Improve the world, start with ambition. Moral ambition, that is. Rutger Bregman is a strong advocate for it. In September, he will speak about it at the Amsterdam Business Forum 2023. We asked him 5 questions in advance.
“A lot! I see it as one of the great tragedies of our time that so many people waste their talents.
The anthropologist David Graeber (1961-2020) also spoke of bullshit jobs, jobs that people themselves consider useless. Interestingly, this often refers to people with decent salaries and impressive degrees. Isn’t that a shame?
A full-time career consists of 80,000 hours. How you spend that scarce time, in my opinion, is one of the most important moral choices of your life.”
“Companies can also develop moral ambition. It’s actually quite simple:
• You start with the question of what the biggest global problems are.
• Then you ask yourself how your organization can make a difference.
But don’t settle for just marketing, like planting a few trees. Set the bar really high. When it comes to improving the world, we can use some return-on-investment thinking. More is more.”
“In the Netherlands, we are at the forefront of the protein transition, from animal meat to plant-based and cultivated meat. Take companies like Meatable and Mosa Meat, I believe they are doing historic work.
In 2013, a team led by Mark Post produced the first cultivated hamburger, which did not involve slaughtering any animals. The first production facility in Maastricht is now open, where hundreds of thousands of hamburgers will be made per year. Initiatives like these make me proud to be Dutch.”
“The economist Albert O. Hirschman said that you basically have two options: exit and voice. You can look for another job or raise your voice. The best option depends on your personal situation.
I think many employers themselves need to think more about how they want to retain their talent. There is a large group of people who feel like they are wasting their talent right now—and as an employer, you could easily lose such people.”
“It starts with embracing your discomfort. It’s a fact that people with moral ambition often pay a price for their ideals.
For example, the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson traveled a staggering 35,000 miles from 1787 to 1793 to distribute pamphlets and petitions against the slave trade. On horseback, often at night. At the age of 33, he had a complete nervous breakdown, or what we would now call a burnout. Year after year, he saturated his brain with appalling facts, figures, and images of slavery.
No, Clarkson wasn’t very mindful, and he probably should have taken it easier. It doesn’t benefit anyone if world-changers collapse at the age of 33. But at least he didn’t get a burnout from staring at boring PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets.”
September 29, Amsterdam Business Forum
During ABF23, Rutger will share his story about moral ambition: “I’m excited about it,” he says. “In a room with so much talent together!”
Will you be there?
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Rutger Bregman is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. The 35-year-old historian and author has been nominated twice for the prestigious European Press Prize for his work at De Correspondent. His articles have been featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC. His book, Human Kind (De Meeste Mensen Deugen) is a worldwide bestseller, with over 1.5 million copies sold and translations in 40 languages.
“Rutger Bregman is the Dutch Wunderkind of new ideas”