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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2003 : Frankel-y Speaking

Frankel-y Speaking

Double Bind, Double Blind
To create a better world, we've got to get beyond Smugreenies and the Skew.

By Senior Columnist Carl Frankel

Frankel-y Speaking

What’s that you say, Doctor? It’ll help me if I let it all out? I should just go ahead and ventilate about the things that drive me to distraction? You’re positive it’s okay?

Well, if you say so . . . (deep breath) . . . here goes.

I’ll start with the people I think of as smug greenies. We can even turn them into a market segment: the Smugreenies! These people just know that corporations are evil, and that anyone who consorts with them is evil, too. Sometimes they also decide that anything remotely smacking of business rigor is tainted as well. They’ve got it all figured out, those Smugreenies, and conveniently their answers always manage somehow to put them in the right. Geez, doc, how sweet it must be to live with the light of perfect righteousness shining down on one perpetually!

I’ll tell ya, doc, those Smugreenies drive me crazy. And what I find especially galling is that their view has so much merit—the world is going to hell in a handbasket, after all, and corporations are a big part of the problem. Their blind spot is so big, though! They’re like Olympians with a limp, those Smugreenies.

And then there’s the Skew. This isn’t a person or group of people; it’s a way of thinking, a “reality tunnel” about the world. Our culture disseminates a story about who we are and what matters. It is everywhere, this story, a web of assumptions and constructions that, for all practical purposes, we imbibe with the air. It’s what postmodern academics call a “control mythology.” It tilts things. It skews things. It makes us blind—not in the Smugreenie sense of projecting imperfection onto something, anything, other than oneself, but in the sense of a pervasive, generalized myopia.

We are so inside the Skew, so much a part of it, that it’s virtually impossible for us to understand how powerfully it affects us. Consider, for example, the familiar concepts of financial capital, social capital, human capital and intellectual capital. But what about vision capital? Isn’t there business value in being able to envisage something grand? The answer, for me, is a resounding and obvious yes. Vision inspires loyalty and commitment: it’s a superb recruiting tool. It also delivers competitive advantage, and often creates entirely new technologies and markets, too.

Vision capital is such an obvious concept that one would expect the term to have entered the business vernacular long ago. As best I can tell, it’s a foreign concept, though. I can think of only one way to explain this: a massive cultural blindness.

The Skew is what allows us to externalize environmental costs without giving it a second thought. It’s what has us hurtling toward the ecological abyss without realizing what’s happening.

Doc, can you see now why I’m so upset? Smugreenies and the Skew: talk about your basic double bind! (Or maybe it’s your basic double blind . . .) It’s the Skew the greens are railing against, and thank goodness someone’s doing it. Yet lots of greens are Smugreenies, and if they’re the cavalry coming to our rescue, I’m inclined to decline the ride. Trust me on this, doc: when self-righteousness takes over, the end of the world is nigh.

So what’s a person to do, trapped in this dilemma? It’s been said that schizophrenics choose insanity because it makes more sense to them than the “sane” solutions. That’s not what I’m doing here (Right, doc? Right?), but I am choosing to follow my imagination, and where it’s taking me is to a world where a whole lot more people see the Skew for what it is, while at the same time managing to stay humble. It’s a world where business is reinvented for the better, and the Skew is, too (which is the best we can hope for, given that every culture comes with blinders). It’s a world, in short, that is less pathological.

Am I dreaming? Maybe. But I’m okay with that. Even if we can’t take the smugness out of some greenies, we can put more caring into capital. Doing so will require enormous innovation and persistence, but those are assets we can muster—and dreams are what set them into motion.

Dreams, doc—you’ve just got to love ’em. They’re what take us beyond the Skew. They’re what create vision capital.

Carl Frankel’s next book, Out of the Labyrinth: Who We are, How We Go Wrong and What We Can Do About It, will be published in 2004. Frankel can be reached at:

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