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NYU Stern and the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program to Host Forum on How to Measure Success

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As part of the 2010 Aspen in New York Business & Society Forum, Erik Schatzker, anchor and editor-at-large at Bloomberg, led a discussion about defining and measuring success among three panelists – 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics and Princeton psychologist, Daniel Kahneman; Chairman and CEO of The Vanguard Group Bill McNabb; and the holder of the first endowed chair in Buddhist Studies in the West, Columbia University Professor Robert Thurman – at NYU Stern this October.

The discussion served as an opening session for a day-and-a-half program, presented by the Aspen in New York Business & Society Program and sponsored by Accenture, which convened leaders from business, government and the nonprofit sector.

After brief introductory remarks from Peter Henry, dean of NYU Stern, and Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, Schatzker dove into conversation with the panelists about ways that society measures progress.

In discussing how to analyze relative performance, McNabb said that organizations need to take a step back and identify what the goals are when considering benchmark data. He also stressed the need for a long-term perspective on bottom-line measures, arguing that “profit is not the end all and be all.” Looking at the correlation between wealth and happiness, he explained that compensation is not on the top of the list of incentives that help motivate or give a sense of fulfillment to employees.

Thurman questioned whether the US would ever fully recover from the economic crisis, arguing that the country is fixated on money and has lost its way. He debunked the notion that China is the most successful country in the world, pointing to the dissatisfaction among a large percentage of the population – 1+billion citizens – who are not yet profiting from the country’s rapid growth.

In looking at various measures, Kahneman argued that GDP is a good but not a sufficient measure of success. He pointed to the growing body of research on general wellbeing over the last decade, which includes a dashboard of new indices to measure success. He also asserted that the US is not the most successful country in terms of healthcare, crime, security and trust among its citizens.

Additional funding for the program was provided by the Alcoa Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Bloomberg Television served as the major media partner, with additional media support from CSRwire and Magaskawee.

The Aspen Institute Business and Society Program is dedicated to developing leaders for a sustainable global society. Through dialogue and path‐breaking research, the organization creates opportunities for executives and educators to explore new pathways to sustainability and values‐based leadership.