Philosophy creates long-term value
When it comes to philosophy, it may seem like a discipline that delves into abstract speculation about “good”, “beauty” and “truth”, and is reluctant to engage with real-world issues.
However, the essence of philosophy lies in approaching the ultimate foundations of things and attempting to reveal the core of the subject. Value that is firmly constructed through such a process serves as a solid foundation upon which various concepts can be developed, rather than a mere whim.
Before becoming a university professor, I worked as a philosophy consultant at Cross Philosophies, Ltd., the first company in Japan to specialize in philosophy as its business. Philosophy consulting is an attempt to apply specialized philosophical knowledge and thinking to business and organizational management, which has already gained some traction in Europe and the United States.
While visiting and researching several companies, I noticed that many of them struggled with issues such as lack of clarity in medium- to long-term goals and uncertainty about how to improve current projects. In general, the typical approach to these issues involves activities such as gathering employees to brainstorm ideas or conducting marketing research and prototyping products in line with trends.
However, relying solely on a hit-or-miss approach, or repeated brainstorming and random trial and error, can eventually deplete money, ideas, and talent. Moreover, satisfaction with makeshift ideas often hinders the exploration of intrinsic value, making it difficult to create value that sustains medium- to long-term goals.
On the other hand, philosophy does not prioritize temporary answers or solutions, but instead seeks to discern the question itself and delve deeper into it, aiming to touch the essence of things. In other words, what to do when faced with the unknown is the very challenge that philosophy has traditionally grappled with.
Let’s take business as an example. Imagine that there is already an abundance of products in the world, and everything people need is readily available. The conventional idea that business thrives by meeting the demand with supply is no longer applicable. However, we still need to keep selling products for the sake of business. In such a situation, what should we do?
If you were a business owner, you might answer by saying we should conduct marketing research, analyze data to understand trends, and invest more in public relations. However, as I mentioned before, customers already have what they want. Even if we manage to capture market share from competitors, there are limitations to expanding sales.
In such a scenario, we have no choice but to create and sell new value. In reality, most companies are already aware of the need to do this. Employees have likely heard repeatedly from management that the new challenge for the company is value creation and innovation is what is required.
Nevertheless, why do they struggle to accomplish this? It may be because they are not truly seeking the essence of things. That’s why I believe that the discipline of philosophy can be significant.
Philosophy aids innovation
In recent years, there have been numerous efforts, both domestically and internationally, to connect philosophy with business. In particular, the link between IT companies in the United States and philosophy cannot be ignored. It’s well known that Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, recognized for LinkedIn, both studied philosophy at academic institutions.
They particularly completed the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University. In this program, philosophy is set as a core course alongside computer science. Such IT entrepreneurs with a background in philosophy have succeeded in creating platforms that engage hundreds of millions of users across nations and cultures.
Not a few companies hire philosophers. One notable example is Apple, which has employed political philosopher Joshua Cohen as an in-house philosopher.
The specific nature of Cohen’s role is not officially disclosed, but the company is pursuing innovative initiatives that could upend the very foundations of society and involve the development of new platforms that support society as a whole. It is my conjecture that they have hired Cohen, known for his discussions on deliberative democracy and public decision-making, to predict how these initiatives might be realized within political systems, their potential impact, and their depth of penetration into societal hierarchies.
Philosophy also provides insights into methodologies for organizational management. For example, management scholar Ikujiro Nonaka, known as the father of knowledge management, has revealed that his own process model of organizational knowledge creation took significant inspirations from the concept of “intersubjectivity” in Husserlian phenomenology, which focuses on the experience and cognition of sensations of the self and others, as well as the concept of “tacit knowledge” defined by philosopher of science Michael Polanyi.
Polanyi said, “We can know more than we can tell.” However, much of that knowledge cannot be articulated in words. For example, when you teach a child how to ride a bicycle, it’s easy to verbally say, “Hold the handlebars firmly and pedal to maintain balance,” yet the actual sense of balance in motion is understood solely through the child’s internal, non-verbal experiences.
This tacit knowledge is not easy to pass on to others. In business, unarticulated individual knowledge, such as the unique sales techniques mastered by high-performing salespeople and the condition of factory machinery that only the on-site production manager can intuit, can be considered as tacit knowledge.
The challenge lies in how to communalize and transform an individual’s sensory, subjective, and non-verbal experiences into codified knowledge within the company organization. In the exploration and practice of this challenge, philosophy and management science certainly demonstrate their interconnectedness.
Philosophy is a multidisciplinary field
BioNTech, a German biotechnology company that gained widespread recognition for developing a COVID-19 vaccine, is also believed to incorporate philosophy into its business decisions.
The company’s founders are Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin, a medical scientist couple. According to reportage that closely followed their lives, the husband, who is an immunologist, Sahin encountered the works of philosopher Karl Popper in his teenage years and was significantly influenced by them in shaping his values.
While Popper’s achievements are extensive, it appears that what influenced Sahin is his position of critical rationalism. In brief, this perspective suggests that there is no perfect theory, and science involves listening to various critiques and making corrections to move closer to the truth.
Popper argued that both correct and incorrect hypotheses or speculations could bring us closer to the truth, step by step, through the process of having their errors pointed out.
He stated, “The very refutation of a theory – that is, of a tentative solution to our problem – is always a step forward that takes us nearer the truth. And this is how we can learn from our mistakes.” (Karl R. Popper, “Conjectures and Refutations,” translated by Takashi Fujimoto, Toshio Ishigaki, and Hiroshi Mori, published by Hosei University Press).
Amid the urgent pandemic of 2020, Sahin and others reached out to the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to initiate collaboration. They exchanged bold hypotheses with researchers, tested different theories, and successfully developed a new vaccine. In today’s world, where collaborations spanning industries and fields are increasingly needed, the importance of a Popperian attitude seems to be on the rise in business.
Philosophy, fundamentally, delves into the essence of its subjects, whether they are objects or theories, and elucidates foundations that underpin various fields. Therefore, by its very nature, philosophy spans across multiple fields.
While terms like “interdisciplinarity” and “restructuring of academic disciplines” have been reiterated, philosophy is indispensable for connecting and amalgamating various fields of study, and indeed, many interdisciplinary studies involve philosophers.
This is particularly prominent in Europe and the United States, where my own academic supervisor in Germany, for example, specializes in both theoretical astrophysics and philosophy. There are numerous individuals who have pursued studies in interdisciplinary fields, including philosophy, to address complex societal issues.
An example that has garnered international attention in recent years is Alena Buyx, who has played a crucial role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as the head of the German Ethics Council. Before taking on the role of bringing specialized knowledge such as infection models and medical ethics to the general public, she originally obtained a medical doctorate and later submitted a habilitation thesis in philosophy.
By traversing multiple fields, a person not only adapts to the complexity of events but also unexpectedly discovers novel perspectives. Simultaneously, this approach can lead to a reevaluation of contemporary issues in the context of human knowledge accumulated over more than two millennia or even the entirety of human progress.
Value generated through philosophy can be universal, transcending regions and eras. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to discard the misconception that philosophy is abstruse and impracticable, and instead explore it as an academic discipline that can be applied to identifying challenges in the realm of business.
* The information contained herein is current as of October 2023.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.