Business leaders face plenty of questions as they try to get a handle on the new economic reality brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown and the resulting recession.
But the answers to those questions may not appear in their corporate handbooks. Instead, they could lie in ancient philosophies with lessons that apply just as much today as they did centuries ago, says Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work and founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm that helps CEOs and executives tackle their biggest challenges by teaching them how to think differently so they see new solutions and their companies thrive.
“We could all use a little wisdom these days because COVID-19 has caused a shift in the way people think, the way people work, the way they live and how they think of themselves,” DiGiacomo says. “Technology may change, culture may change, but acting wisely is no different in the 21st century than the 5th century.”
Too often, when people hear words like philosophy and wisdom, they conjure images of a bearded man on a mountain, with enlightenment seekers trekking to see him, DiGiacomo says.
“In reality, the philosophers whose teachings changed the world were the kind of people who rolled up their sleeves, got to work, dug deep, and spoke up despite hardship, resistance and even threat of death,” she says. “Their views aren’t some abstract idea but have practical applications in today’s world.”
So, if Aristotle, Socrates, Voltaire and Immanuel Kant opened a corporate consulting business, here are a few things they would tell you about moving your business forward as the world tries to recover from COVID-19:
Don’t be rushed into rash decisions. Voltaire said “doubt is an unpleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Sometimes CEOs feel the need to make quick decisions, perhaps to avoid seeming indecisive. That’s not always the best approach, DiGiacomo says. “Are you making critical decisions, with long-term consequences, on the fly without actually having developed your ability to deliberate?” she asks. “Our reactionary mind wants us to set it and forget it, so it can move onto the next thing.” Resist that temptation.
Avoid letting your “darkest moments” color reality. Immanuel Kant, among others, believed your mind shapes and structures your experience. “Your mind influences to a very large degree how you see the world and how you feel about it,” DiGiacomo says. “Those things you say to yourself, in those darkest moments, are shaping your reality. But it’s entirely possible that those thoughts you have about what you think reality is might not always be true.” She says it helps to “hit the pause button” and make sure the situation is what you think it is.
Say “I don’t know” even if you think you know. The country faces uncertain times over the next several months, but that’s not unusual, DiGiacomo says. The future is always uncertain – coronavirus or no coronavirus. One of her favorite quotes from Socrates is: “I know that I know not, and that makes me a wise man.” DiGiacomo says being in “I don’t know” mode releases your mind to discover new solutions and ideas. “If you constantly believe you know everything,” she says, “then there’s no impetus for your mind to be creative or continue to look for new information.”
And finally, DiGiacomo says, Aristotle offers encouragement for business leaders who are afraid they aren’t up to the task of making wise decisions. “Aristotle’s foundational idea of being human is that we are all wise, inherently,” she says. “It’s just a matter of tapping into that innate wisdom and building the skills that will help you to not only be wise, but to act wisely.”
Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work, is the founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm. She also is the inventor of industrial philosophy and is the driving force behind the idea of applying philosophy in the workplace for the benefit of the leadership of organizations. DiGiacomo has 20 years of corporate executive experience at companies such as The New York Times, Citigroup, AMC Networks, and R/GA. She holds a master’s degree in Organizational Change Management from The New School. She also dedicated nine years to the study and practice of philosophy.