THINK about the word “business”. There’s lots of busy-ness in business, but not much stop-and-thinky-ness. My job as the “Corporate Philosopher” is all about helping people in business stop and think about what they’re doing; why they’re doing it; and whether it’s right or wrong.
As you might imagine, I’m now in high demand after the banking crisis when very few busy people stopped to think about these questions. You actually don’t need to be a corporate philosopher to do this job. A nine-year-old understands that if you lend money you don’t have to people who can't afford to repay it then your very busy job is going to disappear and you’ll have lots of time for stop-and-thinky-ness.
I’m based at Cass Business School, part of City University, where I’m Visiting Professor of Organisational Ethics, as well as Corporate Philosopher in Residence. But for most of my time I’m working with big busy-ness executives. I ask them questions like: Why does your business exist? How do you achieve your economic purpose? Is your busy-ness a human community of belonging?
This last question really confuses them, as some of these busy people are “male, pale and stale”, as a woman barrister once described them to me. They’re confused because “belonging” sounds very soft and fluffy. Then when I mention the word “love” as a value in business, you can imagine the discomfort in the room. Until I then ask if they want their customers to love their goods and services; or their employees to love their jobs; or investors to love their stock. Then they begin to understand.
Another question I ask is, “what is money?” I show them the front of a £20 note (“I promise to pay...”) and the back of a $20 bill (“In God We Trust”). Money is a promise we trust. If you break these promises, you destroy trust and destroy money. That’s the banking crisis – QED – and definitely not QE!
I get to meet serious and interesting people. David Cameron’s even endorsed my book “ethicability” and he says that I’m “absolutely right”. Well I’m not – and neither is he. But one thing is certain. We all need to get a lot better at stop-and-thinky-ness and “doing the right thing”.