“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”
“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”
“The world is not something that is given to us but something we engage in by moving, touching, breathing, eating.”
Francisco Varela (1999)
More than ever we are realizing that change and uncertainty are part of being human, especially living with a pandemic and in a rapidly changing world of complexity. In working with students this summer, we have used dialogue to deeply understand each other through a portal of shared meaning-making, to consider how we arise to emerging challenges in uncertain times that affect not just us, but people and communities across the globe. What is bubbling up is it is not so much the patterned and habitual knowledge frameworks and mindsets that guide us into the future, but it is the emergence of new ontological mindsets, or ways of knowing, being, and doing in the world, that are important in enabling resilience and adaptability to dramatic change around us.
This shift in thinking seems new to us in ‘our business as usual’ thinking but according to the Canadian anthropologist, Wade Davis, we have been ‘doing’ adaptive change for over 60,000 years. Historical evidence shares that our ancestors first ventured out Africa’s Rift Valley, spreading out across the planet, and adapting to changing land and seascapes, and new ways of life as they went. Fast forward to today’s modernity we have established knowledge frameworks that have been led by scientific discovery, and capitalistic approaches to learning and doing business. This has enabled us in the Global North to prosper and progress from a human development perspective. However, this approach has also objectified and commodified our world, leading to a binary separation from our natural world of where we come from. Nature1 is seen as a resource to be used (water as drinkable water, animals as livestock, land as real estate, trees as timber); nature is place outside of us and as something ‘out there’ for our taking. It is suggested that this lost connection to Nature, or nature deficit disorder, is what has created the societal grand challenge of climate change that looms before us. This decoupling effect from Nature is not a good thing and moves us far away from the traditional practice of ancients before us, of interdependence to the biosphere. Though it is worth noting, Indigenous knowledge frameworks and practices have persisted in holding onto this reciprocal or ‘two-eyed seeing’ approach of sensing the interconnections with the planet.
1 I capitalize the word ‘Nature’ throughout the text to recognize my perspective of the subjectivity and interconnected relationship humankind has with Nature. For hundreds of years we have placed Nature outside of the human inter-relational domain and have recognized her as an object, and unfortunately, too often as something to exploit. As I capitalize the name of a family member to show honor and respect, I do the same with Nature.
This summer, along with integrating the scientific frameworks of the UN’s sustainable development goals and 2030 Agenda into the business ethics course curriculum, we have introduced an assignment called the Nature Experience (NX). This assignment is grounded in Indigenous knowledge frameworks. In this assignment students are asked to design and spend at least 30-minutes in the sacredness of Nature and to share a report with their cohort on this experience. The student’s reaction to the NX assignment has been surprisingly wonderful and wonder-filled. First, students cannot believe they get a chance to do this type of experiment in a business school environment, and it stands out as a highlight. Second, students carry out diverse and meaningful designs in carrying out the NX, from hikes along shorelines, to writing poetry in the woods, to running or biking actively along a trail, and starring in the cosmos at night. In the student narratives you hear their senses coming alive, and a revived awakening. Feel the sense of connection and learning in the following three shared student NX narratives:
Above students share deep experiences of letting go of stresses and anxiety, to reflexive moments of new insights, to deep feelings of connection to our planet. From an observational perspective, these experiences seem to re-connect students to something once lost and creates a sense of revival of something new but old. Is this a connection to our past, and ancestral ways of being?
This makes me curious. Why has it become so strange for students to have Nature connections in a business school curriculum? This has not always been the way, the ancient Greeks, like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, embraced the organic and sacredness of the world. However, since the scientific revolution of Cartesian- Newtonian thinking, humanity has increasingly continued to decouple and estrange us from our origins of Nature; objectifying the world and using the biosphere to create profits and shareholder value. The problem with objectifying and externalizing Nature, we set up a duelist reality that Nature is different from humans…when scientific truth tells us that we are of Nature. Perhaps objectifying Nature makes it easier to exploit. Could this part of the challenge with business and society today, where we only view Nature as a resource to be used––creating an existential vacuum?
