These seven thinkers from the past can help your company succeed today.
I’m often asked to recommend books to learn about business and entrepreneurship. While many people head straight for the latest TedTalk from their favorite self-help guru, here’s the truth: the wisdom of great thinkers from decades, even centuries, in the past can often shed new light on how to succeed in business right now. Here are seven tips I’ve gleaned from important thinkers of yesteryear:
1. Socrates: The Socratic Method and New Modes of Thinking
If there’s one thing the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is remembered for, it’s the Socratic Method—the idea that learning should proceed by constantly asking questions and engaging in dialogue with others, rather than merely accepting the status quo. The goal of the Socratic Method is to cut through preconceived notions to discover new modes of thinking. What could be more appropriate in our current age of entrepreneurship and disruptive technology than to question the status quo?
2. Aristotle: The Wisdom of the Manager
For some, Aristotle is the first great philosopher; for others, the first great scientist. To me, he’s the first great manager. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that the role of the leader isn’t to gain more power, but to create an environment in which everyone he rules can realize their own potential. In recent years, Aristotle’s teachings on the role of the leader have been reworked into Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s “Self-Determination Theory,” which states that employees perform best when they are given meaningful and worthwhile tasks. Every manager should take this theory—and Aristotle’s advice—to heart.
3. Sun Tzu: The Art of Analytics
Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu—born in 544 BC—may not have had access to big data, but he certainly predicted its business potential. In The Art of War, Tzu proclaimed a truth that analytics technology has made all the more relevant: “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” While it’s not a great idea to refer to potential customers as “enemies,” the principle still stands: big data allows companies to optimize business processes and predict customer behavior, and in turn improve their market share and increase profits.
4. Machiavelli: Networking Your Way to the Top
We don’t advise telling people you’re taking business advice from Machiavelli, the infamous 16th century political theorist, but there is a lot you can learn from him. In his classic treatise, The Prince, Machiavelli writes: “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” In other words, always surround yourself with those you can trust to get the job done, and don’t let your business be dragged down by employees who aren’t pulling their weight.
5. Charles Berger: Building Trusting Relationships
Communication theorist Charles Berger hypothesized that before entering into communication participants desire to minimize any doubts they have about the other person. Uncertainty reduction is essential to the relationship-building process, especially for relationships in which one party has or controls something that the other party wants. When marketing one’s business to clients or customers, remember that you need to make them trust you. The same goes for your average workday: if you’re trying to win the good favor of your colleagues or boss, you must demonstrate that you are trustworthy and confident in your skills, even when you’re under pressure.
6. John Nash: Watch and Wait
In game theory, a Nash Equilibrium occurs when no player can gain anything by changing her strategy, so no player’s strategy will change unless the conditions of the game are altered. The underlying insight of a Nash Equilibrium is that—in situations with multiple competing participants—all decisions are based on the decisions of others. Here’s how it applies to business: entrepreneurs should always be aware of the strategies of market competitors, and should feel comfortable waiting for a change in market conditions before altering their growth strategy. Forced attempts at growth may easily backfire.
7. Edgar Schein: Know Thyself
Developed at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Edgar Schein’s ‘Career Anchors’ theory identified eight primary personality themes, or career anchors, that influence an individual’s career: technical / functional competence, general managerial competence, autonomy / independence, security / stability, entrepreneurial creativity, service or dedication to a cause, pure challenge, and lifestyle. Business professionals should identify which of these career anchors best matches their personality and use this self-knowledge to build a career.
For instance, if you value independence above all, you may want to pursue a path that allows you to work from home or choose your own hours. On the other hand, if you’re most motivated by dedication to a cause, a non-profit position may be best for you. Know thyself!
Ken Sterling is the Executive Vice President at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. For press interviews, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Business2Community.