Friday, January 27, 2012

Because $ matters--endorse Romney!

By Clayton Christensen
In “Pennies from Heaven: How Mormon economics shape the G.O.P.,” Harper Magazine’s Oct 2011 cover story, author Chris Lehmann writes that “the business side of Mormonism is a curious agent for the faith’s deliverance into the mainstream,” and argues that “the Mormon-style gospel of wealth” is essential to understanding many of our economic debates today.
On Faith asked Harvard Business School professor and one of On Faith’s Mormon panelists, Clayton Christensen, for insight into how Latter-day Saints view fiscal matters, and how a potential President Romney, also Mormon, may approach the economy.
Some wonder whether certain beliefs and practices in the Mormon Church help its members inordinately contribute entrepreneurship, innovation and management to the economy. Things like honesty and respect for others and their property are taught and practiced in most churches. A few other principles, however - though they can be followed by anyone and are not uniquely “Mormon” beliefs per se - might be followed more consistently in our church than in some others. I’ll summarize just two of these.
The first is a duality that is critical to successful innovation: On one side, the license to innovate must be broadly felt. And on the other side, the instinct to follow their leaders’ guidance is critical to implement or “scale” successful innovations. Few institutions balance this as well as the Mormon Church.
On the one side, we believe that the Lord told us, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things. Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will; for the power is in them. He that doeth not anything until he is commanded, the same is damned.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 58:26 - 29; which I have condensed). And on the other side, several times every year, we raise our hands in conference to signify that we will sustain and follow our leaders. We are an innovative but obedient people.
Many of the important programs and institutions in our church, as a result, were innovations developed by local leaders, to solve local problems. As our prophet and apostles have then learned of these innovations and their effectiveness, they have asked every congregation in the world to adopt the innovations - and almost everyone does. Our systems of welfare, teaching our children, missionary program, and our ability to help the unemployed to find work, are examples of this. Responsibility for innovation is dispersed and bottom-up. When a better way is discovered, top-down direction drives broad and uniform adoption.
This duality is rare in our economy. For example, in education many teachers and administrators don’t view innovation as their job. They do their job year after year with little change, even though they are surrounded by evidence that change is badly needed. A few have produced extraordinary innovations in teaching and learning - such as KIPP Schools and Hi-Tech High. But even the best of these innovations scale slowly. Educators instead question the innovations’ effectiveness; muster countervailing data; or hide behind regulation.
Certainly some don’t apply to their professional pursuits what they can observe at church about the importance of this duality of innovation and implementation. But for those who use their membership in the Mormon Church as a graduate school for robust principles, it pays off.
A second example: Two types of innovations affect employment. Efficiency innovations are important for our economy. But they typically get rid of jobs, as innovators find ways to produce more with less. Disruptive innovations, in contrast, are products and services that are so much more simple and affordable that many more people can own and use them. Nearly all of the net creation of new jobs in our economy are rooted in disruptive innovation - innovations that bring higher standards of living to the bottom of the market - and then move up.
Because we have no professional clergy, members care for each other, and there is no hierarchy amongst us. For a time, for example, Mitt Romney was president of the stake (archdiocese) in Boston. Two of his bishops (ministers) who were leaders of two congregations were a professor at MIT and a man who worked the night shift loading and unloading trucks for UPS. When Romney finished his term as president, a policeman took his place. Many of those who join the church are poor - but we all rally to help them improve. It is the job of everyone. Membership in the Mormon Church helps you build an instinct, based upon love and service, for disruption - enabling those at the low-income end of the market, to move up. Our missionary service reinforces this instinct.
Some of the most successful Mormon businessmen built their companies disruptively, by enabling those at the low end to enjoy access to things that previously were too expensive. Marriott didn’t start as a hotel, but as a drive-through restaurant. George Romney transformed American Motors with the Rambler - from the bottom.Dave Neeleman’s Jet Blue followed the same pattern. And this instinct drove former Utah Governor and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt to createWestern Governors University - a very successful online university helping students who otherwise could not get the training to get better jobs.
Again, Mormons don’t have a corner on disruption, by any measure. I simply offer in this essay my personal observation that some of the things that I and others have learned in our church actually are quite helpful in other spheres as well.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and am a professor at the Harvard Business School. The observations in this essay are his own, and are not positions of my church or my employer.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Latino Literature and History

In an era that supposedly marches more and more emphatically to the drum beat of liberty, justice and equality for ALL, I'm appalled by how deficient our understanding remains of the Latino members of our society. I'm taking a U.S. Latino literature class as part of my final semester of college and what I'm reading now, I, along with every other U.S. citizen, should have been exposed to decades ago.

