Responsible Leadership: Lessons from the Front Line of Sustainability and Ethics
John Hope Bryant
How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class
Andrew S. Winston
The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World
(Harvard Business Review Press, 2014)
Many of us wax lyrical about paradigm shifts but fail to grasp the dizzying, gut-wrenching impact of the transitions that Thomas Kuhn had in mind when he popularized the term in the 1960s. He was probing the sort of scientific revolutions that change the way people see the world, such as the shift from Newtonian certainty to Einsteinian relativism. Today’s business leaders face a similar paradigm shift: from a market reality shaped by economic demand to one shaped by the collision of expanding human numbers and shrinking planetary limits.
The new reality involves a higher order of risk than most business leaders are used to. Whatever their PR folk say, corporate leaders recognize that they and their staff are human and fallible. They accept minor tactical missteps, and even a few major strategic blunders, as a fact of business life. But the risk associated with sustainability is systemic. The old paradigm of business as usual doesn’t change, but now it threatens to overrun the ecological systems that make civilized life possible.
Many books have been written about sustainable business. (By this, I mean the broad definition of sustainable business that encompasses environmental, social, and financial responsibility—the “triple bottom line” that I’ve spent so much of my career exploring.) By way of solutions, the authors of these books propose the adoption of new rhetoric, promoting citizenship, responsibility, and organizational change. But proposals are only the first step. Few companies have taken the next step—concrete action for making the transition to the new paradigm. This distinction, between rhetoric and action, shaped my choices as I confronted the task of identifying the best business books published on this topic in the past 12 months.