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Management article
-
Reference no. R00407
Authors: - Unknown
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2000

Abstract

Five years ago, intellectual capital was a topic of choice among enlightened businesspeople. Now, with the publication of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, another form of putative wealth has moved to center stage--what author Robert Putnam calls "social capital." Social capital--"the connections among individuals and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them"--is important for business as well as for the wider society. According to research, these connections make it easier for individuals to find jobs and cope with stress. Regions rich in social capital also tend to suffer less crime, do a better job of educating their children, and have more smoothly functioning economies. Putnam argues that social capital has been on the decline in America for the last 30 years. People are spending less time together outside work--in community and volunteer organizations, church groups, bowling leagues, and informal chitchats. That''s mostly because each new generation has been interacting less with its peers and society generally. Putnam has dug deeply into a wide variety of data, and he makes a strong case. When it comes to proposing a solution, however, he doesn''t go beyond generalities. That''s particularly worrisome for the business community, because the book''s dark view of social change could spur political attacks on corporate practices. The complexity of Putnam''s data on social ties is likely to frustrate managers trying to identify easy measures for corporate well-being. Putnam also points out that social ties at work tend to be "instrumental" and therefore fairly weak. And in any case, his analysis doesn''t work well in explaining the success of regions like Silicon Valley, where much of the innovation comes from asocial 20-somethings.

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Abstract

Five years ago, intellectual capital was a topic of choice among enlightened businesspeople. Now, with the publication of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, another form of putative wealth has moved to center stage--what author Robert Putnam calls "social capital." Social capital--"the connections among individuals and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them"--is important for business as well as for the wider society. According to research, these connections make it easier for individuals to find jobs and cope with stress. Regions rich in social capital also tend to suffer less crime, do a better job of educating their children, and have more smoothly functioning economies. Putnam argues that social capital has been on the decline in America for the last 30 years. People are spending less time together outside work--in community and volunteer organizations, church groups, bowling leagues, and informal chitchats. That''s mostly because each new generation has been interacting less with its peers and society generally. Putnam has dug deeply into a wide variety of data, and he makes a strong case. When it comes to proposing a solution, however, he doesn''t go beyond generalities. That''s particularly worrisome for the business community, because the book''s dark view of social change could spur political attacks on corporate practices. The complexity of Putnam''s data on social ties is likely to frustrate managers trying to identify easy measures for corporate well-being. Putnam also points out that social ties at work tend to be "instrumental" and therefore fairly weak. And in any case, his analysis doesn''t work well in explaining the success of regions like Silicon Valley, where much of the innovation comes from asocial 20-somethings.

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