KnowledgeLeadership Interviews

A Conversation With Rosabeth Moss Kanter – Part I
This interview originally appeared in Chamber Executive magazine published by American Chamber of Commerce Executives. It is the first of a two-part interview. The second part focuses on Professor Moss Kanter’s most recently published book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End.
She has received 21 honorary doctoral degrees from distinguished universities nation-wide and over a dozen leadership awards, and has been named to lists of the “50 most influential business thinkers in the world” (ranked #11), the “18 business gurus to watch,” the “100 most important women in America” and the “50 most powerful women in the world.” She co-founded Goodmeasure Inc., a consulting group, and serves as chairman of its board as well as serving as a director or adviser for other companies. Her consulting clients include some of the most prominent companies, and she has delivered keynote addresses for major events in every U.S. state and dozens of other countries, sharing the platform with Prime Ministers and Presidents. Goodmeasure is currently developing Web-based versions of her leadership and change tools (, to help embed them in organizations everywhere. Rosabeth Moss Kanter Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, specializing in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. She advises major corporations and governments worldwide, and is the author or co-author of 15 books, including her latest book, Evolve!: Succeeding in the Digital Culture of Tomorrow. Other award-winning best-sellers include Men & Women of the Corporation, The Change Masters, When Giants Learn to Dance, and World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter on the Frontiers of Management.

Who have had the greatest impact on your own development as a business thinker? How so?
There have been many influences over the years, Peter Drucker being one of the most important because he has helped so many of us to think differently about organizational leadership and management. Frankly, I learn something of value from everyone I meet -- my Harvard colleagues, my students and the executives I work with. For an eager student (which is what I am), there is so much to be learned from everyday experiences. I’m a sponge. Always will be.

Of all the books you have written thus far, which seem to have had the greatest impact on senior-level executives? Why?
Time is a function of impact. The longer a book of mine has been in print, the greater its impact seems to be as people absorb and digest my ideas. I am especially proud

Management. as Lou Gerstner also found out years later. So competition within an organization can also be brutal. The most effective leaders overcome “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” by being change agents themselves. eager to provide encouragement and support when needed most. The title of his own book is Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? He and his top executives were change masters at IBM. Please explain the role of leadership when overcoming what Jim O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom. They have vision and courage. Innovative thinkers challenge the status quo in their organizations. They are often viewed as “troublemakers. In it. Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation [first published in 1983] because it raised questions and addressed issues at a time when so many great changes were occurring in our society. will always need change masters. friendly. they see what others don’t see. Change masters are my heroes and heroines because they are mavericks. Throughout human history. 'Why not?'" Innovative thinkers are constantly asking questions such as these. I like to say that “Change is always a threat if it’s done to me but an opportunity when done by me.. Symbols serve as constant reminders of their enduring importance. John Akers once said that changing IBM’s culture was more difficult than getting elephants to dance. flexible. understanding the value of collaboration across organizations as a way to get more for everyone. vendors. an organization will have few (if any) of the Five Fs. Traditions keep them alive. Competition has never been more threatening than it is now.. Regrettably. they are not only respected but celebrated. By the way. and Careers in the 1990s [first published in 1989]. I have observed that people only resist changes imposed on them by other people. Dissatisfaction with the status quo and efforts to improve it should be encouraged rather than discouraged.” They threaten the defenders of the status quo. In the most effective organizations. I insist that even the largest organizations really can transform themselves and I explained how. focused. They are constantly improving on what they do and how they do it. fast. Not just associates in the workplace but also customers.” That is a major obstacle because successful organizations become complacent and thus are vulnerable to competitors which have mastered the Five Fs. They are dreamers who make their dreams come true. they challenge the status quo. especially the larger ones. to our products and services by making them even better? How can we do more to nourish the personal as well as professional development of our people? What more can we do as a good citizen where we do business? Without constant innovative thinking. They encourage and reward innovative thinking. indeed throughout the world. hiring and training? How can we add greater value What do the most effective organizations share in common? They demonstrate the Five Fs: They are . appreciating the value of each and every person involved in the enterprise. Why? Because everyone involved is committed to certain non-negotiable core values. and fun. By “friendly” I mean partnership-oriented. Rituals such as special occasions reaffirm them. I am also pleased by the reception to When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenges of Strategy. How can we improve recruiting. They are revolutionaries. Friendly people are caring people.of The Change Masters. It is no coincidence that the most highly admired corporations are also among the most profitable. All organizations. And they are very hard workers.” What about innovation? It is absolutely essential and everything begins with curiosity. They really care about making a difference. people have developed strong loyalties to traditions. rituals. They are resilient and can rapidly respond to problems as well as to opportunities. and symbols.literally anyone with whom there is contact. that is often not the case. A great thinker once described innovative thinkers this way: "Some men see things as they are and say. Of course it’s really difficult. 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say.

not only to your organization and career but also to your personal life. Many of their seniorlevel executives were indicted. Jack Dempsey once said that “champions get up when they can’t. a country which was then the most powerful in the world. the two Adamses.both before and following the tragic events on September 11th -made us realize how vulnerable we all are. Finally. there has been great interest in the relevance of the Founding Fathers (especially Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) to the contemporary business world. Talk about change masters! problems developed. economic laws have been overturned! Then all the dot. to make a difference in others’ lives as well as in your own. and sent to prison. O’Connor Boulevard Irving. Efforts to solve the problems do not produce immediate results. So here’s another of “Kanter’s Rules": “Everything looks like a failure in the middle. problems. ending the winning streak. TX 75039-3707 Direct (972) 401-4435 Fax (972) 443-1742 jtaylor@thomasgroup. They enjoy success and assume it will continue. please contact: Jim Taylor CEO and President Thomas Group International Headquarters 5221 N.Is that one of “Kanter’s Rules”? In my new book Confidence. For more information about KnowledgeLeadership@ThomasGroup. Embrace change as an opportunity to learn. Franklin. Remember that preparation and ambition in combination with opportunity equals success. especially when they encounter delays. They give up too soon.” So often. I explain how both winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end. Meanwhile. Have the courage to challenge the status quo. to improve. Corporations were heavily fined for illegalities. obstacles. Organizations (especially start-ups) get on a roll and thrive for a while. That’s why we feel a greater appreciation of our Founding Fathers. it was so easy to lose sight of basic values. Why? During the Boom Years. we rediscover or reconnect with the core values of our heritage. and others (literally) built an entirely new nation after defeating England. to those about to begin a career in business. For example. And have fun! In recent years. Jefferson. convicted. Then their neglect of the Five Fs causes serious problems. During times such as these.” Exactly and the same is true of organizations. global terrorism -. The economy suffered. what advice do you have? Fully understand the importance of the Five Fs. people become impatient and then discouraged.” Some people said all Knowledge Library Knowledge Navigator "Connections" . Now they’re on a losing streak. there was lots of nonsense said and written about the so-called “New Economy.