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Philosphy in the Boardroom: Jobs, Gates and Pope

By Periscope @periscopepost

Philosphy in the boardroom: Jobs, Gates and Pope

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again. – Alexander Pope

Philosophy. The very term strikes fear into the hearts of business types and marketeers everywhere. It suggests unwelcome froth or meaningless snobby asides on an otherwise adequate page of ‘top line’ bullet points. “If only,” think the business types, “we could walk around wearing clothing that indicated a good education, and then there’d be no need for such intellectual posturing. By the way, who’s this Hegel? Doesn’t he work in sales?”

But, in our frazzled CEO’s defence, where to find the time? “I don’t have time to even eat lunch; how can I be expected to read these nuanced arguments?,” they rightly point out. “Isn’t a briefing for the Wealth of Nations possible?” Alas, no. Top line information is good for simple tasks – “closing a door” – or ridiculous sweeping stratagems – “invade Russia and stop at Moscow”. Such forms of communication are harder for everything in between. This is not – note – a sign of intellectual deficiency, muddled ideas or a failure to be ‘on the ball’. It is merely the acceptance that not everything is clear cut.

Nevertheless, a recent article in The Times by Daniel Finkelstein brilliantly touched upon an almost biblical spectacle of two great modern – but opposed – philosophies: that of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

The Jobs philosophy, wrought from his time at Apple and subsequent exile and resurrection, is Platonic in character. It is one of complete integration; command and control and a striving for the ‘insanely good’ (Plato meekly stuck to ‘the Good’). It is the sort of philosophy which is easily understood – and marketed – and idealistic. The followers of this sort of philosophy can be fanatical in their devotion. The Universe, according to this vision fits neatly together and can be explained through Divine forms and geometry. Gates’s Aristotelian philosophy is a bit messier and complex and more concerned with economic sustainability and common sense. It’s not as elegant or pretty, but hell, it’s a lot cheaper.

Which leads me to Alexander Pope. What is worse than avoiding these fresh waters of tempting knowledge all together? The answer is merely dipping one’s toe in, recoiling and withdrawing. This trend of ‘short-cut learning’ for the man on the move is both cringe worthy and potentially damaging. A manger who has consumed and proceeded to regurgitate the latest business text is a dangerous thing. Indeed, after 200 pages of the latest managerial educational bile we suddenly realise, amidst the ‘case studies’ and ‘stats’ proving poorly made points, that the book is, in fact, vacuous nonsense. At best these authors sit slumped, pathetically, on the shoulders of some greater thinker, slightly dizzy at the heights they’ve somehow managed to land on.

The books consumed, then, by many in business, present us with simplistic and deceptively elegant – let’s say ‘Jobseian’ – ideas, which translate poorly into the nuances and problems day-to-day business. And nuances, unfortunately, must be displayed in more than a few lines on PowerPoint.

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