One might ask, how is this NX relevant to future business leaders? A whole paper or large volume could be written on this but succinctly in consideration of this short post there are several answers to that question, which included: (1) enabling systems thinking; (2) decreasing stress/anxiety levels and improving mental health; (3) de- coupling ontologies of separation; and, (4) de-centering students from patterned ways of thinking and opening creativity to create the world anew. Enhancing all of these elements has been strongly suggested as enabling leadership capacity and capability for embracing the increasing complexity of our rapidly changing world. I sense there is a real opportunity for a transformation of business school curriculums to include Indigenous knowledge frameworks and practice, that feature reciprocity and deep interconnections to Nature. Moreover, Pratarelli (2014) suggests that nature-based education can be redesigned to inspire the idea that humans are an equal part of the socio-ecological system:
That is to say, citizens, young and old alike, will require re-education to first accept that we are an evolved organism with biological needs that must be met, and afterward raise awareness and understanding of an individual’s personal contribution to the excessive exploitation of the planet’s limited resources. Furthermore, education will need to encourage self-evaluation from a psychological/mental health perspective. (p. 67)
In ending, my hope is that we can continue to innovate and transform school curriculum and develop new economic models and living plans that ultimately promote life on the planet that is held by the pillars of fairness, well-being, and sustainability. Furthermore, we need to explore the radical inter-relationality of our planet through the web of life. In doing so we can learn to re-connect to what it means to be human living on an interconnected planet full of networks of relationships. We have an opportunity to learn with Nature, not to just live and take from her, but to live in harmony. Walking this path will enable us to free our thoughts, our hearts, our agency, our identity, our happiness, our awareness, and our hope for desired futures (Escobar, 2020).
Kent A. Williams (DSocSci) is an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Management and facilitates leadership studies for undergraduate and graduate students that focuses on the 2030 Agenda and enabling citizenry ethics and virtue that builds leadership capacity and capacity for action to create desired futures for humanity.
Davis, W. (2009). The Wayfinders: Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.
Escobar, A. (2020). Pluriversal politics: the real and the possible. Duke University Press.
Pratarelli, M. E. (2014). The biopsychosocial model of human unsustainability: a move toward consilience. Global Bioethics, 25(1), 56-70.
Varela, F. J. (1999). Ethical know-how: action, wisdom, and cognition. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
CEGE Connection would like to recognize the contribution of the MBA(FS)Class of 2005 as they commemorate their fifteenth-year anniversary. All our best goes out to these graduates on this very special milestone year. Thank you for your commitment to excellence, life-long learning and the communities in which you live and work.
The CEGE Team
Imagine that you were interviewing contractors to build you the custom home of your dreams. How would you feel if one regaled you with stories about how wonderful his hammer and table saw were? The next, told tales of 2×4 lumber and how strong it was. And finally, the third contractor came in and asked you questions like: When you imagine your dream home, what does it look like? What are your absolute must-haves? How big is it? How many bedrooms, bathrooms? Can you show me pictures of homes, kitchens, etc. that you really like?
My guess is that contractor number three has the best chance of winning your business. The reason? He focused on your goals, needs, and what is important to you; while the others told you about the tools they would use to build your home.
This analogy seems bizarre, however, when it comes to financial planning this is exactly what happens. Advisors pontificate on how one investment is superior to the other. Or how fees are the only factor to consider when investing. Why you would be a fool to purchase one type of insurance over another.
This behaviour is no different than that in the example above. The financial services industry often behaves like the first two contractors – trying to sell you on the tools instead of educating you on the fact that products in the financial services industry are simply a means to an end – to help you achieve your goals.
Like the third contractor in the example above, the process needs to be based on your goals, not the bells and whistles of various products; advisors should seek first to understand your goals. Although it may be true that one type of investment has outperformed another type over the last twenty years, that doesn’t really answer the question of: “How can I retire at age 60 with $7,000/mth after-tax, in today’s dollars, indexed to inflation?”
For example, it is possible to achieve all of your goals while earning a three per cent annual rate of return; and it is also possible to achieve none of your goals while earning a 12 per cent annual rate of return. Knowing this, perhaps it is time to give more focus and energy to financial planning versus products.
If you don’t know where you’re going, it really doesn’t matter if you get on a plane, train, or automobile.
One of the biggest benefits in working to successfully execute a financial plan and tracking its progress regularly is that it will help prevent rash decision making. For example, if you have simply purchased some investments without a plan or a goal attached to them, then all that you have to focus on is the rate of return and the volatility. This results in way too much attention to the ups and downs of the market in the short term. By contrast, if you have a plan and your plan is still on track despite a small downturn in the market, you are more prone to stay with it and not attempt to become a market timing expert.
A good advisor should have a very clear understanding of your goals -create a roadmap showing you how to get there – and regularly review those goals with you to ensure that you are on track. Like any homebuilder, most have access to the same or similar tools. The difference is that a good advisor knows that the are tools, a means to and end, not an end in themselves.
Jed Levene is Managing Director at Rockwater Wealth Management. He is a Certified Financial Planner®, holds an MBA(financial services) from Dalhousie University, and a certificate in Behavioural Finance from Duke University. His articles on financial planning appear regularly on Orillia Today, Simcoe.com, CEGE Connection is pleased to advise that Jed has graciously agreed to be a repeat contributor on CEGE Connection.
“The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities… If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”
“Here at Dal and here in the Rowe School of Business, we are embracing creativity and adjusting to what will be a new normal for management. We are pivoting, not just our academic courses to a post-COVID-19 new normal. We are also pivoting our research, our ways of working together, and our ways of thinking about work and organizations.”
