2020 was a year quite unlike any other, chock full of events that overwhelmed entire industries and society at large, causing us to rally around and buck up our ideas like perhaps never before done at scale.
These are indeed strange times, when business ideas weren’t just rendered abruptly obsolete in the blink of an eye. Our entire value systems, and everything we knew to be true was brought into question in 2020.
Take the fundamental idea of capitalism itself. Without question, capitalism can still be a powerful force for good. But while free markets have led to prosperity for some, they have also generated increasingly harmful and untenable inequities across economic, racial, and geographic lines, with the rich getting richer, and those without access to essentials being further cut off. 2020 has forced us to look at a harsh, perhaps inalienable truth; that the current form of capitalism is fundamentally broken.
Rebecca Henderson, a Harvard professor of renown, puts on her thinking cap and examines exactly this in “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire”. This must-read book sees her pick apart the prevailing orthodoxy of capitalism, and outlining a practical way forward for a system that has given to inequity and craven greed. While free market capitalism has been the source of great prosperity for many, it has come at a price. Capitalism is running rampant, and on the verge of destroying the planet and destabilizing society as wealth gets concentrated in the hands of a few at the cost of the many. The time for action is now, but rapidly running out.
Henderson’s rigorous research in economics, psychology, and organizational behavior, as well as her many years of work with companies around the world, give us a path forward. She debunks the worldview that the only purpose of business is to make money and maximize shareholder value. She shows that we have failed to reimagine capitalism so that it is not only an engine of prosperity but also a system that is in harmony with environmental realities, the striving for social justice, and the demands of truly democratic institutions.
Henderson’s deep understanding of how change takes place, combined with fascinating in-depth stories of companies that have made the first steps towards reimagining capitalism, provide inspiring insight into what capitalism can be. Together with rich discussions of important role of government and how the worlds of finance, governance, and leadership must also evolve, Henderson provides the pragmatic foundation for navigating a world faced with unprecedented challenge, but also with extraordinary opportunity for those who can get it right.
“Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” doesn’t just look back at the injustices of regimes and decades gone by, but also offers a thought-provoking and enduring lesson on the relevance of capitalism, how it needs to be rewired for the greater good, and how resilient, forward-thinking leadership is still the need of the hour, now more than ever. It is essential reading for not just leaders, but organizations and society as we usher in the next normal and all it entails. The passion, intellectual clarity, and persuasive arguments detailed in this book are a clarion for change for us all, and we would do well to heed it.