Can Philosophy Propel Economic Growth?
February 4 2010 by Fayazuddin A. Shirazi
While economists worldwide are rummaging ways to fix the crumbling world economy, Dov Seidman, LRN Chairman and CEO, proposes a philosophical initiative for the same. According to him philosophy can be a killer application to tackle the current economic crisis. “The financial and climate crises, global consumption habits, and other 21st-century challenges call for a ‘killer app.’ I think I’ve found it: philosophy,” he remarks.
Commenting in an article with Huffington Post, Seidman, an adviser on corporate virtue to Fortune 500 companies and CEO of the Los Angeles, CA based global ethics and compliance management firm believes philosophy can help address challenges the world economy is currently confronting, “albeit only if we take it off the back burner and apply it as a burning platform in business.”
Advocating the need to adopt philosophy as a tool to advance the corporate brand, Seidman believes the philosophical approach of Adam Smith, author of the renowned book ‘Wealth of Nations’ can come handy for organizations looking to achieve credibility in their businesses.
“Smith’s philosophical approach is more relevant now than ever in light of the crises our organizations are facing,” Seidman noted in his comments.
Explaining how majority of the organizational concerns can be efficaciously addressed, Seidman feels most of the crises have complex interdependencies that require an understanding of how political, financial, environmental, ethical and social interests influence each other.
“We are having trouble connecting the dots among these knowledge silos to conceive enduring solutions,” he says.
“A philosophical approach connects the dots among competing interests in an effort to create synergy. Linking competing interests requires philosophers to examine areas that modern-day domain experts too often ignore: core beliefs, ethics and character,” Seidman argues.
Management gurus think organizations also need to take into account values, ethics and the overall human condition, on par with philosophers, as they make decisions.
“This means hiring for character (in addition to specialized skills), considering the long-term implications (in addition to the short-term rewards) of such decisions, and figuring out how true value can be created (in addition to extracting value),” (sic) explains Seidman.
According to him when a philosophical concept is shared, it creates alignment, whether it’s with a colleague, a trading partner or another stakeholder. Without that shared vision, relationships often bog down in low-level squabbles, he says. Additionally these initiatives help in forging long lasting relationships with employees, clients and stakeholders, Seidman adds.
He is of the opinion that in an era of inspirational leadership, competitive advantage is derived not only from pragmatic values such as quality, but also from humanistic, social, and environmental values such as integrity, transparency, sustainability, and trust.
“When I say we need to return to a philosophical approach in relation to problem-solving, I mean that we need to broaden our understanding of problems by looking deeper at our own beliefs, values, ethics and character, and then understand how they relate to those of others who share a stake in our problem-solving efforts,” writes Seidman.
Experts believe companies are increasingly incorporating the human initiative into their business models, and that there’s growing evidence of businesses asserting their desire to address the human condition in a better way now, than it was in the past.
“More companies are eager to deepen connections with their own partners and the human condition in general. I was recently struck by the simplicity of Ally Bank’s print advertisement expressing its competitive advantage: “We Speak Human,” opined Seidman.
Companies such as Oil and gas major BP’s mission is now called “beyond petroleum.” “Beyond petroleum does not mean that we are,” among other things, “focusing only on the products that we produce and sell,” BP asserts as part of its brand value statements. “Beyond petroleum is about delivering performance without trade-offs…innovating, improving, and making a difference.”
Likewise, BP’s competitor Chevron taps the power of “human energy,” a phrase it has trademarked; Cisco has also embraced with the “Human Network.” Dow Chemical’s campaign “The Human Element” promotes the company’s vision of “addressing some of the most pressing economic, social, and environmental concerns facing the global community in the coming decade,” Seidman noted in an Op-Ed with Business Week.
Interestingly, drug giant Pfizer is supplying free 70 of its name-brand drugs to its employees who’ve lost their jobs in 2009 for up to a year. “We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do,” Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler told Fortune. “But it was motivational for our employees and got a great response from customers. In the long run it will help our business,” Kindler said.
These corporations, Seidman points out, are promoting the notion that their mission extends beyond profit and provides new frameworks — transportation, fuel, manufacturing and so forth — for improving existence, and that these assertions require supporting actions over the long term if they are to have merit.
“With growing transparency it is evident that companies and even nations have character — and that their character is their destiny,” remarks Seidman adding that for institutions to ensure that their character, or culture, is consistent with their behavior, they need more humans within their organizations who can appropriately manifest the desired culture through leadership, business practices and individual behaviors.
“As we understand human connections are vital to tackle the 21st century’s biggest challenges, we’ll see philosophy will be an essential tool to inculcate human values among organizations,” Seidman reiterates.