Dr. James Barker
In February of 2020, our world changed. And we have all experienced that change together in the COVID-19 pandemic. A change that has affected everything that we do. How we conduct ourselves with each other, how we work, how we learn. Everything has been shaped, everything has been moved, everything is different. Words that maybe only a few of us had heard before like, Zoom, Teams, enhanced collaboration – even TikTok – are now part of our work vocabulary and work lives. We have brought so many new elements into our workplace in the last five months as we all have struggled to adapt to a situation none of us has ever experienced.
We like to use the words, “the new normal” to talk about how life is going to be different and will remain different after the pandemic. What is important for us, as we think about organizations, as we think about our businesses, is to start to understand what that new normal is, what it means for us, and how we move with it, especially how we engage in that new normal positively and effectively.
We learned quickly with the pandemic that we faced a constant push of new knowledge out to us all, from knowledge about social distancing, face masks, and about how to work together on-line: How to be more present in virtual meetings. How to dress for a virtual negotiation. How to lean into the camera when you want to make a point during on-line collaboration. Steadily and surely, we are beginning to learn how to make our new normal more productive for us.
With that thought in mind, I want you to know that here at Dal and here in the Rowe School of Business, we are embracing creativity and adjusting to what will be a new normal for management. We are pivoting, not just our academic courses to a post-COVID-19 new normal. We are also pivoting our research, our ways of working together, and our ways of thinking about work and organizations.
Just to speak for myself, much of what I have done in the last five months has been changing the pharmacy safety research that I do to account for the new normal of community pharmacy in Canada: identifying and assessing how our pharmacists can effectively and safely navigate the changes wrought by COVID-19. Here in the Rowe School and the Faculty of Management, we are actively learning how to manage in this new normal and continually working to feed that knowledge back to you. You will see this new knowledge, not just in the classes that you are taking, you will see it in our research reports and presentations, workshops and blog posts, everything from now on is going to be shaped by Covid19 and focused on what we can learn from our experience with the pandemic.
We are also rapidly identifying, assessing, and making available to you other emerging knowledge that you can use to navigate your own new normal of work. And we are collaborating with our peers around the world to ensure that we can move useful knowledge out to you quickly. Dal MBA students who have recently taken our Management Skills course will know the work of Phil Clampitt from the University of Wisconsin. Phil sent me a copy of his latest thinking about how to manage in the Post-COVID-19 organization for me to include for you in this post: Phil Clampitt Seven Lessons Learned from COVID-19.
Experiencing and engaging within the last five months has been a struggle for all of us. We are all struggling together. The pandemic has shown how closely interconnected, interrelated and interdependent we all are. How much our ability to cope with this pandemic depends upon how we deal effectively with that interrelatedness, interdependedness, and interconnectedness so that we can move forward, so that we can shift and address the potentialities of our movement, so that we move in a positive direction. As you go forward in your own navigating of the new normal, remember that here at Dal and at the Rowe School and Faculty of Management, we are working hard with you and to support you in that forward movement.
“Nothing endures but change.”
Michelle Hunter exemplifies the best of what CEGE offers students – a compassionate voice on the other side of the phone. Anyone who embarks on the MBA(FSL), MPA(M) MIM academic journey appreciates how important it is to reach someone who can help them achieve a home-work-study balance. Michelle has been there for hundreds of CEGE students over the years. On a personal note, Michelle and I have been friends for 20 years. I am excited that we are working together on the CEGE Connection, an initiative to build and foster a virtual community that thrives on the exchange of knowledge and experience.
In a recent interview, Michelle reflected on CEGE’s extraordinary legacy.
I have been with the Centre for Executive and Graduate Education for 20 years. It has been an extraordinary experience. Although the Centre has had a few name changes; new programs added and some retired, some programs have undergone major re-design, and the delivery model has evolved significantly; relativity speaking – the students in the MBA (FSL), MPA (M) and MIM have remained constant.
Students enrolled in one of the CEGE programs have made a choice to achieve a personal goal of earning a master’s degree and when they do achieve this goal it is a very special accomplishment. I recall in the early days of the programs, returning to studies was not even a consideration for most of our students. Putting their careers on hold to go back to school was not realistic or feasible. When Dalhousie offered the opportunity to earn a master’s degree while continuing to work toward furthering their careers, it was a personal and career goal that was now achievable.
It is wonderful to connect with the students in the program and to continue the connection after they graduate. The first initial conversation is typically when someone inquiries about applying to the program or after they have been accepted. We have a conversation about program planning or resources Dalhousie has to offer. It is a great feeling to know that I can assist someone, even in the smallest of ways, to achieve their goals. What I most enjoy talking about with our students is the personal connection: learning about their families, their careers, and how they are applying what they are learning in the program and implementing this new knowledge in their personal and professional lives.
It is an honour to work with the students, they inspire me – they are committed, goal oriented and dedicated to lifelong learning.
Acting Director, Centre for Executive and Graduate Education
Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University