The philosophyan often overlooked tool in the business world, is now set to play a bigger role in helping leaders meet the challenges they face.
Corporate philosophers, sometimes referred to as “Chief Philosophy Officers” (CPO), began to appear in some Silicon Valley companies a few years ago. CPOs are both life and work coaches, consultants and strategists, who help the CEO and CEO. other staff to answer basic questions such as ” how to do business in a virtuous way?», « how to be a good boss? “, or ” what should be the purpose of my business?“.
These questions may be particularly relevant in an environment where digital technologies such asartificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms. So what is the added value of a CPO, what exactly are their roles and responsibilities in influencing how these technologies are used, and how do they fit into a governance more and more systemic companies?
A moral compass
Philosophers can help answer questions aboutethics and the standards to apply when programming virtual intelligence and, in particular, when designing how AI interacts with humans. Take the example of the use of algorithms by platforms such as YouTube, where viewers are incentivized to watch more videos, which according to some studies, leads them to content that becomes more and more confrontational, sensational and therefore addictive as they watch. Should these algorithms be programmed for the sole purpose of maximizing the time spent by the user on the platform, regardless of the content watched? The presence of a CPO can contribute to the development of guidelines for more ethical programming, emphasizing the importance of democratic values and balanced debate.
Giver of meaning and mediator
The CPO idea is appealing and the position could be useful in an increasingly complex business environment. Philosophy can provide purpose and direction by addressing fundamental questions about the sense. It can also help us examine how we want to live together and our relationship to each other. A CPO can also be useful in a mediating role, helping managers or overworked entrepreneurs to step back from the day-to-day and get a better view of the big picture.
guide for innovation
The CPO can guide young innovative companies in evaluating their business goals. In a world facing great sustainability challenges, as further emphasized by the latest IPCC report, innovation should contribute to a sustainable future, and the CPO can steer the company towards innovation that combines moral purpose and profitability. In addition, philosophical reflection can help innovators (particularly in the field of technology) to define the limits of their innovations, whether they are questions of right to privacy or humanistic values of virtual intelligence.
Leadership and performance
The CPO can also play an advisory role to senior management and influence the governance of business. Necessarily “itchy”, the CPO can help question the moral impact of corporate decisions and strategies. It can, for example, alert the company to the risk of using data in new sophisticated predictive models or in accounting methods that have an impact on theenvironment.
Their gaze can help to question the performativity of a company’s models and methods in order to avoid, for example, the use of “greenwashing” on environmental and societal issues. Finally, since we live in a so-called “Anthropocene” era, where thehuman activity weighs heavily on the planet, and that leaders are often faced with difficult decisions, a philosophical reflection facilitated by a qualified expert can be extremely useful in helping board members better understand the impact of their decisions.
A controversial topic…
The use of philosophers is a new and emerging phenomenon that is still in its infancy, because it implies humility and a willingness to question companies. The CPO will most likely be met with mixed feelings and will inevitably stir up some controversy. Initially, CPOs will likely face challenges similar to those faced by the directors of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) when they entered the corporate landscape. They will have to make themselves heard in an environment that remains mainly focused on profits, and demonstrate the value and legitimacy of their position within their organization. In addition, they will face the challenge of translating often abstract philosophical thoughts into concrete actions.
It is therefore important to expose the new generations of future managers and directors to philosophical thought from their formation. This will strengthen their potential for self-questioning, logical reasoning and critical thinking and give them a sense of purpose. When the time comes, they will thus be able to question the morality of their decisions and be catalysts for virtuous leadership.
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Crisis of meaning, climate emergency: should companies be opened up to philosophers? By Christian Vögtlin and Carine Girard-Guerraud
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