What can someone in business learn from philosophy? A lot, apparently.

Sure, there is the evidence seen in the success of such entrepreneur superstars as LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Hoffman (Masters in Philosophy from Oxford) and Stewart Butterfield, Flickr’s co-founder and founder of the current “insanly popular” app called Slack (Masters in Philosophy from Cambridge).

However, beyond the success of individuals who have studied philosophy, there is a growing number of businesses applying insights from philosophy to everything from product development to solving operations challenges.

A few reasons why the study of philosophy can help in managing a business

With apologies to all the great thinkers whose work should never be reduced to a few bullet points, here are just a few of the reasons the study of philosophy is a good balance to the study of business management*:

  • The study of business management teaches one what to think while the study of philosophy teaches one how to think.
  • Philosophy examines the enduring fundamental questions concerning human life, society, ethics and knowledge, all key to the understanding of the real needs of people. Business management leads one to think the discovery of customer needs is revealed in market research.
  • Philosophy can help discover and explain the “blind-spots of business” by challenging the assumed certainties and theoretical preconditions of certain business theories.
  • Pondering questions beyond the scope of business broadens the business leader’s understanding of anything complex, improving their ability to make sound decisions, not only for their business, but also in accordance with the needs of society.

If you are interested in this topic, here is a podcast recommendation

In a 25-minute BBC Global Business podcast, host Peter Day interviews business consultants and authors who are demonstrating how business people have much to learn from philosophers and social scientists–insights that can boost a company’s profits by providing insight into the motivations of its customers, for example.

In the podcast, consultants from the firm Red Associates, explain how the 1925 book The Gift by french sociologist Marcel Mauss can be used to better understand the dynamics of a customer loyalty program. The consultants use philosophy to help explain basic understandings of what human beings want, and how we view ourselves.

While it’s a bit outside of the typical business theory mainstream, the podcast provides a 25 minute overview of a new way to think about common business problems and opportunities.

The podcast is available free at the following:

*For more on the comparison of the study of business management vs. philosophy, see: Why Future Business Leaders Need Philosophy, BigThink.com.

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