Rebecca Henderson: Awake
“Being awake means seeing the world more clearly in all its incredible beauty, as well as in all its difficulties and dangers.”
In 2020, Harvard professor and economist Rebecca Henderson released ‘Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire’, an explanation of what is wrong with the state of capitalism today, and a manifesto for an alternate vision for business, where firms are the solution, rather than the cause, of the greatest challenges we face today. The book was shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey business book of the year in 2020, and her ‘Reimagining Capitalism’ elective course has become the most successful MBA elective course launched at Harvard Business School in the last five years.
We asked Rebecca what one word she thought was key to a kinder, more equitable, and greener world.
Read the full interview here:
When I was a teenager, I found refuge on the lower limb of a great copper beech – a tree that was 40 or 50 feet high. I would look up at the sky through its branches and feel safe, connected and taken care of by something infinitely larger than myself.
For years, I kept my love for trees separate from my work. But that really changed for me when I realised that the climate crisis is killing the forests.
Humans are very smart. We can see what’s happening. And seeing California burn and Bangladesh flood, people have woken up to the idea that climate change will be really, really bad for business. Destroying our life support systems makes no sense.
Being awake means looking with open eyes at problems like climate change. It means seeing the world more clearly, in all its incredible beauty, as well as in all its difficulties and dangers. And it’s about an awareness of vulnerability.
Before the pandemic, one could believe – particularly if you were running a major corporation – that everything would be fine, that as long as you kept running in the same direction, it would work out.
The pandemic was a very strong reminder that things can break; that things will break. But so many firms are caught in the fear-hurry loop, that there is no time to step back and say: could we find a different business model?
Now, my inbox is full of firms and boards who can clearly see that we need to find another way to run things and to be in the world.
The good news is: it’s fixable. It’s addressable. We have the resources and so many people can see where we are and want to find a different way of being.
In an awake society, firms would understand that their goal was to create a thriving and healthy society, that making profits was absolutely necessary, but that was a means to an end, not an end in itself.
We need an avalanche of change and avalanches are driven by pebbles. It can be done, but it requires us all to step back, breathe, focus on the longer term and focus on the well-being of the whole. When you’re working in this way, it’s much more possible that change will come.
“For years, I kept my love for trees separate from my work. And that really changed for me when I realised that climate change is killing the forests.”