IAJBS 23rd Annual World Forum University of Namur, Namur, Belgium

Experience level: 
John M. Hasselberg

Do We Have Time for Ethics?

Do We Have Time for Ethics? John Martin Hasselberg Professor, Global Business Leadership College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University 132 Simons Hall, SJU, Collegeville, MN 56321 USA Office: +1-320-363-2965 Mobile: +1-612-237-0076 jhasselberg@csbsju.edu Fax: +1-320-363-3298 Topic Areas: Dimensions and theories of business sustainability Cross-cultural perspective in business sustainability Discipline: Strategic Environment of Business “Time” is a construct based on, or derived from, natural rhythms and cycles. Such is also the case with the socially constructed categories we call “ethics” and “sustainability”. This paper explores the nature, cultural intersections, and consequences of these constructs as they have evolved, contemplating how they currently constrict, constrain, and channel the ability of people and organizations to act “ethically” and/or “sustainably”. The focus necessarily is upon the currently dominant global business culture that is primarily, but not exclusively, Anglo-American derived. Time is not money. Time cannot be wasted, killed or saved. It is something much more and less than those things imply. Behaviors, whether considered by the observer to be ethically supportable or questionable, are manifestations of how individuals perceive in, and what they feel about, the world around them. These in turn are a function of their assumptions about how life in that world ought to work. In this paper I explore how our assumptions about time are embedded in and underlie contemporary economic trends and practices. I analyze how those assumptions have evolved over time, including rationales for the rise and fall in dominance of various cultural time constructs, relating this to the impacts contemporary changes in technological complexity and global interconnectivity are having. In doing so, I draw on a variety of disciplinary sources, including the social sciences, philosophy & theology, math and physics, and the spatial and creative arts. I argue that without a fundamental understanding of time’s role in our socio-economic and cultural mindsets, any discussion of ethically sustainable business practices is incomplete. It will be particularly vulnerable to the laws of unintended consequences, and will be therefore ineffectual—if not counterproductive—in the long term. Without a generally agreed upon doxa of “time”, most of the economic choices, institutional systems and ways we orchestrate our lives and organize our days and activities would make no sense. Therefore discussions of the role that “ethics” and “sustainability” play in business decisions within a global context become meaningless without first considering our primary, and primal, cultural assumptions about the nature of time and how those assumptions intersect, relate, compete and conflict. As Professor of Global Business Leadership at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, I find these contextual intersections and cultural assumptions to be particularly timely and intriguing on both a local and global level. It was the tools created by medieval Benedictine monastics, i.e., perfecting the mechanical clock and laying out the first real future-oriented schedule (in contrast with past-oriented calendars), intended to structure times for prayer and contemplation, that made the industrial revolution feasible and that underpin the micro- and macro-workings of business organization and strategy today. Ironically, these tools have themselves almost completely displaced time for prayer and contemplation in contemporary industrial and post-industrial society. This set of long-term unintended consequences contains within it the kernel of a great set of lessons for us all as we consider, debate, and strategize ways to enhance business sustainability and encourage ethical business practices.