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Philosophy and management

Roger Torrenti - September 20, 2014

blog-philosophy-managementPhilosophy may be defined as an intellectual exercise, nourished from external sources, involving conjecture, asking questions, challenging certitudes, weighing pros and cons, assessing options… This exercise helps keep an open mind, be more tolerant, better understand and accept various situations. Another thing one can like about philosophy is the appeasement it brings, leading adepts to greater wisdom and serenity, helping them find their way, a new direction, a meaning to their lives.

Management entails leading teams, accompanying them in corporate projects and professional adventures, and experiencing with them moments of euphoria and other more difficult periods. You can love management because you love freedom and risk, following a path in which you believe; because you enjoy leading a team on the path to success or protecting it from defeat; because management suits your solitude.

Disinterested in-depth reflection, bearing on the long term and inviting to philosophical consideration, is rare in today’s business world, often faced with the constraints of profitability and short-term issues and deadlines. Philosophers’ teachings can be useful, however, in managing projects, teams and businesses. In recent years, I have often had recourse to philosophical approaches to share doubts and assertions with my staff. Here, I give just one example: “Thales, a Well and Olives”… I have enjoyed developing many more parallels: Buridan’s ass and crossing the Rubicon; the White Bull, Ariadne and Icarus; Sisyphus and his boulder; etc. I plan to compile these philosophical tales and post them online, to make them available to everyone on this website, for the simple pleasure of sharing.

Thales, a Well and Olives

Philosophical reference
Plato’s Theaetetus recounts how the famous philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus (early 6th century BCE), while gazing at the stars and studying their movements, fell into a well. A servant girl mocked the man who sought to understand what was above his head, but was unable to see what was under his feet. In his Letter to Jarig Jelles, Spinoza added that Thales, exasperated by his friends’ remarks on the futility of philosophical thought, showed them how it could be used to acquire wealth (which was of no interest to him). Having anticipated through his knowledge of climate and the stars that the next olive harvest would be exceptional, he reserved all the presses in Greece for a good price then, at the time of harvest, rented them at a much higher rate, thereby accumulating great wealth…

Parallel with management
It is important for a company’s survival and development to be able to take stock and try to better understand the business environment, anticipate changes in this environment, undertake research whose results are not expected in the short term, develop strategic (reflection) marketing, with “one’s head in the stars.” This is the condition for being able to invest at the right time, like Thales and his oil presses, avoid any decline in activity, anticipate future risks correctly. This said, it is also important to “keep one’s feet on the ground” and avoid falling into one of the many wells along the path of a company: miscalculated budgetary needs, excessive dependence on a client or group of clients, problems with ethics or quality having disastrous repercussions, poor internal or external communication, etc. The need for long-term reflection and rigorous daily management must be combined…

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September 20, 2014
Philosophy and management

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