If you were to choose any one at all to have a business lunch with and discuss the very nature of economy and business the Greek philosopher from 4th century BC probably wouldn’t be your first choice. But he might be as well. Why? Because what we need as a part of a new global economy is a more ethical and holistic approach, a deeper insight into the human needs as a way of doing business. We need the economy by a measure of a man as well as profit. Business may often be portrayed as a ruthless cold thing, where emotions don’t matter and the only need to be satisfied is quantities, goal profit margins and deadlines. And that’s how we end up with a word full of things we don’t need and have no idea why we buy.
Aristotle had a different idea. He believed that the goal of every endeavour in every aspect of life as well as the ultimate aim of humanity should be to develop techne (the root from which the words technique and technology derive) – the skill and knowledge on how to do something, the processes and practices which work and solve a real need aka the knowledge on HOW to do things, and sophia (the core word of philosophy) – the wisdom to use the previous techne part the best way we can, the WHY behind the action. He believed that only these two combined result in a state known as eudaemonia which would translate as happiness, welfare, flourishing and prosperity, of being blessed. Eudaemonia is equally applicable in business as it is in any other area and is different than the way regularly capitalism works. Instead of enemies and competitors it searches for friends and allies, Instead of serving mostly bank accounts of the sellers or producers it serves the whole community, in place of serving greed it serves the human nature, instead of more machinery and man power it demands self-knowledge, a clear mission which will be the best possible solution for the largest number of people.
As we advanced in techne through the centuries, greed made us start to leave sophia behind. An now we have ads that tell us that this exact cookie cutter will make you feel the holiday cheer, this car will bring status and respect, just as this new lip-gloss will make you fatal while you’re strolling through the dinner salon at a remote Morocco palace in your flowy red dress, as the distinguished mysterious man falls madly in love with you over a swan ice sculpture and you run to the roses and candles laced terrace to give him something to chase. The commercials got one things right – we need meaning behind objects. For the most part, we don’t want things only for the sake of having them, only for the ownership or bragging rights, not even their utility. We want the promise of more behind it. We want a feeling – satisfaction of being envied for a lifestyle, to not be alone, to have an adventure, to learn and grow, to have a positive experience, to feel desired… We want the meta value of an object we buy, not the object itself. Besides food, water, some sort of belonging and basic shelter we pretty much don’t need that much and most of what we own we could live without.
So what Aristotle would tell you is not to go sit under an olive tree and write tractates while ignoring the reality of business and the market. He would tell you to get smart about it, to see what need is to be filled within your customer base, not only the need concerning the concrete design and features of your product but the purpose behind it. He would tell you to get conscious about what your customers need beyond the product and would ask you to be wise enough to take on new directions in not selling crap that promises something it cannot deliver, because this is how cynicism starts and businesses and brands crumble. So Aristotle would be quite a good pick. Philosophers always are because the surface of things is irrelevant to someone trying to grasp the bigger picture. Get better at seeing. Money is necessary and unavoidable measuring stick but not a goal in itself. If money was never an issue in your life and you had more than you could ever spend in one lifetime you’d see that the focus would shift from buying to investing. It’s a tool moving you towards goals and a by-product of providing value or compensation for receiving value on all levels. Everything is an investment, potential energy waiting to be released, and we all choose. Get wise not just skilled and/or rich.