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strategy and business
 / Winter 2009 / Issue 57(originally published by Booz & Company)


Fernando Flores Wants to Make You an Offer

 “How do you educate people for the future world, in which an important part of activity is going to be networks?” he asks. “In my opinion, we human beings are not prepared at all for the explosion of new practices the Internet will produce. Education is going to be in networks and it will not be about knowledge. It will be about being successful in relationships, about how to make offers, how to build trust, how to cultivate prudence and emotional resilience.”

He expects these multiplayer networks to train students in the leadership skills essential to flourishing in our time. He says they will produce measurable results in weeks, not the three years required for the ontological design course that he introduced in the 1980s. And whereas the computing power required for his software was scarce and expensive back then, today it is ubiquitous and cheap, and may ultimately run on a mobile device, like an iPhone.

The new company is a Flores family enterprise. Fernando is chief technology officer; his daughter, who, like his wife, is named Gloria and who is an attorney by profession, is president and chief executive. The senior Gloria Flores, meanwhile, runs her own consulting business in Chile. Fernando also plans to start more companies with ambitious plans for learning and development that he isn’t ready to disclose. He is driven in part, he says, by concerns about the way social media is evolving and its potential for miscommunication and personal harm. Young people are creating identities on the Web with little appreciation or concern for long-term consequences; political movements, like the uprising in Iran after corruption allegations in the June 2009 presidential election, grow quickly in social applications, but those same tools help repressive regimes track opponents; and the ability to self-publish for a worldwide audience serves terrorists quite as well as it does budding poets and philosophers.

“The people who invented this technology have no idea of its problems, and that is typical throughout history,” he says. “We need to produce a human being that is skillful in shifting realities and in coping with shifts. That is a discipline that I want to create.”

In the end, if you seek a clue to Fernando Flores’s ambition — and to his potential impact on the world of business — you could look at his second book, Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity (MIT Press, 1997). Coauthored with Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa, the book is strongly Heideggerian, drawing on the existentialist precept that the meaningful life is one of commitment. It says the best life is one spent “making history,” which the authors define as pursuing an activity that changes people’s thoughts or behaviors.

The book identifies three archetypes that are effective history makers: the entrepreneur, the social activist, and the cultural articulator. The entrepreneur seizes upon disharmony to create a cultural change. One example is Steve Jobs, capitalizing on music downloads with iTunes, and changing the way people consume music even as traditional companies struggle. The social activist maximizes engagement with the public sphere; the book cites the publicity campaign conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to build awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated. The cultural articulator reframes the issues confronting society by talking about virtue in a new way. Thus Martin Luther King Jr. advanced the cause of racial equality by articulating the ancient Judeo-Christian concept of self and society grounded in agape, or a selfless commitment to the well-being of others.

Each of these archetypes “makes history,” say Flores, Dreyfus, and Spinosa, by finding a disharmony and persistently exploring its implications, ultimately identifying an accepted way of acting that can help resolve it.

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  1. Chalmers Brothers, Language and the Pursuit of Happiness (New Possibilities Press, 2004): An accessible guide to using speech acts in the workplace and elsewhere.
  2. Lawrence M. Fisher, “The Ambassador from the Next Economy,” s+b, Autumn 2006: A Creative Mind profile of Joichi Ito, the Japanese “venture activist” who sees World of Warcraft as a model of organizational design.
  3. Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (Shambhala, 1987): Underlying Flores’s work, and that of many others, is an emerging understanding of cognition as evolutionary and behavior as plastic.
  4. John R. Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (Cambridge University Press, 2008): Scholarly, seminal essays representing 40 years of research and insight.
  5. Robert C. Solomon and Fernando Flores, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life (Oxford University Press, 2001): Flores’s most recent book, coauthored with philosopher Robert Solomon, on the role of trust in modern society.
  6. Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores, and Hubert L. Dreyfus, Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity (MIT Press, 1997): Guide for cultivating strategies and skills to be a more effective participant in larger systems, like businesses and societies.
  7. Abriendo Juego, Abriendo Mundos, Fernando Flores’s blog, posted entirely in Spanish.
  8. For more thought leaders, see the s+b website at:
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