When you look at the world it probably does not look like a sandwich, it looks more like a burger. In our business schools, however, we portray our world much like a triangular American-style Bologna sandwich, standing on its side sloping upwards. In my teaching I bring this triangular shaped sandwich along as a metaphor of our current dominant mindset in business. It represents the idea that all we want is growth, unlimited growth.
This story goes deep and is culturally embedded globally. It goes something like this: We are born as individuals out to maximize our own benefit. The most important ambition for us is to grow indefinitely the riches and profitability of ourselves and our organizations. The measures of success and failure are how much we increase our income, profit, and GDP. Business and political leaders fall and rise with these success measures.
We know this is intuitively wrong. Our pop songs remind us. We do have limits and the most important things in life are free. Still, our imagination, especially in business education is rather limited. We know that we all need to fulfill a basic minimum to flourish. We also have physical limits that exist whether we want it or not and so does the planet that supports us.
Kate Raworth has proposed to change the imagery of our economic system to resemble a donut. The core of the donut- the munchkin- represents what I call the dignity core, the basic needs all humans need to fulfil to live as humans. The outer boundary of the donut represents the planetary boundaries that humanity is violating, at our peril.
When I bring donuts to my students, inevitably half of them do not want to eat them because they are unhealthy. So much so that Dunkin Donuts, one of the largest chains in the United States decided to drop the name “Donuts” because millennials and others do not like it. I have since resorted to bringing along wholesome bagels.
I agree with Kate Raworth that metaphors shape the way we think, see, and act in the world. I am suggesting that bagel management is a better idea for how we should understand the task of managers.
Using the bagel as a metaphor suited to my millennial students, I now argue that the most important task of managers is to 1) move humanity above the dignity threshold (the inner core) and 2) reduce the impact of human activity on the planetary boundaries to 3) enable flourishing of all life on earth.
Raworth suggests we call the zone we need to be moving to the ‘safe and just operating zone for humanity.’ I call it the process to get there humanistic management: the protection of dignity and the promotion of well-being.
Once you see the world less like a triangular sandwich that makes the managerial task about growth at all costs, you can see different possibilities. Once you see management as a healing task to get humanity back towards flourishing, it is fundamentally different. My students are living a life of quiet and not so quiet desperation. Once you shift the metaphor, life can creep in, enliven them, and energize me along with them.
I invite you to try a bagel and the perspective that comes with it.
Onward fellow humans….
Dr. Michael Pirson is an Associate Professor of Management, Global Sustainability, and Social Entrepreneurship at Fordham University. He co-founded the International Humanistic Management Association of which De La Salle University is a part. Email: [email protected]