7 Surprising Ways Managers Can Learn from Great Philosophers

Philosophy might not be a dying art just yet. According to Professor Luc Brabandere from Ecole Centrale Paris, there are many things we can learn from great philosophers.

Below is a short summary of the course content. (Consider yourself saving 8 weeks of learning and hours of video.)

To change is to change twice: perception and reality

Implement the change, realizing it the physical realm is not enough to get buy-in from the people. Some people resist any change. Some resist change to avoid the pain of change. To them, the old is good. It’s the perception that they’ve been having for a long time. They haven’t yet developed a new perception that the new is a good thing. If the new thing isn’t a good thing, then why should people accept the change?

3 different kinds of ideas

Ideas fall into 3 categories: Discovery, Invention and Creation

  • A Discovery is something that already existed. We only discover it i.e. experts or scientists explain something.
  • An Invention is something that has not existed yet and will come e.g. steam engine, computer mouse, or iPod.
  • Creation is a deliverable through artistic endeavors e.g. Paris’ Eiffel tower or a piece of art.  Creation is something we can live or do without. Invention is the most challenging for the business and company leaders.

 To think is to play

  • Thinking is like a game which has rules, data, players, objects etc.
    • What we think as reality are just images that we play with.
  • The world is fairly complex with a lot of data. We can’t “think” about it. We simplify it by having concepts and models.

o   Induction: Build a concept and model from reality. Bring in what’s in front of you via perception, imagination, intuition, analogies and metaphors.

o   Deduction: Use concept and model in reality. Analyze what’s in front of you with number, algorithm.

Embrace paradoxes

Two opposite things can both be true. To manage people effectively, managers need to learn that what others think as truth might be completely different from their own thinking. Yet what they and others think are both true.

Managers can alienate their people by holding on what they believe as truth and a must-do.

Understand mental model

Thinking is an interaction with the world.

  • We use induction to simplify the observed world, connect data to form a model, principle or framework.
  • We use deduction to apply an existing framework to the details observed from the world in front of you.

Mental model is one way managers can use to understand people’s psyches and behaviors.

Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, Jungian Psychological Type, is an example of a mental model to understand people’s mind preferences. DISC profile is another model to understand people’s interaction style.

Put constraint on creativity

People can be more creative when operating under constraints. They have to come up with different ways to think and come up with a solution.

Galileo tested the theory of acceleration by relying on what he heard instead what he saw. The object moved too fast, and he couldn’t rely on his eyes -> a big constraint. He resorted to tying bells at irregular distances under the slope where the object moved. As the object rolled down the slope, he adjusted the distance of the bells until he heard a constant sound.

Can’t think without boxes

We can’t think outside of the box without thinking from inside the box. For example within the “box” of writing, you can think of markers, pencils or disposable ballpoint pen.

Now with the “disposable” attribute of the ballpoint pen, you arrive in a new box.

From this “disposable” reference, you can think of razor, lighter, phone, etc.

Watch the entire course’s videos and lectures here at Coursera website. Don’t turn away because of the word “philosopher”. You’ll learn a lot of useful and practical things from this course. (I became fascinated by what I learned in this course that I watched almost the entire series in just one day.)