The Business of Asking Questions

The process is sometimes more important than finding an answer

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In a previous post, I wrote about wanting to be a philosophy consultant without really knowing what it was. Well, this article is an attempt to understand the relevance of philosophy in the business world.

I often start my philosophy sessions and talks with a seemingly bizarre assertion: ‘philosophy is useless!’

No sooner do I finish my statement than an uproar usually ensues. Everyone rushes to defend philosophy, to prove that it is essential to lead a good life, examine our decisions, and to foster a thinking-outside-the-box mentality.

The irony that is usually missed in my statement becomes more obvious when almost always I turn out to be the only one in the room with a degree in philosophy. So instead of having to explain why philosophy is important, my interlocutors end up doing the work for me.

But why do I start with such a radical claim? Because my experience as a philosophy professor taught me that for a few seconds such affirmations are quite successful at disrupting people’s belief systems. This, I think, is why philosophy is important and could be a useful tool for individuals, and businesses alike.

Many products, including traditional consultancies, available in the market claim to offer solutions to a set of particular problems. Philosophical activity as I understand it doesn’t aim to offer solutions. Instead, it addresses these problems in a way that would allow people and businesses to have a better grasp of the issues they’re grappling with.

It all boils down to simple questions: who is living your life? who knows your business better? The assumption that other people know more about our lives or businesses than us is a huge claim that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Here are a few more questions: why do we consult with other people? why do we ask other people for advice? is this not what concepts like mentorship are for?

I came across an interesting tweet on my timeline the other day that discussed this issue, and the point made was superb:

We needn’t consult with others because we’re interested in what they are offering us. Instead, we do that to get exposed to new views that might help shape up ours.

Socrates understood this when he decided to bug people by asking them questions. You can find a detailed account of the Socratic method here:

He used to ask people questions not because he wanted to win arguments or to tell them how to think, but to implore them to re-examine their belief systems by looking at things from different vantage points.

It is crucial to be able to do so for various reasons. When we put all our emphasis on proving that our point is the best one, there’s a high chance we might overlook other suggestions that would enrich our strategy or positions.

Socrates approached the subject with a laidback attitude, accompanied by a touch of underlying irony that often went unnoticed by his interlocutors (or so Plato made it sound like because all we know about Socrates is given to us by his students). He strived to make others understand that they need to constantly refine their ideas by constantly bouncing them off other people.

The point here is that caring less about winning arguments and more about tweaking our views, makes our journey worthwhile. Otherwise, we could easily become prisoners of stagnating belief systems, and missout on many other chances and opportunities that are up for grabs.

Ancient philosophers concerned themselves with how to live a good life; in other words, they saw in philosophy a way to improve their status quo all the while keeping themselves constantly in check. The same applies to good business management.

In one of his letters, Seneca writes the following:

“Choose as a guide one whom you will admire more when you see him act than when you hear him speak.”

Seneca goes on to elaborate that one could pick and seek guidance from both classical texts or people who could be admired more for their actions than their words.

Either way, the point is that when consulting others, a good rule of thumb is to look focus on two things: 1) actions rather than arguments; 2) how these actions might apply to our circumstances.

With that in mind, I have decided to venture into the business of asking questions rather than giving answers.

Inspired by the Socratic method, and a long tradition of philosophers who were interested in the practical side of philosophy, I am interested in working with people and enterprises to cultivate an action-driven, belief-disrupting, philosophical way of thinking.

For more info on what I do, check out my website at the below link!

Philosophy in the marketplace:

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