The Philosopher- Entrepreneur
Applying High-Level Thinking to Real-World Business
When people think about the backgrounds of successful entrepreneurs, philosophy rarely comes to mind. Computer science, biology, and design seem immediately applicable to starting a business, but philosophy conjures up images of bespectacled academics sitting in an armchair with a book and pipe.
I believe, however, that a fundamental understanding of philosophy can be a powerful tool for entrepreneurship.
In the following essay, based on the latest episode of the Greymatter podcast, I explain how the principles of philosophy can help entrepreneurs succeed by using examples from my own career.
We’ll also discuss three of the philosophers that have influenced me the most — Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein — and the lessons I’ve learned from studying their work.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Why Philosophy Matters
Philosophy isn’t just an abstract intellectual exercise. At its core, it focuses on improving our understanding of humanity, of how we evolve as individuals in a society.
Most people tend to be blinded by the now; they tend to think that the past isn’t that different from the present. They don’t realize the profound shifts in thinking that have occurred with the passage of time. We’ve evolved from living in tribes and thinking of kings as gods to valuing human rights as part of a nation-state. All these changes, including the birth of science itself, started with philosophy.
The other common misconception about philosophy is that it’s about providing the answers. The purpose of philosophy is not to convey literal truth in the form of the beliefs of the philosophers and their words, but rather for those philosophers and their thoughts to provoke and improve your own thinking.
How Philosophy Works
The understanding you develop from studying philosophy does not come from memorizing what the great philosophers said and adhering to it with 100% fidelity. It develops from the way those words interact with the things that are in your own mind, and the way that philosophy causes you to develop new frameworks for grappling with truth.
A key philosophical technique for understanding other people, ideas and theses is to ask yourself both what’s right and wrong about them. Even if your inclination is to think that someone or something is all wrong, ask yourself, What’s right about it? If your inclination is to 100% agree, ask yourself, What’s wrong about it? That’s where learning comes from.
Fundamentally, philosophy has a “question-first” orientation. It’s about asking questions like, “Why is the world the way it is?” Or, “I think I have a moral right to something, do I actually have a moral right to that, and on what basis?”