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CREATIVE DESTRUCTION: why a businessman should study Nietzsche’s philosophy

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION: why a businessman should study Nietzsche's philosophy
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Photo: Irene de Pablo / elconfidencial.com

 

Modern businessmen can learn a lot from Friedrich Nietzsche. For example, how to practice critical thinking and how to discard entrenched prejudices. Transform corporate culture and create new values.

 

ANTIFRAGILITY AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF MEANING

 

The stereotype that philosophers deal with problems distant from real life was dispelled as soon as philosophy emerged. Back in the VI century BC, Thales of Miletus proved to his compatriots that the secret of success is in the quality of thinking. If a philosopher desires to get rich, he can easily do it. Thales realized that, being engaged in speculations on the market of olives and olive oil.

In the present day, no one doubts the business potential of philosophy and philosophers anymore. There are philosophers-consultants in such corporations as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Skype. They even invented a special position for these «architects of meanings» — executive philosopher.

Over the last few decades, the philosophy of Stoicism has become quite popular among businessmen. The iconic risk manager Nassim Taleb characterizes Stoic philosophy as «antifragility in action» and «the philosophy of hard times». Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and American Apparel Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Holiday have spoken of it as the best philosophy for tough times.

Stoicism helps CEOs deal with tough times. For many people around the world, the benefits of the teachings of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are obvious. But what if Stoicism is a unique example of the creative marriage of philosophy and business?

 

NIETZSCHE AND COMMERCE: I DON’T LIKE IT, AND I CAN’T DO IT!

 

Is it possible that there are philosophers who are poorly compatible, or not compatible at all, with business? For example, Friedrich Nietzsche — what valuable things can a modern businessman learn from his writings? After all, it is known that Nietzsche was not very sympathetic to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. In these people, soaked in the bourgeois spirit, he lacked nobility and refinement.

«In ancient times, the pirate and the merchant were the same person. Even today, commercial ethics is nothing but a modernized pirate ethic», — the philosopher argued. It is clear that nobility and refinement are not very organic to the pirate trade. The very style in which Nietzsche’s works are written in no way resembles the language used in classical philosophy. It differs from the language of management textbooks, which is like heaven from earth.

Even worse, Nietzsche was not capable of commercial activity. Formally, he cannot be called a successful man at all. Almost throughout his whole life, he needed money — a small salary, a university pension, and insignificant dividends from inheritance could not provide a decent level of wealth.

Books of the philosopher in his lifetime were not in great demand, so fabulous royalties writer’s labor also did not bring. Why, then, is Nietzsche’s work so valuable for entrepreneurs?

 

SOMBART — THE ECONOMIC NIETZSCHE FOLLOWER

 

As a kind of «Nietzscheering» can be described as the concept of «creative destruction», which was first proposed in 1913 in the book «War and Capitalism» by Werner Sombart. In modern business vocabulary, the term he coined has become firmly established thanks to another «star» of economic thought — Joseph Schumpeter.

Unlike Karl Marx, Sombart viewed the economy as the result of cultural creativity. For him, it was not a natural process rigidly determined by objective laws. He saw the future of capitalism to be open, arguing that it was not necessary to wait for communism in order to «leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom».

The economy is shaped by the free will of people, although objective circumstances are taken into account. Nietzsche’s influence on Sombart was great. He was able to synthesize scientific abstractions with the aestheticism of the Nietzsche style. By reinterpreting Nietzsche’s ideas, Sombart separated the «spirit of the bourgeoisie» from the «spirit of entrepreneurship».

As a result, entrepreneurship became something similar to art, and the entrepreneur turned not into a «pirate» but into a «human creator». The driving force of capitalism became not so much laws as «creative disrupters» — individuals who break established markets by entering them with a new product or service.

 

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PHILOSOPHER FOR INNOVATORS

 

The colossal potential of «creative destruction» was discovered in Nietzsche’s philosophy by Americans Brad Feld and Dave Jilk, authors of the book «The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors». Transformative technologies and disruptive innovations are changing the face of entire industries today.

They are primarily the result of a change in vision. Here, a very inspiring example turns out to be a philosopher who was forward-looking and trying to change the way people look at themselves and their culture.

Feld and Jilk see an intrinsic affinity between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Stoicism — they converge on the point of a Stoic attitude to difficulties. However, because entrepreneurs are distinguished from ordinary people by their desire to find solutions, not just to recognize problems, they need a second step — recognizing their capacity to reimagine the world and create new value.

Nietzsche’s attitude of «re-evaluation of values» comes in handy. Revaluation must then be followed by action.

 

HEROES AND COMMON PEOPLE

 

Many innovations and breakthrough ideas seem self-evident to us today. Nietzsche put it this way: «Here is a hero who did nothing but shake the tree as soon as the fruit was ripe. Does this seem to be too small a thing to you? Then take a good look at the tree he shook». Thus, the entrepreneur is a combination of an acceptance of fate, an extraordinary vision of the problem, and a motivation to act.

Very few people make it from stage one to stage three. And although the idea of «shaking a tree» does not seem particularly heroic to the average person, in Nietzsche’s coordinate system, the entrepreneur can claim the title of Hero.

Nietzsche valued the best of the past, but he was truly fascinated by the new, majestic, unprecedented future in which man becomes a Superhuman — the best version of himself. For example, the ungenerous pirate and primitive peddler becomes a heroic entrepreneur.

 

PRETEND TO BE DIFFERENT

 

This emphasis on the independent, strong-willed, and creative individual who, in an act of «creative destruction», revolutionizes markets, industries, and products is unusually in tune with our modernity. But is everyone capable of «shaking the tree»? How can this heroic entrepreneurial spirit be cultivated? How can new qualities be acquired? How can corporate culture be changed and corporate thinking innovated?

Nietzsche gives advice based on the following: «When someone wants long and hard to appear to be something, the result is that it is already difficult for him to be anything else».

He recommends that anyone who wants to change should take the example of priests: «The hypocrite who always plays one and the same role finally ceases to be a hypocrite; for example priests, who as young men are usually conscious or unconscious hypocrites, finally become natural and then really are priests without any affectation».

The philosopher explains how this works: «He who is always wearing a mask of a friendly countenance must finally acquire a power over benevolent moods without which the impression of friendliness cannot be obtained — and finally these acquire power over him, he is benevolent».

 

XXX

 

Modern businessmen can learn much from Friedrich Nietzsche. Researchers argue that his philosophy is relevant to at least five «dimensions» of business — strategy, tactics, leadership, culture, and free spirit.

We will return to the architecture of entrepreneurial meanings offered by this great philosopher in the next editions of our almanac. In the meantime, take a copy of Nietzsche’s book in your hands — maybe some of his ideas will be the answer to your questions.

 


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