Yes, I still believe in this country and in its founding principles, even though our schools swing from idealizing the past to demonizing all of our british founders. We are a society obsessed with finger pointing, labeling and name calling, rather than solution oriented. Why can't we learn to adjust rather than destroy, include what's missing and phase out what's erroneous? NO ONE is perfect, no society or individual exists who is not riddled with failings, so why not simply acknowledge this and move forward?

Everyone who attempts to do anything realizes that hundreds, even thousands of adjustments and hours of practice go into any creation or accomplishment of value. The same is true of the human condition and how we perceive one another. I am taking 3 classes which emphasize the power of stories in shaping our lives, and in reading about U.S. Latinos, in literature written by the same, I am closer to empathizing with their culture now, after 3 historic fictions and 4 historic accounts, than I've been in the previous 5 decades. In fact, I wept at the end of "In the Time of the Butterflies," and found myself wishing I had daughters I could name after Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa! Cisneros' "Caramelo" took me inside a culture which grew up parallel to my own life and I cried when Celaya's father got ill and then died. Finally yesterday I completed my 3rd novel, "Bless Me, Ultima," which served as a conduit to my own early confusion over my Catholic upbringing and distant Cherokee heritage.

All, or most of us are a cultural blend from many nationalities and it seems that every U.S. school curriculum should include works from Native American, Latino, and African American authors, since these groups represent what and who we are. Our goal should not be to condemn anyone from the past, but rather to understand, adjust, and include all of what is best in proper context.,_Ultima

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The West Wing

My son introduced me to this show during Christmas break and I can’t stop watching it, which might seem paradoxical since I’m about as Conservative, politically, as anyone you’ll ever meet. When in doubt, I vote a straight Republican ticket and there are many current Liberal Democratic platforms which I strongly oppose.

On the other hand, I take issue with extremists at either end of the political arena, Republican or Democratic. There are Conservative Republicans who are as divorced from reality as Liberal Democrats. Both sides attempt to force others into their way of thinking—“my way or the highway”—which results in hostility and mounting divisiveness, but worst of all, nothing gets resolved. Too many Americans buy into the media’s decades-old drumbeat of “you deserve,” you’re worth it,” mindset. That slogan sells product, but it also encourages selfishness to the extreme.

Back to the show, The West Wing, and why I’m captivated by it. Does it idealize politics and Democrats? You bet. Isn’t that why we watch TV and movies? Who wants to watch drama which exactly mirrors reality with all its lousy dialogue and inept scripting? While I don’t agree with every opinion supported by the show’s characters, it appears to honestly reach for truth. Since it’s written, produced, and performed primarily by Liberal Democrats, that fact is refreshingly hopeful and confirms my belief that most of us want the same things in the end—truth, justice, safety and liberty for all. We simply disagree on how to get there.

Here we all are at the beginning of another presidential election year. Most of my Democratic friends and family members are disappointed in our current administration. I know that’s not true for all, but most. My Republican friends and family—well, there’s no mystery as to their views on the Obama administration. Quite frankly, I delete forwards because I don’t have time to read them, but I particularly dislike bashing of all kinds, especially when it becomes repetitious. A “clever” dig at a public figure can have cathartic value, but it’s counter productive when it becomes a regular form of expression. Even worse, I think it fosters the pettiest side of our natures and ham strings our ability to reason, which is the only reason I can conceive of for the blind opposition practiced by so many toward our best candidate to defeat the incumbent administration.

I’ve been following Mitt Romney for about 6 years. My son served a mission for our church in the Boston, MA area, so you can imagine how supportive he was of the man 4 years ago. I still remember how eager he was for his mom to get on board with his level of enthusiasm. I waited, read, and watched, because I really couldn’t care less what his religious affiliations are—it’s what he does and has done, what he says and has said, that matters. What I see is a brilliant man who’s able to deal with a wide spectrum of ideologies and financial messes, who expresses himself truthfully and openly, which means that he has adjusted his views periodically in order to more fully embrace his fundamental beliefs and serve his constituents. To those who call this a weakness I say, “to live is to change and to become perfect is to have changed often” (author unknown). Heaven help us if we think strength lies in never changing, because to do so is to stagnate and become irrelevant.

So, please, for the sake of our country and the planet we influence, consider what matters most and I think you’ll find Romney is the brightest hope we have. He has a proven track record for cleaning up messes, so let’s give him a chance to do the same with this country.