Conversations on the Intersection of Business and Philosophy
In 2016, the media began to report on the emergence of the Chief Philosophy Officer role. According to these reports, major technology companies in Silicon Valley were hiring philosophers to leverage their unique skill sets. While individuals with philosophical backgrounds had previously pursued careers in business, the strategic utilization of philosophers in management positions was a new development. Since then, the idea of a CPO has gained traction, resulting in various adaptations and the launch of the first CPO training program located in Vienna. However, this phenomenon lacks thorough documentation and research, and it remains unclear why it could be beneficial to incorporate philosophers into business environments.
While philosophers are renowned for seeking truth through various means, businesses are often focused on maximizing profits. This creates an inherent tension between philosophy, sometimes considered an ivory tower pursuit, and the hard-edged opportunism of the corporate world. In response, businesses often use philosophical resources to achieve their goals. For instance, companies may hire philosophers to evaluate their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives or enhance communication within and outside the organization. However, with the emergence of the Chief Philosophy Officer role, it seems like there is a growing trend toward more systematic and strategic incorporation of philosophy in business leadership. Rather than simply serving as instruments for corporate objectives, CPOs are positioned to transcend this instrumental use of philosophy and apply their insights in more innovative and transformative ways.
The philosophical leadership role challenges the commonly assumed incompatibility and calls into question the general relationship between philosophy and business as well as philosophy and management. It suggests that philosophy in business may be more than a resource to be harnessed; it may be an authoritative instance. At the same time, a business could be more than maximizing profit – a perspective that evokes approval at a time when companies are placing social and ecological concerns on their agendas. Can this promising synthesis actually work? If that is the case, how should one imagine the responsibility and goals of a philosopher in a company in concrete terms? And finally, why would a philosopher decide to work for a company in the first place?
The idea of having a Chief Philosophy Officer caught the attention of the Institut für Wirtschaftsgestaltung in Berlin, which makes special qualities of philosophy fruitful for areas of economic activity, in particular for socially responsible transformations and modern business development. We took an interest in exploring this phenomenon through a series of conversations with experts who work at the intersection of philosophy and business. My discussions with these experts took place both in-person and online from the autumn of 2021 to the spring of 2022. It is important to note that the project is not a comprehensive scientific study of the CPO concept. However, the reader is introduced to eight established experts and receives a broad insight into the subject, while the framework originating from qualitative social research might deepen the exploration.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the experts who participated in this project, generously sharing their time and knowledge. Not only was it a great pleasure for me to carry out this project, but I am also certain that many readers will benefit from the openness and insights shared during the conversations. I want to extend a special thanks to Georg N. Schäfer, with whom I first made the CPO a topic at the Institut für Wirtschaftsgestaltung. I would also like to acknowledge the team at the institute, particularly Nika Wiedinger and Irene Colombi, for their support throughout this project.