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VIEWPOINT: Business Success Can Begin at a Surprising Starting Point: Philosophy

By Cristina DiGiacomo

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In an age when college students are urged to choose an area of study based on financial returns, philosophy has become a much-maligned major.

But those who dismiss philosophy as something with no practical use are overlooking how studying Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and others has real-world applications in business.

One thing philosophy encourages is critical thinking, which a number of well-respected thought leaders around the country have said we could use a lot more of. Not only is critical thinking a desired skill set for employers, but it’s also an important skill in life in general. 

 I recently read an article about what Apple CEO Tim Cook looks for in job candidates and was struck by how much a philosophical mindset plays into his approach to hiring.

 He’s interested in things like whether you are willing to trust your gut and how you want to change the world. He wants to know that the people he hires can answer these big questions. The way to answer them is to have a good understanding of Philosophy 101.

A few reasons why studying philosophy is worthwhile for anyone, include the following.

• It helps employees interact better with co-workers. Hiring managers are finding that many employees who are whizzes with technical skills or coding, for example, are completely lacking when it comes to the ability to interact or collaborate with those around them. They often have trouble understanding other people or listening to other points of view. One of the benefits to philosophy is it helps with how we think and how we interact in the workplace. Some people have just been taught hard skills, which are important, but they don’t equate to a well-rounded employee. Wisdom is the ultimate soft skill.

• Philosophy can help with career advancement. Many CEOs and others in leadership roles have looked to the wisdom of ancient philosophers as they advanced in their careers. Lucio Tan Jr., CEO of Tanduay Distillers Inc., says the teachings of Confucius have served as a guide for his approach to leadership and life. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has used ideas expressed by Aristotle to grow his business. The real opportunity and the real way to excel in your career is to be this well-rounded thinker.

• It is well-suited for the challenges that colleges face. Higher education has been deeply disrupted by the pandemic and college students could find that a philosophy class could give them the foundation for overcoming those disruptions. Philosophy is perfectly suited for remote learning and also offers tools and ideas that enable students to study and progress. It’s like learning about something that directly addresses all the challenges they face as students to begin with.

• Philosophy comes with many role models. For young people pondering philosophy as a major, role models aren’t hard to find because plenty of successful people earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy. They include Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of PayPal; Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia; and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, among many others.

The problem with philosophy’s reputation is that it conjures images of a lone figure thinking deep thoughts, but never taking action. That’s far from accurate.

Philosophy is not meant to be taken out only when your yoga mat is unfolded or when your life is perfectly in tune with the universe. It’s meant to be lived, used, and applied.      

Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of “Wise Up! At Work,” is the founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm. 

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