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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Collaboration necessary for positive change

Originally Posted in The Star Tribune on May 16, 2010

Minnesotans have long recognized the value of individual freedom and the merits of initiative and creativity. Yet we live by the collective — our schools, our security, our environment, our parks and lakes, our safety. We know we cannot thrive without it, either nationally or locally. But many people resent its intrusion into their lives and its claim on their earnings.

The political parties in recent years have sharply divided: to the left — in support of the collective, largely through government actions and laws — and to the right — in support of the rights and freedoms of individuals. Those of us in the middle are in “no man’s land,” trapped in the crossfire between left and right and between increasingly strident voices in politics and in the media.

Most people desire both individual freedom and the support of the collective, even if they don’t articulate it that way.

There is a better way that offers the promise of enhancing individual initiatives while providing “common” benefits for all citizens. I call it “community-building through collaboration and creativity.”

Last October, Indiana University Prof. Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economic sciences. The Nobel Committee cited her breakthrough research in the management of common resources like forests, fisheries and oil fields.

Commonly pooled resources

In her book “Governing the Commons,” Ostrom outlines a thoughtful approach that she labels “commonly pooled resources.” Her work stands in sharp contrast to several Nobel laureate economists of the past decade who have argued that people only operate in their self-interest.