The Business of Classical Wisdom

Posted on August 8th, 2009 by

Apparently the business world (some of it, anyway) has discovered classics as a source of self-help and inspiration:

“We’re capable, but not practiced, in the art of thinking,” says Phil Terry, CEO of Creative Good, a business consulting company, and the founder of a web-based reading and lecture organization called Reading Odyssey. “We’re all endowed with curiosity, but a lot of us, for very good reasons, stop using it after a certain point. After a certain age, we tend to substitute opinions for thinking.”

…According to Terry (and Berkshire-Hathaway vice-chariman Charlie Munger, among others), the answer lies in the classics. Why the classics? First, to gather a broad base of knowledge about the “big ideas” across all the major academic disciplines. And second, to develop the ways of thinking and the “habit of wisdom” Aristotle believed were critical to good decision-making.

…Wisdom, according to Aristotle, isn’t an object anyone acquires. It’s a habit; something that emerges from a particular way of processing information and engaging with others and the world. And a habit that’s essential for us to develop to make better decisions in business and life. That theme is prevalent …in Terry’s Reading Odyssey teleconference-based lecture and discussion groups–which he set up to help curious adults explore and debate classics and “big ideas” from thinkers ranging from Homer, Aristotle and Herodotus to Darwin.

…perhaps, after years of hubris born of steadily rising stock markets, we’re suddenly, post-crash, a bit more open to the idea that we might not know all there is to know–and that we might even need to develop new ways of learning what there is to know. The Greeks knew something about that, too. After all, they’re the ones who coined the term “hubris.” And anyone who paid attention in history and literature class knows that it was almost always followed by a fall.


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