising and shifting and clarifying and so on. So, I’m always competing with myself in a way. And if I think that I have something good and other people don’t think it’s good, that’s their problem. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: So you see your own . . .
MINTZBERG: And the fact that I so viciously edit my own stuff means I’m not enamored with it because I wrote it down. I just read it and if it doesn’t sound—I can read 50 pages of something I have written. This is what kept happening in the pamphlet. I would read it over and it would be perfectly smooth and then I’d come to a section and I was kind of like, “How did I ever write this?” I just stop dead and rewrite it. If I put in a new section then inevitably it has to go through three or four times. So there were always sections where I was doing major rewrites.
SCARPINO: But do you think that the key to successful writing is to revise and revise until you feel as though you have gotten it right?
MINTZBERG: For me.
MINTZBERG: I have a friend who did a good book and in those days he handwrote it and he handwrote it so neatly that I thought why is he bothering to get it printed?
SCARPINO: Just publish it handwritten?
MINTZBERG: It’s like Beatrix Potter or something; the original stories of Peter Rabbit or whatever. They are all handwritten. But I remember reading about some famous poem that was rewritten 93 times. And there are other poets who just write it down. So, I’m the former. I have to go through draft after draft after draft. I can’t say that is good for everybody. It depends. I’m concerned with the computer now because it’s very hard to integrate. The key to writing—did you ever see, you must have seen it, the developing theory about the development theory?
SCARPINO: Yeah, yeah.
MINTZBERG: The key to writing, or the hardest part about writing, is that you are writing about something that is nonlinear, but you have to get it in linear form, because a book or an article is first word, last word, every word in between. It’s totally linear.
SCARPINO: It has a beginning and a middle and an end.
MINTZBERG: Unless you are writing a diary, there is nothing linear about what you are writing. If you are writing about managing or about rebalancing society, there is nothing linear about that. So the key is to get it into that kind of order and that is the hard part of writing. When you are sitting there with a big screen and a keyboard, everything else is pushed out. Whereas when I’m integrating, I have papers all around. I’m kind of pulling and looking. Sometimes I’ll have a big sheet of paper to do an outline sort of, but I can’t have a screen there or a keyboard there because everything else gets relegated to second place. I do a lot of editing now online; final editing.
SCARPINO: Once you have a text copy.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, once it’s fairly well developed; more and more.
SCARPINO: So one of your more recent scholarly interests has to do with healthcare. If I counted right, Managing the Myths of Health Care, 2012, is your sixteenth book.
MINTZBERG: It’s not out yet.
SCARPINO: It’s not out yet?
MINTZBERG: No, no.
SCARPINO: Okay, it’s in press?
MINTZBERG: It’s in press, meaning with the publisher?
MINTZBERG: No, it has been in progress for . . .
SCARPINO: Alright, okay. My mistake, my mistake. Alright.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. There is an article called Managing the Myths of Health Care, which is out.
SCARPINO: Which I looked at.
MINTZBERG: That is what you saw, but that is just an article.
SCARPINO: Okay, alright.
MINTZBERG: The book, you know what? I need two weeks of work to get it to the publisher and then six months—I haven’t had it because of the pamphlet. See, I’m going back and forth with the pamphlet. Sometime in the next month I will finish it.
SCARPINO: Now I will say that what you refer to as a pamphlet, when I looked at it online, I think it was 130 pages.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, I know.
SCARPINO: So I don’t want people to get the idea that we are talking a three-fold here or anything. That pamphlet is a rather lengthy manuscript, just the online version.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. It’s going to be a bit shorter than a book, but I’m not calling it a book; the actual thing. Yeah, I mean Common Sense was about 60 pages I think. Tom Paine?
SCARPINO: Oh yeah, that Common Sense. Yes, it was—I don’t know exactly—but it was not a very long book.
MINTZBERG: No, it was a pamphlet.
SCARPINO: So from 2006 to 2009, you were the faculty director of the International Masters for Health Leadership. What need do you think that that program filled?
