Conversations on Climate

Season 3: Episode 1 – in conversation with Professor Freek Vermeulen

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THREE words to describe this episode’s conversation with Freek:


Eclectic – Myth-busting – Storytelling


Everyone likes to think of themselves as a highly evolved person – and a great leader to. But strip away the jargon, polish and pretence…and aren’t we’re all just a bunch of naked apes?

Only now they’re in charge of the most powerful organisations and technologies in the history of the planet – and it turns out they are as naked as we are.

This episode digs into the truth of organisational culture – and draws its lessons from some surprising places.

What do a tribe of Papua New Guinean cannibals have to teach us about the perils of Total Quality Management?

Which other sacred cows of might actually be ‘idea viruses?’

And is your firm secretly infected?

Freek Vermeulen is Director of Strategy, and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, at London Business School.

His erudite, bubble-bursting books include Breaking Bad Habits, and Business Exposed: the Naked Truth about What Really Goes On in the World of Business.



GIVING YOUR PRODUCT AWAY IS GOOD FOR YOUR PAYING CUSTOMERS TOO. Aravind Eye Care began no-charge cataract treatment for India’s poorest – and outcomes soared for their richer customers too. Could this surprising message help get subsidised green tech to the global South?  

SOME MANAGEMENT THEORIES CAN BECOME VIRUSES. Survival of the fittest doesn’t always apply in business, especially when good ideas are championed out of context – like Total Quality Management. Bad ideas can spread faster than they kill. 

LESSONS FROM THE BABY-MAKERS: DO HARD THINGS ON PURPOSE. Freek’s study of IVF shows that incentivising ‘selection at the gate’ hurts long-term competitiveness. ESG metrics and divestment could stop firms taking on hard-to-decarbonise problems.

PUBLIC MARKETS PUNISH JARGON. Freek’s analysis of 1,300+ deals shows that CEO ‘management speak’ – even well-intentioned – turns investors off. Leaders who use ESG jargon risk eroding trust in their own useful climate action.

“… because we imitate this high performing firm, including the practices that may have contributed nothing to them being high performers…harmful management practices, just like cultural practices, including eating deceased relatives and like viruses can spread and survive…”

“…and suddenly the world of business isn’t as simple as that either …therefore not being judgmental or angry at people, but helping to understand the context and changing the context for people in organisations so that they don’t make these wrong choices anymore. That’s actually what’s important.”







Conversations on Climate is a podcast produced by United Renewables and this episode is in association with London Business School

It brings together the best minds from academia and business, to offer their experience and expertise in the face of climate change –from game theorists to corporate diplomats, and oil industry veterans to micro-algae entrepreneurs. 

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We talk about how the scope of the challenge before us is beyond that of any one individual or any one solution. We listen to thinkers, researchers, policymakers, and business leaders. They discuss a diversity of ideas and solutions to global climate and environmental issues and why they matter.

Season 3 is presented by Chris Caldwell and produced by UNITED RENEWABLES.

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