From the Editor – Issue 62

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein

The worldwide banking crisis and financial panic has me wondering:

  • How much the Internet may accelerate reactionary behavior through its instant information?
  • What role do technology products play in the financial collapse? Technology has enabled complex instruments (e.g., mortgages sliced and packaged in risk portfolios, debt swapping instruments), which are difficult to understand by themselves and impossible to understand as they interact with each other.
  • How much of this was caused by greed and how much by ignorance?
  • Do those bank leaders who left with huge fortunes feel any sense of guilt or shame?
  • In the swirl of news and guesswork around the financial crisis, it is easy to forget that there are other significant problems in our world at this time. The energy crisis is real, and the concerns about climate change and CO2 emissions are also looming large on the horizon.

Energy and the environment are the focus of this issue. Thomas Friedman, in his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded does an excellent job providing a framework for connecting business, energy, technology, the environment, and public policy.

Before the book came out, Tom Cottrell, professor of strategy at University of Calgary, and I had a conversation with Clive Mather, recently retired CEO of Shell Canada. We planned more focus on energy, but we quickly got into its connection with international development and the environment. He is a truly thoughtful person with some surprising answers. He doesn’t at all fit Friedman’s sweeping generalization of oil and gas company leaders: “They want to break our will to resist. Their hidden message is, ‘Surrender now, give in to your inner gas guzzler …’” [p. 209]

My technology column deals with energy technologies, and I brought in some experts such as Lonnie Edelheit (former senior vice president of R&D at GE) and Tom Ackerman (professor of atmospheric sciences at University of Washington). David Gautschi, dean at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, contributes a perspective on future transportation. Andy Chan provides career advice for Stanford MBA grads, and shares some of this with our readers for these turbulent times.

Ultimately, the issues of climate, environment, and energy connect back into the financial picture, though I have a concern that the environment and energy issues will get lost in the financial mess. I think if Friedman were starting his book today, it might be titled Hot, Flat, Crowded, and Broke. The platform for looking at ethics issues in business is getting very large.

Next Issue: our conversation will be with Sally Jewell, CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) — the largest co-op in the U.S.


Al Erisman
Executive Editor