MINTZBERG: Oh, that program is actually doing very well because it combines the pedagogy of the IMPM with addressing healthcare in general. So it’s not about hospitals, it’s not about US or Canada; it’s worldwide for people from all aspects of healthcare and we call it a forum for addressing the major issues of healthcare. As I was saying before, in business people come to a program to develop themselves and maybe their companies, but in healthcare, at least in our class, we are getting all kinds of people who are there for the sake of healthcare worldwide. We have a woman in the executive director’s office of the WHO, for example.
SCARPINO: World Health Organization.
MINTZBERG: Yeah, and so on and so forth. So there is an amazing energy, amazing; even better than the IMPM.
SCARPINO: Did that surprise you? Did you see that coming?
MINTZBERG: Not to this degree. My experience is that these are always very energetic. The EMBA, same thing, always very energetic.
SCARPINO: The Executive Management Program, the EMBA?
MINTZBERG: The Executive MBA between McGill and (word inaudible) that mirrors—(phrase inaudible) equal (inaudible) to Commission, which is the University of Montreal French, and we do it jointly. It’s a bilingual program and it’s modeled after the IMPM, same managing.
SCARPINO: What attracted you to healthcare as a field of study? I mean, of all the things you could have picked, why did you settle on healthcare?
MINTZBERG: Because it’s probably the one that is most problematic now in terms of management. Maybe as you get older, you get more aware of health issues, but I have always dabbled. Dabbled is not quite the right word. My very first study included the executive director of the Mass General Hospital.
SCARPINO: Right. That was your dissertation that you are talking about, yeah. You also, from 2007 to the present, served as a founding partner of CoachingOurselves.com, which as I understand it is a private company that you co-own with Phil LeNir.
SCARPINO: What is the purpose of CoachingOurselves.com?
MINTZBERG: It’s the same philosophy as the IMPM, which is built on experience and so on. It just gets rid of the professor as a presence. Professor comes through what kind of look like extended PowerPoints. So companies sign up and they buy topics and they form groups and the groups download topics, which could be things like silos and slabs in organizations or aspects of innovation. Or we have one called: It does have an off button; how to deal with the technology and so on and so forth. So the professor comes in, in printed form and they discuss among themselves for about 90 minutes these different topics and ask themselves questions about: how can we carry it forward? So it’s very much like a lecture and workshop in our classes except the groups are doing it all by themselves.
SCARPINO: And it’s all basically online?
MINTZBERG: No. Well, it comes online, but they work on hard copy.
MINTZBERG: We don’t want them to work with electronic copies, so they work on sheets.
SCARPINO: So I want to ask you just a few general questions and then we’ll wrap it up. As you reflect on your long career, which is not over by any means, is there anything that you would do over or do differently?
MINTZBERG: (Laughing) I wouldn’t even dream of knowing how to answer that question.
MINTZBERG: I thought if I write an autobiography it would be called Dreams I Never Could have Dreamt. I was ambitious and I had lofty goals and all that, but I never, ever, ever could have dreamt of what I would have ended up doing and how I would have ended up and success and my absolute delight. I get to be creative every day, every day, in some way or other. Whether we are creating our MOOC right now, whether I’m writing a topic for CoachingOurselves, all the meetings we have been having in the IMHL, attending class in the IMHL, IMPM; I would not even know where to begin to say either how it could have been better—that I cannot even imagine—and totally suited to me. I remember once my father saw an ad in the paper for a new dean of our faculty at McGill and he says, “Do you think you will get it.” And I thought never in the world would I want that.
SCARPINO: So, you grew up here in Montreal.
SCARPINO: We are looking out your window at Mount Royal, but somewhere around here a young Henry Mintzberg must have been running around and growing up and so on.
MINTZBERG: Just on the other side.
SCARPINO: Did you ever in your wildest dreams when you were a young boy or young man, teenager, think that your life would end up the way it did?
MINTZBERG: No. No, I was in no danger of being chosen as the mostly likely to succeed. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: (Laughing) That is a lovely turn of phrase. Sorry.
