Shaping the Future: The Imperative To Evolve Your Business Philosophy

I have wanted to write something on how philosophy will play a greater role in contemporary business for several years. Of course, it is an area that has been covered before (Forbes wrote about the Chief Philosopher in 2018, and some companies already have in-house philosophers, or at least consult with philosophers, as reported by Wired in 2019) but both the idea and need feel more relevant now than ever. 

To solve the challenges of our time, to innovate and create a bright, sustainable future we need to start making decisions on a different basis. Doing this requires new philosophies which power the choices we make. Companies need new thinking to that of standard digital transformation fare. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and will be true long after.

The term business philosophy is open to interpretation and hard to define. For me, it is akin to saying something like “your philosophy on parenting”. It encapsulates many things, including your values and approach. But fundamentally it is the basis on which you make decisions. To help underline the point that philosophy in business must be practical and applicable, I have included nine practical provocations for business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to begin challenging their decision-making and choices, which ultimately is what this essay is all about.

What follows is not an article but a ten-paged essay that will take about 40 minutes to read. I acknowledge this is asking for a great deal of your attention, but hopefully it will prove to be worthwhile. Below is an abstract to help you decide if you want to spend the next 40 minutes with me.

Lee Sankey
Founder, Door.

Download the essay here. Shaping the Future: The Imperative To Evolve Your Business Philosophy

I am grateful for the help of Julian Hirst, Margie Goldsmith, Ben Sales and Margot Noel. Their smart inputs and edits were instrumental.


Rising complexity means the number and nature of competences that businesses and brands need to succeed is expanding. Traditional functions like operations, sales, marketing, and IT evolve and are joined by new competencies like design and data. The next frontier of organisational excellence is philosophy. Why?

Technological progress increasingly means answering complex philosophical questions.

1) While there is much to be optimistic about, humans, animals, and the planet face numerous challenges from climate change to inequality. There is an absence of a coherent mainstream vision for a sustainable future and practical solutions on how to get there.

2) Radical change cannot be left to government policy and legislation alone. We need new business models with environmental and social considerations baked in.

3) People’s attitudes towards value creation will shift as more and more value is captured by machines instead of human beings. The wider intention of a business will matter more and more, with profound implications for companies and brands.

4) Philosophical capabilities are a crucial component for meeting these complex challenges and realising opportunities. Doing so requires resolving tensions, balancing paradoxes, and building consensus.

To do this effectively, organisations will need to make decisions on a different basis. That means changing what you believe in, and what you value, i.e. your philosophy.

Philosophy in business encompasses more than ethics and morals. Your philosophy is the basis on which decisions are made at every level in your organisation, by people, and by automated systems.

Here are nine practical provocations for business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to build and apply philosophical capabilities:

1) Articulate your business philosophy.

2) Re-examine your decision-making frameworks.

3) Focus on creating meaning, not just talking about purpose.

4) Explore whether you can redraw your company’s sphere of positive influence.

5) Look for inspiration and counsel beyond your own borders.

6) Broaden the optics through which you look at partnerships – beyond pure commercials – to include mission and purpose-based ones.

7) Explore the implications of automated decision-making (algorithms).

8) Be radical – hire people who can boost your philosophical capabilities. Perhaps even a Chief Philosopher.

9) Create the supporting culture that enables philosophical capabilities to flourish. 

Download the essay here. Shaping the Future: The Imperative To Evolve Your Business Philosophy

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