Aspen in NYC — A Perspective from Zicklin

Post by Helen Serebin

This past Wednesday, October 27, I was fortunate to be the Zicklin delegate for the Aspen Institute’s conference: How Do You Measure Success?”

In the spirit of the conference, I am reporting on the proceedings in a series of questions.  It is my view that by asking the right questions, we will arrive at the place we want to be – provided that once we answer the questions we have the will, the integrity, and fortitude to do what is necessary.  And that my friends, is the hard part.

People looking for easy, one-step, cheap answers need read no further.

1)      Why don’t academic institutions, certainly MBA programs, teach students about money as a construct of power?  Would we have a healthier outlook if we understood that we give power to money, not vice verse?

2)      Would we be happier as a culture if we made a distinction between money and wealth?

3)      Why are we measuring progress with a metric (GDP) which doesn’t measure the things we know are vital to a healthy society: populace health, sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance  [from the Bhutanese GNH (Gross National Happiness)]

4)      Why doesn’t the GDP measure resource depletion?

5)      Do we think this preoccupation with measuring is healthy?

6)      If we know sustainability is critical to the health of U.S. society and to the health of all in general, why is the thought leadership on sustainability in Europe?  [Related to that, Why does Walmart follow more stringent regulations in the E.U and not here?]

7)      Why do we have a system that allows big companies (the Wall Street companies) to obtain money at no cost, while small business, which are locally rooted and critical to a democratic society, have to pay to obtain credit?

8)      The majority of people investing in the stock market are in it for the long haul, not quarterly earnings.  Isn’t it a problem that the people buying and selling equities are not aligned with our interests?

9)      If you have one main client and you lose it, isn’t that a problem?  That is not a good client to have.  Doesn’t this mean that too big to fail is not a good idea?  And not sustainable?

10)  Did you know that the microwave clock uses more energy every day than the 3 or 10 minutes that we might use the microwave for on a daily basis? Why do manufacturers design microwaves this way?

11)    How do these measures of success sound? Resilience, transparency, connectivity, diversity?  Do they sound more sustainable than measurement concepts like bottom line oriented, maximizing shareholder value, increasing quarterly earnings?

12)    Why is that when discussing sustainability, of which diversity is an important ingredient, every panelist (and there were 17 panelists) at the conference with the exception of two people were men? Diversity for diversity’s sake is not a good idea. However, when we invite truly different perspectives to the table we will have an honest dialogue.

13)    What part do you play in all this?  What do you do on a daily basis that questions the status quo of our unsustainable culture?

14)    What are your daily tangible actions toward sustainable living?

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