Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration
My official title is “Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration” at the Harvard Business School where I joined the faculty in 1981. My Ph.D. is in social psychology from Harvard University. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the relationship between individual development and work experience, based on two years of working in and conducting research in the Venezuelan Telephone Company(CANTV). My undergraduate degree is in philosophy and psychology from the University of Chicago.
In 1979, I began an extensive research project aimed at understanding the implications of the diffusion of information technology for the nature of work, organization, and management. At that time, no one wanted to give me money for the research. I was told by foundations and other funding agencies that computer technology was “no big deal”. I persevered, and after many years of working in pulp mills, banks, and telephone companies I was able to publish In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, in 1988. The book garnered much acclaim and many regard it as the definitive work on the subject.
As the first person in my family to have a university education, let alone a scholarly career, I eagerly called my father when I was awarded tenure and an endowed Chair. He was, of course, very proud of me. “That’s wonderful sweetheart”, he said, then he asked, “is the chair comfortable?” I have also published dozens of essays, book reviews, and cases on the subject of information technology in the workplace, as well as on the history and future of work. I am very proud of “Work in the United States in the Twentieth Century”, which appears in the Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century, (1996).
In 1994 I realized that I no longer believed in the progressive vision of the corporation espoused in my book. I decided to take some time out from publishing for study and reflection in order to see if I could find a new way forward in the field of management. That began a decade-long intellectual journey from which I concluded that today’s managerial capitalism has reached the limits of its adaptive range. Instead of being the engine of wealth creation, it has become the obstacle to wealth creation. The society of the twenty-first century requires a new approach to capitalism that I call “distributed capitalism”.
These last ten years of study, research, and reconceptualization are summarized in my new book The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, co-authored with Jim Maxmin (my husband, a former CEO, and a philosophy Ph.D.) and published by Viking in October, 2002. The book argues that people have changed more than the corporations upon which their well-being–as consumers and as employees– depends.The chasm that now separates the new individuals from the old organizations is filled with frustration, pain, even outrage. Paradoxically, it also represents the opportunity to unleash the next great wave of wealth creation as we forge a new approach to commerce and to capitalism suited to today’s people–their needs and dreams. I argue that there are neither easy fixes nor radical fixes for how out of touch business has become. There are only discontinuous solutions, which are difficult to think about, but once you do–they change your thinking forever. The book connects many disparate phenomena–things that we all know and experience but whose meaning and interrelationships have been opaque. After my two children, I am most proud of this book. As far as I can tell, there is nothing else quite like it.
In 1993 I began working on a new “executive education program” that deals with transformation and career renewal at midlife. In fact, I have been exploring these issues since I was a very young woman, and only now am I beginning to think I may understand a little bit about them. In 1996 I named that program ODYSSEY: School for the Second Half of Life. The program has grown over the years. It now includes a community of the most extraordinary people who have come to the “program” to explore their truth and support one another in the on-going effort to become an individual. In my eyes, they are all heros and pilgrims and I am incredibly proud to be a part of their community.
Naturally, I have done all the usual things that people look at this sort of biography to find out about: lots of lectures, keynotes, seminars, workshops, and consulting in the US, Canada, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Hong Kong, Brazil, and Argentina. I have addressed and advised many wonderful groups and companies, including Euroforum, European Computer Systems, The US Postal Service, The Medical Library Association, The National Education Association, THe Minnesota Joint Computer Conference, The Economist, The Conference Board,The Ontario Labour Ministry, The Association of Computing Machinery, The Aspen Institute, Sun Microsystems, Norwest, FIrst USA, Johnson&Johnson, Andersen Consulting, Xerox, Unix, IBM Brazil, IBM Israel, Motorola, LEvi-Strauss, SAP, Lotus, Ameritech, Proctor and Gamble, Kodak, Citibank, Thompson Information Systems, Sylvan Prometric, Apple, Hewlitt Packard, and many others. I have delivered major addresses at Cambridge University, MIT, Harvard, The British Computer Society, The Smithsonian, The AMerican Society for Training and Development, The American Management Association, Rockhurst College, and others. I love speaking to new groups–the larger the better– because I love teaching. I have been on editorial boards–the Harvard Business Review, the American Prospect, and Organization. I have been awarded research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.
I lived a good bit of my life in the Argentine and other parts of South America. I once tended a small herd of llamas. I especially love the altiplano, where the fierce appreciation of vivid colors–despite a nearly monochromatic landscape– is said to derive from joy in the rainbow.