Entrepreneurs & Businesses can learn from Socrates
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”
Before divulging into the Socratic method, I want to outline my views on the importance of philosophy in all aspects of life. Philosophy isn’t just about seeking knowledge but it is also about deep understanding and wisdom. It is like an activity that people should take to understand themselves, their surroundings, the world they are part of and their relations to the world. Socrates helped me understand that philosophy is an attitude towards life, which can help us make decisions when consequences are important. It enables us to withstand pain. Philosophy is the basic foundation of our understanding, this creates our beliefs which then forms our character. This character then governs who we are.
People have the choice to examine their philosophy. It is between making your philosophy clear and explicit or being a slave to our subconscious mind and following other people’s philosophies. Should you choose to ignore philosophy then the second choice will be adopted. Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” is an example of someone adopting Socrates views but his philosophy goes further than this. It is greater than that book or even a corporate social responsibility checklist. As humans we have no choice but to adopt a philosophy. The question is whether you choose to define this by a conscious and rational way of thinking or we let our minds be controlled with fake generalisations, fears and chance.
“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
The Socratic Method is a form of questioning that is used to encourage thinking for a number of reasons which include complicated issues, critical analysis, challenging assumptions and biases as well as understanding the consequences of actions. It is used in law schools, with the principle to teach students to learn through critical thinking, reasoning and logic. It encourages analysis and a level of thinking that can be useful to more than just law schools.
The Socratic method begins by engaging with an individual with a question and then followed by further questioning in response to the answer given. The process goes back and forth to find a more focused idea that is based on a general concept. The idea is to help the individual with their reasoning or to find a solution to the scenario. The person asking the questions aims to encourage all reasoning and identify ways to find improvements. It is able to stop generic acceptance of facts or ideas, with the objective to challenge the person so that they think independently. It takes analysis to another level as it helps to show the things that the decision maker has not thought about during their analysis.
Businesses can especially find value in the Socratic Method as often they carry a number of assumptions on the best course of action. Generally speaking the product or service offered by a business will solve a problem. The product or service can be improved by understanding what the assumptions are actually based on. In the Socratic Method, the dialogue isn’t solely about ideas or giving out information, it can be rejection from customers, employees or competitors. This enforces businesses to think of challenges ahead. Using the collective knowledge of a group enables entrepreneurs and businesses to create an effective strategy within the group which allows for more creativity. By regularly questioning the beliefs of a firm, you can gain clarity on the firm’s purpose. This clarity allows for a shared sense of purpose and accountability which ensures that everyone is pursuing the same outcome.
The Socratic method shows how difficult and complicated it can be to establish facts about anything. The words difficult and complicated are often used when starting a new project or venture. Whilst some may view that as negative, entrepreneurs tend to see that as an opportunity to test assumptions by doing various experiments. Knowledge is gained from these experiments. One way maybe to ask themselves or people outside, what would be the best practice for these experiments e.g. interviewing customers or competitor analysis. The Socratic method of trying to define beliefs, questioning and creating experiments is the foundations of entrepreneurship. Socrates has demonstrated that his method can be very powerful as seen in law schools but it also has a lot of relevance in business.
There is always opportunity in disruption which can be achieved when we begin to question assumptions that people hold. This can be done by being surrounding ourselves with people who share different ideas and principles. The essence of the Socratic method is being open to new ideas and creating strong relationships so that information is shared. Diverse views improve the process of decision making as assumptions are questioned.