Compte rendu de lecture du dernier Mintzberg par Elisabeth Walliser (GRM) et Roland Pérez
RIMHE - Management & Human Enterprise RI/vol.4 - n°24 – 2016 – p 67-69
Mintzberg H., Rebalancing Society. Radical Renewal beyond Left, Right and Center, Oakland, CA, Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2015
For several decades now, Henri Mintzberg (H.M.) occupies a special place in the universe of Management Science. On one hand, he is fully immersed in a corpus of which he is one of the most prolific and the most recognized contributors - his about twenty works, since 1973, being best-sellers translated in numerous languages. On the other hand, he keeps at the same time distance, being even critical, from the sometimes conformist trends of management circles. We remember the critical work The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, said “Mintzberg 1994”, followed ten years later by a sudden even more explicit stunt Managers not MBAs said “Mintzberg 2004”. H.M’s positioning “internal and in overhang” is just like its native Canada and like the university Mac Gill where he practices, at the same time English-speaking and more opened to the world that his big neighbour of the South.
Ten years later, H.M. took again from behind the dominant trends, by pleading for Rebalancing Society; essay which he spread first of all in the form of an e-pamphlet, in February 2014, and among which the text, enriched by notes, references and appendix, was published, in 2015, by Berrett-Koehler, small Californian editor whom the author described as “an island of sanity and benevolence in the mad world of publishing” (p. 150).
What does this “Mintzberg 2015” hold in store for us? Is it of the same vein - i.e. a sometimes harsh - yet constructive criticism? The reader can be reassured, it is 100 % Mintzberg; we can even say that, as time goes by, the author says bluntly what he wants and underlines words that he puts in bold type in his text. The subtitle – as it is often the case - expresses his intention: “Radical Renewal beyond Left, Right and Center”, the whole in a circle surrounding three pillars: “Public, Private, Plural” among whom the relations and the interactions are at the heart of his concerns.
It must be understood, we are not in a school memento to prepare such or such course of management, but in a reflection of an observer of the contemporary world who witnessed big upheavals in these last decades and wishes to give us his findings. H.M. places himself the origin of its reflection: “I began to think this framework twenty-three years ago, when I visited Prague soon after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe” (p 148). We know that this historical period “post fall of the Berlin Wall” has caused disproportionate reactions of the pro-market advocates. “Capitalism has triumphed” declared Western pundits in 1989” (p. 5) reminds H.M who adds immediately: “They were wrong - dead wrong”, criticising at the same time Fukuyama and its proclamation on “The End of History?” (Fukuyama, 1989). H.M. reminds the risk of hegemony of the “Market Economy”: “When an economy of free enterprise becomes a society of free enterprises, it’s the citizen themselves who are no longer free” (p. 10). He adds “there are no human activities without externalities, and these are accumulating at unsustainable rates” (p. 19).
So, noticing the failure of “All State” and the risks of “All Market”, the author can propose the “Tree Pillars to support a Balanced Society” (chapter 3). To the both traditional pillars “public sector” and “private sector”, he adds the necessity of the “third sector”: “We need to change our concept of the political world….This perspective can take us past two-sided politics to a three sectors society, representing governments, businesses and communities” (p. 27). For H.M. the perspective is clear: “Strength in all three sectors is necessary for a society to be balanced….a public sector of respected governments, a private sector of responsible businesses and a plural sector of robust communities” (p. 28 and back cover).
This “plural sector” has an extensive definition: “The plural sector comprises all associations of people that are owned neither by the state nor private investors” (p.30). H.M. is aware of the disparity of situations led by such a definition. Actually, it is even this disparity which led him to choose this “plural” qualifier rather than others as “commons” classic expression of Elinor Ostrom (1990). The reader is struck to notice the convergence between the position that H.M. defends in this essay and the one, defended during decades, by the School of Bloomington created in the seventies in Indiana University by Vincent and Elinor Ostrom and for which the latter received the Nobel Price in Economics in 2009.
H.M. seems however less committed in this third sector than were the Ostrom. He so points out the risks connected with it, following the example of the two other sectors: “Each sector suffers a potentially fatal flaw. Governments can be crud, Markets can be crass. And communities can be closed” (p. 40). It is advisable to be all eyes. The author has a phrase full of imagery which is explicit “I no more want a private company patrolling my street than I want a government department growing my cucumbers” (p. 42).
Nevertheless, he hopes that the “Radical Renewal will have to begin in the plural sector, on the ground, with its social movements and social initiatives” (p. 51). Going further, he moves forward “Responsible social movements and social initiatives, often carried in local communities but also networked globally for collective impact, are the greatest hope we have for regaining balance in this troubled world” (p. 57). We seem to be hearing Lin Ostrom’s Nobel Lecture (2009).
To conclude, the author summarizes via a very educational plan (p. 62) the dilemma “Imbalance” versus “Balance” for each pillar: - “State Despotism” versus “Engaging Democracy” for the Public Sector; - “Predatory Capitalism” versus “Responsible Capitalism” for the Private Sector; - ”Exclusive Populism” versus “ Plural Inclusion” for the Plural Sector.
H.M. concludes his essay by a new call to an active humanism “The economically developed world is in dire need of social re-development” (p.74).
As we can see, this new publication of Henri Mintzberg., while expressing ideas already in germ in its previous works, constitutes, according to us, an inflection, a sort of “distancing” of this big author compared with his previous more academic works. It is, more than the researcher in management, the citizen of the world who expressed himself, even if - like that was the case of famous predecessors as Herbert Simon or Elinor Ostrom - there are necessarily no tight borders, in these disciplines affecting the collective life, between the professional practices and the behaviour of researchers in the societies which affect them. To them, as to us, applies the famous theorem of Levi-Strauss which reminded us that “To call the social fact total is not merely to signify that everything observed is part of the observation, but also, and above all, that in a science in which the observer is of the same nature of his object of study, the observer himself is part of his observation” (Lévi-Strauss, 1987, p.29). Can this example be heard by the researchers in management?
Fukuyama F. (1989), The end of history?, The National Interest, Summer, p.3-18.
Levi-Strauss C. (1987), Introduction à l’oeuvre de Marcel Mauss, in Mauss M., eds, Sociologie et Anthropologie, 1st edition 1950, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.
Mintzberg H. (1994), The rise and Fall of Straegic Planning, NY, The Free Press.
Mintzberg H. (2004), Managers, not MBAs, Oakland, CA (USA), Berret-Koehler Publishers.
Ostrom E. (1990), Governing the commons – The evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Ostrom E. (2009), Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems, dec 8th Price Lecture, Stockholm University, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2009/ostrom-lecture.html