MINTZBERG: No, I mean, I was okay in high school.
MINTZBERG: I was surrounded by a bunch of smart guys. We have like a province-wide competition, who comes first in the province and all that. I was surrounded by first, second, fourth in my class, but I was okay. I was okay. And in engineering school, I was okay. I don’t know why MIT let me in, it was a mistake, into the Master’s program. And I think maybe the only reason they let me into the Doctoral program is because I was writing all these nasty things in the student letter about how they have to revise the whole program. I think I came to their attention. MIT is sort of very open, so they mistakenly let me in. Then I started to shine. It was in the Ph.D. program that I became a real scholar.
SCARPINO: In terms of the body of your scholarship, which is vast, what do you consider to be your most important contribution?
MINTZBERG: Well, that’s difficult. What I consider to be my favorite piece is Structuring of Organizations or Structure in Fives. It’s so integrated and so tight from beginning to end. I have somewhere here, God knows, it’s in this office somewhere, I don’t know where. I don’t know. It’s here somewhere. Oh, here. No, I don’t know where it’s; a 250-page outline of that book.
MINTZBERG: All I had to do was kind of fill in the verbs.
SCARPINO: I would say I use outlines, but I have never written a 250-page outline.
MINTZBERG: I never did it before. I never did it since. But it worked. Somebody once said, “We heard you wrote that book in three months.” It’s 512 very dense pages. And I did. I wrote it in three months, but that was a first draft. But the outline took a hell of a lot of time and once I had the outline, I had the book.
SCARPINO: So once you wrote the outline then you wrote the book in three months.
MINTZBERG: In three months, but then I had to revise it for several months after and add quotes and all that stuff. But in terms of my most significant work, my hope is that the pamphlet really, Rebalancing, by far because it’s the most ambitious thing I have tried and it’s the one that could have the most impact. I would say of the other things I have done, the main things like strategy, organization, managerial work, all equally kind of important for me in the sense that in each case I tried to rethink sort of what strategy is, what managing is, how we understand organizations. But Rebalancing, no question is my hope. It’s too soon obviously to say that, but my hope is that it will have the most impact.
SCARPINO: So when you look at your own career, where you are right now, do you consider yourself a work in progress?
MINTZBERG: Yeah, in some ways, yeah. It’s hard to say yes, because I have done a lot of the things I want to do. But yeah, I would think if you spoke to someone like Leslie Breitner—did I give you her name—she could tell you about our GROOC meetings. We just laugh a lot and the ideas are coming hot and heavy, and I haven’t slowed down at all in terms of I think my thoughts and my capabilities. What I’m hoping now is that I will turn more—I have written an awful lot of personal stuff and I would like to see some of that published; a whole bunch of short stories. They’re on my website. Did you see?
MINTZBERG: That kind of thing. I’d like to see some of that get into print.
SCARPINO: So if I asked you what would you still like to accomplish, you have what you are calling your pamphlet, which is a book, personal stories and things that are unpublished but on your website?
MINTZBERG: Yeah. There is the pamphlet and the consequence to the pamphlet because there are questions in there like the Irene question I mentioned earlier.
MINTZBERG: Kind of: What can I do about this and how do you—Because people are saying, okay you have described it all, now what? I would like to give some attention to that. I obviously want to get the healthcare book out, but that is pretty much done. Then my personal writing; not only short stories. I wrote a book. I got on a bicycle in France in 1987 and I bicycled alone across France for 800 kilometers and I wrote a book about my life, about France, about experiences and so on, wrapped it all up, put it in the vault, and it remains unread to this day.
SCARPINO: Still in the vault.
MINTZBERG: And I would like to do something with that eventually.
SCARPINO: What do you consider your legacy to be, or what would you like your legacy to be? You joked a little bit earlier about what you would like to see on your tombstone, but I mean a little broader than that.
MINTZBERG: To bring some sanity to a crazy world.
SCARPINO: Is that a common goal for a scholar?
