Rosabeth Moss Kanter Blazes New Path for Social Business and Innovation

Sure, every single business and sector is being disrupted. But where will we find the vision, creativity, and leadership to innovate to address this? That’s where Rosabeth Moss Kanter comes in.

The foremost authority on innovation, leadership and change management, Kanter is using everything she knows and teaches to companies to spearhead a path-breaking venture for corporate veterans and high-powered professionals in a 380-year-old organization: Harvard University. And it’s working.

Five years ago, Kanter – an influential Harvard Business School professor – launched with colleagues the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI), an avant-garde “next career” program for accomplished leaders who seek to improve lives and solve the most challenging global problems. As Kanter noted, “Societal problems – education, health care, climate change – are coming closer to us, and are harder and harder to ignore. Finding and instituting solutions to these problems needs interdisciplinary leadership; it requires a new kind of collaboration and cooperation across sectors and industries.”

Filling such critical leadership gaps amongst experienced leaders also demanded unprecedented collaboration and cooperation across a university legendary for its silos – “every tub on its own bottom.” Fueled by Kanter’s vast experiences helping companies drive innovation and create cultures of meaning and social impact, ALI draws from all of Harvard’s professional schools – including law, business, government, education, medicine and public health – going well beyond the typical platitudes of interdisciplinary alliances.

Kanter lives and practices her messages. Her vision for ALI was to employ a leadership force that can think differently about seemingly intractable community, national, global problems and bring innovative solutions. In the process, she’s enabled Harvard to think differently too, creating a bold academic innovation that not only has the potential to become another facet of higher education, but to also redefine “retirement” while showing how to effectively unlock new sources of innovation at any age. This is a “three-for” that can convert change from threat to opportunity.

The world now demands that companies add social and environmental criteria to the usual financial metrics. Every organization urgently needs new sources of innovation. People live longer and want to do something meaningful in their lives following their income-earning years – and also while still on the job. Are you – and your company – ready to think differently?

Listen to Kanter talk about ALI and how it’s helping spur social innovation across the globe in a recent interview with Bloomberg News. You might also be interested in her Harvard Business Review column on “How to Turn Around Nearly Anything.”

Stern Strategy Group: