why you need a philosophy of business

In ancient times, Philosophy was central to life. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that Philosophy was simply a ‘design for life.’ Through this design for life, one could reach an understanding and gain a practical road map.

Author: Frank Wazeter, Dec. 3, 2020

In ancient times, Philosophy was central to life. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that Philosophy was simply a ‘design for life.’ Through this design for life, one could reach an understanding and gain a practical road map for how to interact with society, the world and themselves to become better and evolve.


Modern times has seen Philosophy often relegated to the likes of crazy-haired college professors pontificating about theories and debating the finer points between philosophers. At least, that’s the perception of it’s value. 


What’s ironic is that, given the choice of University degrees if I had to do it all over again, I’d opt for Philosophy over a Business Degree focused around tech. Both would be equally useless in the workforce, but at least the Philosophy degree would have helped me evolve my thinking earlier in life...well at least theoretically. 


See, much of the problem with most business owners is that there is a lack of Philosophy. A lack of Business Philosophy to be specific. It’s because there’s no time spent taking a step back and asking the questions like “what’s important to me,” “how am I going to build?” or “what’s my decision making criteria?” that there’s heightened anxiety, insecurity and a lack of quality delivery in life.


Think about it. If Philosophy truly is a ‘design for life,’ which establishes your core 1) ethics (ethos), 2) emotional responses (pathos) or 3) Logic (logos), and helps you to navigate the troublesome qualities of an unpredictable world with a stable framework, then of course you’re going to be anxious and fearful all the time. 


Imagine for a moment that you’re tasked with navigating around an unknown city in a car, given the name of a destination but have no GPS in which to get there and don’t speak the language to ask someone for directions. You’d be pretty stressed out at arriving at your destination on time and you probably aren’t going to make it short of blind luck.


This is what most people are doing in life: merely participating in the fact that they are alive. They have no concrete plans, methods for navigating the uncertainty of life or core values to fall back on. At best, maybe they have some loose principles that their parents passed down to them, like “work hard,” “don’t steal,” “be a good person.” 


Yet, life is more chaotic than that and without a road map to help you along the way to aid in your decision making, how are you possibly able to A) make decisions calmly, B) consistently make the right decisions and C) make decisions quickly. 


Philosophy is that road map and to operate without a core philosophy of life is to operate without a road map. Most people don’t have a philosophy, therefore they don’t have a road map and we wonder why anxiety is at an all time high. 

Anxiety isn’t a modern issue that evolved because of technology, in fact the Romans and Greeks spoke often about anxiety and how to deal with it. Their approach was through a constant, honest, real self examination and journaling about it to build up their foundation. In fact, the Catholic practice of confession has its roots in the rituals of pre-Christian Romans undertaking self examination and journaling about it. 


And yet, the modern medical solution is to say that there is something biologically incorrect that requires medication. 


Popping a pill is a lot more convenient than thorough self examination and developing a philosophy of self or of business. 


When you take a step back and really think about it, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to feel anxiety about anything in the modern world. The average person is in very, very few situations that actually put you at risk of real, physical harm. Anxiety is that fearful response of anticipating something that hasn’t happened yet, and being prepared to run.


Extremely useful if a lion is about to eat you.


Less useful if all you’re worrying about is a deadline. We build up things like missing a deadline to be the end of the world. Miss the grade and your life is over. Miss the appointment and forever you’re done. Pick up the phone and call someone and fear of rejection pops up because god forbid you talk to someone. 


None of these scenarios have any life or death consequences.


Even if you built a business up to be multi millions of dollars and then lost it all and went bankrupt, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. You’d still be alive. You’d still be capable of rebuilding. You’d still be okay, and I should know, my family and I lived through that already. 


My father was the CEO of a publicly traded company, then catastrophically messed up, lost it all, went bankrupt. He never recovered and the whole situation caused significant trauma in our family’s lives. But it didn’t have to be traumatic. Nothing in that situation was inherently life threatening. We’re all alive and we’re fine and thriving. 


America is surprisingly forgiving to bankruptcy, which is basically the same thing as saying “the business died.” 


Yet too often people spend all their time agonizing over ‘what if’s.’ What if I make the wrong decision. What if the decision I made was incorrect. What if I can’t decide. What if an airplane engine falls out of the sky and kills me?


Instead of obsessing over the “what if’s”, just do it. Make a decision. Move forward. 


Having a philosophy that you follow and adhere to for your life and your business helps you eliminate these anxieties by simply having a framework for decision making. A framework for living. A framework for helping you understand the world and bring order to the chaos.


There are no unique problems in human history. Everything that everyone is suffering from right now has happened before, thousands and thousands of times. In fact it’s so not-unique that you could argue that life is quite boring on planet Earth. Nothing new ever happens!


You can read about people dealing with pandemics throughout history. You can read about people dealing with crooked politics and violently divisive sentiments. You can read about the empire's rising and ultimately falling. About tyrants and about benevolent leaders. Democracy and fascism. About normal average joes and janes living life the best they can.


All of it has happened again and again and again. Over and over again. 


That’s great because that means you have an entire history of mankind that can serve as your mentor, if you’ll allow it. Because humanity has already been through every disaster possible short of mass extinction (and we’ve lived through that too, I’d argue that the Ice Ages were a mass extinction event) and because we have this wonderful gift of writing and being able to understand and empathize others situations means that you have an absolute treasure trove of guide posts.


Every great society from the ancients to the modern day has had it’s figures that spent considerable time trying to give us context in the world. To help us understand our purpose and figure out what it is that we’re meant to do or be. Religion is a reflection of this attempt to understand and explain. Philosophy is. Physics and Science are just the modern ways of explaining it.


While no one can tell you what philosophy to follow, or which one in particular is correct for you, we can point  you in a direction to start. If you have an interest in the way Asia thinks, try the “I Ching” (the book of changes) or “Tao Te Ching”, the fundamental premise of the Tao, which is a book ‘about the way and the power of the way.’ Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” even finds application and root in philosophy that can be translated into a modern context. 


The Asian philosophies have a very practical and dogmatic view on things, if that’s your style.


If you’re more of the Western style, try Plato, Aristotle, Socrates or Marcus Aurelius’s Meditation. Western philosophy is often broken up into:

  1. Metaphysics (the study of existence and nature of reality)

  2. Epistemology (the study of knowledge and how and what we know)

  3. Ethics (how people should act, what is good)

  4. Aesthetics (art and beauty)

  5. Logic (good reasoning)

  6. Politics (how people should interact in proper society).


There are literally hundreds of schools of Philosophy that you can follow the rabbit trail on, but I’d recommend the short and sweet books to get a foundational level idea. 


For me, those center roles would be basically anything by Plato, Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations,” Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and the “Tao Te Ching”. 


Each one is under 200-300 pages, are fairly quick reads and serve as a good point of reference to build up your own “design of life.”