SCARPINO: Final question. Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t or anything that you would like to say that I didn’t give you a chance to say?
MINTZBERG: You did such a good job and you asked so many wonderful questions and I learned so much from the questions you are asking that I would hesitate to answer that even if I did have an answer.
SCARPINO: Well, go for it.
MINTZBERG: I have to think about it. No, I think you’ve covered a lot of ground. It’s a bit like the other question about sort of what I hope for versus what I accomplished and I said I wouldn’t even know how to begin answering that question. I think it’s the same with this question in the sense that the world sort of unfolds in ways you can’t possibly predict. So even to say I wish it would have been this or I wish it would have been that, there are so many possibilities and so many options and so many things that could have happened that I couldn’t even dream of. I sort of like to think there are two kinds of creativity. There is what I call spontaneous creativity, which is Picasso doing Guernica or something. Or I wouldn’t even call this spontaneous necessarily, but Tchaikovsky writing the Violin Concerto, which is my favorite piece of music. This is creativity that I can’t even fathom. I just cannot imagine how he could have come up with those notes in that way and it’s amazing to me. Then there is the other kind of creativity which is fairly banal, but probably does more to change the world than anything else. I’m thinking, for example, of Fleming with the mold and the bacteria. And what did he do? He just said, wait a minute, if the mold is killing the bacteria then maybe we can use that in the body. It’s sort of a good idea.
SCARPINO: And we got penicillin.
MINTZBERG: And we got penicillin and antibiotics and it’s kind of like, yeah, that was a very good idea. It changed the world, but is it like Guernica or like Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto? No. It’s this little switch, and I’m awful at the first kind, I think. When we play these games like 42 ways to use a pen or something, I just blank. My daughter, Lisa, she has this kind of creativity. One day she was about five and I look in horror in the backyard and she has these two bugs on her hand. And I say, “Lisa, what is that?” And she says, “Shh, they’re having a race.” (Laughing) I don’t come up with stuff like that. But I think I have that capacity to switch things around and just sort of say no, wait a minute; if it’s this way then it could be that way.
SCARPINO: Henry, I’m going to respect your time. We have been talking for a little bit more than two hours.
MINTZBERG: It’s fine.
SCARPINO: Before I turn the recorder off, I want to thank you very much on behalf of myself and the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association for being kind enough to share your time with me, both today and last fall here, in Montreal.
MINTZBERG: I feel it’s a huge pleasure for me. I will tell you a little anecdote in leaving. Leslie Breitner’s husband, John Breitner, who you probably did not meet. . .
SCARPINO: No. I talked to Leslie on the phone.
MINTZBERG: Yeah. So John is a physician, a researcher in Alzheimer’s at McGill, but he is an American. They just moved here about five years ago. John calls himself kind of moderate conservative. John said—when he looked at the pamphlet, I asked him to give me comments on the pamphlet because of his political perspective and so on, and I thought I would get good comments. And I got superb comments. But what I did not expect is how enthusiastic he was about the pamphlet. I sort of call this the John question, which is: How do I get people like John who would never read this to read it other than being the husband of a colleague?
MINTZBERG: Because if they read it, it really could get somewhere. But John wrote me an email recently, a few weeks ago. I put it in the new version. And he said, “Henry, if you want to reach the Johns of this world, recognize the good folks of America.” And the generous kind, he said more generous than Canadians, which is true. We are not sort of big philanthropists the way Americans tend to be. I don’t mean rich philanthropists. I mean just donations. He said, “You’ve got to speak to the good folks of America.” I really took that to heart and I edited through the whole thing from beginning to end. I did a search on every use of the word American, US, everything, and really tried to change the tone because, I don’t you, probably being American, might have picked up the tone. Canadians are always critical of Americans anyway.
SCARPINO: I have spent an awful lot of time working in Canada and I understand that perspective.
MINTZBERG: You are used to it. Anyway, I just want to say that you’re one of the good folks of America.
SCARPINO: Thank you. It was really a pleasure to talk to you and meet you.
(END OF INTERVIEW)