Ron and Arnie Koss: Revolutionizing Business Education

Posted on Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 at 9:00 am by admin

The following article was written by Ron and Arnie Koss, authors of The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part I: The “Golden” Standard

If there were ever a case to overhaul business and entrepreneurship education, it would be made by the world as we know it today.

Do you think that the calamitous Gulf oil spill or the epidemic of childhood diabetes and obesity or the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria are unrelated?

What links them in a unified assault on the quality of our collective lives are (most likely) “professionally” educated people who often define success and wealth by one measure―money.

But money alone, regardless of the economic system that it is attached to, cannot incite this aberrant lemming-like behavior that causes some to drive others off a cliff, even if those “others” are our children, whole ecosystems, or ways of life.

Colluding with the love of money (and its many related distortions) is the separation from the “golden rule” that we theoretically learned as children and were supposed to carry forward into adulthood. Without empathy for all “others” and the implicit responsibility accompanying it, we have what we have― a breakdown of our human community and all of life. And the results arguably are taking on biblical proportion, at least by plague standards.

What to do? On one hand we have a collective heritage of culture and human wisdom that knows exactly what to do. Aligned with that, there is no Gulf oil spill because safety precautions are not compromised to save a buck (or a pound) or make one. Childhood diabetes is diminished because cereal manufacturers “cut the crap.” Consensus on an action plan for every global ill would not take long once the “golden rule” rules.

But this notion is likely viewed by many as preposterously naïve and simplistic. If so, Arnie and I propose that we find a short cut to greater naivete because the mutant “He who has the gold rules” paradigm is not working. It’s a disaster.

Until we find that “worm hole” that leads us closer to the fount of our human potential and the wisdom that lives deep and naturally within the mature consciousness of each of us, it is innovation in education that we must immediately rally around and leverage to universal benefit.

Our initial focus will be on business and entrepreneurship because tomorrow’s leaders are sitting there in class right now, year after year. What future will they choose for us all? Our vision is a hopeful one.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part II: Goliath 101

Along the way of realizing our big dream and starting Earth’s Best Baby Foods, my twin brother Arnie and I unwittingly collided with a business paradigm and a world view―venture capital is one expression― that tends to objectify and reduce everything, and we mean everything, down to dollars and cents. This “Goliath,” at his worst, values money above more than life itself and abandons morality and ethical values with alarming ease.

Goliath is a sly and not so little fellow capable of staggering manipulation and sinister action. But he’s also disarming, evasive, and so self-referential that when he looks in the mirror, he does not see the real consequences of his actions, but rather some distortion featuring his upright self, his own guilt-free hands, and of course, others to blame for whatever went wrong.

We must study him, explore his psychology, recognize the symptoms of his presence and learn how to respond. This sounds almost straight forward, except for one catch. Goliath lives in each of us at one time or another as we unfold in our lives. He’s not apart from us. He’s a part of us.

Business and entrepreneurship education must encompass the exploration of “self” and not as an academic or intellectual exercise. Self awareness matters. Each person has a biography and a family story that often lives and is somehow expressed in decisions of varying degrees of magnitude. Before someone gets to be a key executive at British Petroleum making decisions to cut catastrophic corners or the CEO of Enron enmeshed in its calamitous collapse, the Goliath-self should be a distant presence in a rear view mirror, as in historical.

What’s the value of learning the finest points of sales, marketing, finance, economics, and management if a student is unwittingly mired in a paradigm or degree of adult immaturity that is likely to eventually wreak havoc and cause unnecessary misfortune?
And of course I would ask the same rhetorical question regarding any field of study and any subsequent expression or endeavor in this world.

Today, we are surrounded by and led by too many petulant, disingenuous, and self serving individuals who use religion, labels, metaphors, and profit to scare, polarize, and distract us so we abide by their aims; the aims of an immature Goliath who mistakes his size for righteousness and a qualification for privilege. This must stop.

Leadership must be cultivated. Maturity must be championed. And to do so “Goliath” must be met in study, observation, conversation, and ultimately in an “inner” journey to meet some version of his counterpart― “David.” It is in our schools of higher education that this encounter must happen, not after it’s too late.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part III: David 101

The point of using the David & Goliath metaphor is not to cast Arnie and myself as “David.” There is a much bigger story and opportunity here than that.

Many years ago Arnie and I were campers at a summer day camp. We were excited to take a field trip to a “real” western town amusement park with cowboys and gun fights.
We roamed the streets passing in and out of souvenir shops, side-stepping horse shit, watching for swinging saloon doors, and looking for the bad guys.

Word got to us via the grapevine that everyone in the camp was stealing souvenirs. Apparently there was this feeding frenzy, free for all. Arnie and I knew stealing was wrong. It was unthinkable. Our parents and upbringing had imprinted this upon us with absolutely no wiggle room. Soon we saw friends walking by the Cimarron City blacksmith shop wearing Indian headdresses, necklaces, and toting 6-shooters with holsters. It was strangely exhilarating. Everyone was doing it.

And then the unthinkable happened. Arnie and I walked into a shop. I was the lookout. He picked out and picked up a pair of earrings. Soon we were on the camp bus, everyone seemingly decked out in Wild West attire. We didn’t put on the earrings. We gave them to our mom later that day and ashamedly admitted our guilt several years later.

Arnie and I were children at Cimarron City. We knew better, but did not act accordingly.

Most students leave college to find some version of this “free for all” happening in the world, if not their workplace. Money is the measure of success. Everyone is doing it. It’s easier to join than to be left behind alone and without. The once “real” world of knowing what it means to be “good” is supplanted by the “real” real world of practical adulthood.

We stole from a store as children. It was wrong. But when young adults who become middle aged adults, who become older people collectively participate for generations in a free for all, it is not just a shop that is being pillaged and ruined, but cultures, species, ecosystems and lives.

David 101 brings into focus the responsibility of personal freedom. It does not reduce the complexity of human behavior and values to good and bad or black and white. It explores the limitless rainbow of grays within the context of community and inter-connectedness.

When David looks in the mirror, he sees his place in a world full of other people situated within a miraculous web of planetary life. And he cares deeply for what he sees. “David 101” does not aim to rid the world of Goliath, but offers to expose and challenge his entrenchment within the psychology of each person.

Arnie and I can vouch for Goliath’s sharp shark-like teeth and penchant for feeding frenzies. The Earth’s Best Story is “bittersweet” for this reason. We wonder now in retrospect if a David & Goliath curriculum would have dulled those teeth a little and curbed that appetite. I guess we believe so.

The Earth’s Best Story is available now.

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