How philosophy made me a better businessperson

The philosophy department prepares future leaders with a complete package of soft skills that are highly applicable in business.

Courtesy of metmuseum.org

Melissa Sugeng, Freelance Writer

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This story was originally published in print on Nov. 15, 2018.

When I was a freshman, someone told me a riddle: “What’s the difference between a philosopher and a large pepperoni pizza?”

The answer: “A large pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four.” There is a common assumption that humanities majors are unemployable.

I am now completing my senior year of my bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and I have a new riddle: “Why have I done so well in my business internships?”

My answer: “Because philosophy has taught me all the necessary skills to excel in a business career.”

The philosophy department prepares future leaders with a complete package of soft skills—logical reasoning, critical thinking, polite deliberation, moral judgment and practical wisdom. People often underrate the importance of soft skills, and more students should consider studying philosophy because success depends upon these skills.

LOGIC DEVELOPS SOUND REASONING

Philosophers extensively employ logic to isolate important steps in an argument and to understand how a conclusion comes about. In Logic courses, I learned how to identify premises and conclusions, symbolize an argument’s structure, diagram logical connections in my mind and evaluate arguments.

Just as philosophers employ logic to understand an argument’s conclusion, businesspeople can learn to employ logic to understand how to make proper business decisions. When I wrote my first business plan for the Biola Startup Competition a couple of years ago, I realized that a business plan is in a form of an argument which ends with the conclusion, “Therefore, you should invest in my startup.”

Business innovators can use logic to clarify their understanding of why they believe their idea will work and to possibly catch any faulty steps. Data analysts attempt to convert numbers into arguments for business proposals or conclusions for business trends.

CRITICAL THINKING GOES BEYOND METHODS

A traditional business class typically requires students to memorize tools and know how to plug information into models. For example, business students will be required to memorize and know how to use Porter’s Five Forces Analysis. However, tools to facilitate our thinking do little to actually train our thinking. Further thinking is needed to answer, “So what?”

In some cases, it is no longer relevant to apply these tools to industries that have evolved from the time the tools were invented. Sometimes, a management consultant needs to reason autonomously apart for using these tools. Philosophy trains students to think critically, allowing them to more effectively use relevant tools, to effectively question assumptions and to think outside the box.

SOCRATIC DIALOGUE DEVELOPS SMALL GROUP COMMUNICATION SKILLS

In upper division philosophy courses, professors incorporate the Socratic method in teaching. We sit in a circle and attempt to answer critical questions together in dialogue. The purpose of a philosophy discussion is similar to the purpose of a business meeting: It is to challenge and build on each others’ ideas. Fruitful discussions require skills that are acquired through practice.

Over time, I learned how to listen well, jump into a conversation, articulate thoughts clearly, have peaceful disagreements, take turns speaking, moderate discussions, provide smooth transitions and achieve a consensus. These skills made me an effective contributor at business meetings during past internships.

ETHICS PREPARE STUDENTS TO MAKE MORAL JUDGMENTS

In business, there are many gray areas and ethical dilemmas. Data privacy is a rising concern among businesses because of the rising reliance upon the internet for storing personal information. While some shy away from issues like this and choose ignorance, philosophers are more than happy to discuss these issues. Ethics is one of the main branches of philosophy, so philosophy students are required to learn a diverse range of ethical perspectives, by which to reason and discern gray areas and come to moral conclusions.

PRACTICAL WISDOM SERIES BUILDS CHARACTER

Biola University’s undergraduate philosophy department is unique because it offers a series on Practical Wisdom, which reinforces philosophy as a way of life and not merely the study of abstract reasoning. This should come as no surprise, because the word “Philosophy” comes from the Greek root word “Philo,” which means “love,” and “Sophos,” which means “wisdom”: the love of wisdom. The lab component of the class requires students to adopt mental and bodily practices from diverse wisdom traditions in order to develop intellectual and moral virtues. I adopted some of these practices and apply them to live well in the Christian tradition. The CEOs of both companies I interned with complimented my character and said that I stand out because of it.

Philosophy has made me not only a better businessperson but also a better person. I would recommend students who recognize the importance of these soft skills in any career field to consider studying philosophy.

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