Why optimism trumps hope
One thing that the environmentalist movement has been rightly criticized for is focusing overly on the negative: 'Go this direction or bad things are going to happen.' A much more profound message is, 'Go this way because it’s a better direction to go in.' That’s another element, I think, where people’s backs get up on climate change: they hear criticism. 'It’s your fault because you live in that big house and drive that fancy car.' People naturally get offended by that. In the area of green building there’s lots of exciting stuff. Anyone who doesn’t hyper-insulate his building in this day and age is out of his mind: he’s throwing money out the window.
There’s a really nice book series called "The Not So Big House," which says, 'Don’t build this big box with these huge rooms, and then worry about decorating: shrink it down. Use that extra money to make the space inside much more attractive, much more flexible.' It’s really cool stuff and a much more beautiful way to live. Those are the sort of concrete measures, I think, that we all need to focus on.
Burton: So are you optimistic, as a general rule?
Hoffman: As a general rule I am, yes. You’ve got to be. We make that point in the book, because I ask John about this – it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. We go through this little riff on the difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is looking at the odds and saying, 'You know, the odds tell me it’s going to work out.' Hope is a little bit more of faith, saying, 'You know, whatever the odds say, I still believe it’s going to work out.' And so you can be pessimistic and hopeful. You know, the odds are against it, but I still think it’s going to work. And if I wasn’t hopeful, I’d give up.
I’m hopeful because of the students I see and the younger people who really want to roll their sleeves up and get this done. David Orr describes hope as a verb with its sleeves rolled up. I really like that. I look at my students, these students in this program that I’m running where they get this dual degree in business and environment, oil and water, they want to find a way towards getting business solutions to our environmental and social issues. That’s exciting to me and that’s hopeful.
Burton: So now it all makes sense to me: it’s just your business students, they’re the statistical outliers, all the others are the usual rapacious, consuming, corporate....
Hoffman: These sorts of programs are popping up all over, because students want this stuff. They really do. And business wants it. The best signal I can give you right now is that our students are starting to be recruited more and more by the top management consulting firms: McKinsey, Deloitte, they see a need for it. It’s part of the business environment. It’s exciting stuff.
Burton: Ok, you lost me there. Because the fact that McKinsey and Deloitte are interested in them doesn’t exactly turn my crank…
Hoffman: Well, they can sell it. But the students also want to start their own business or go to work for Ford Motor Company on alternative forms of mobility. What’s the future of mobility? Changing the conversation from 'how do we make another car?' to 'how do we think about mobility?' – our students are going that direction.
[pgebreak]And it’s not just Michigan. There are programs around the country, these dual certificate programs. They’re popping up a lot. There are other schools that look at this and say 'Not our bag,' and that’s fine. But there are plenty of schools trying to focus on this: Stanford has a strong program, Duke, Yale, Santa Barbara, Northwestern, MIT, Harvard. I can go down the list: they’re all developing programs in this area.
Burton: And what about outside the United States?
Hoffman: That’s a great question, not only for programs like this, but business schools in general. It used to be that the American business school was the dominant player, but there’s a lot more serious competition from Europe and Asia in the business school world, and the idea of business as a social force in society is not as new, particularly in Europe, as it is here.
Burton: Is competition really the right way to look at it? I constantly question these things. Sure, schools are competing for individual faculty members and students. But on the other hand, in the overall scheme of things, if you’re right – and I hope you are – that there are all these young, dynamic, socially conscious individuals who are coming through business schools these days, then at some level it’s really not competition. At some level it’s in everyone’s interest to have more and more of these people being as successful as possible.
Hoffman: Right. And both of what you said is true. If a school calls me and asks, 'Would you come out and talk about how to develop a program like this?' I’d gladly help them. There are no proprietary secrets here. By the same token, business schools are competing for applicants. And right now the applicant pool for business schools is flat. That’s partly the economy, but partly viable business schools outside the United States: the United States is not the only game in town anymore. So in that sense there is a competition.