Why Your Board Needs A Chief Philosophy Officer

There seems to be numerous types of ‘Chiefs’ for all the corporate ‘Indians’ of the modern workplace these days. Some of the different types are listed below, but what has caught my attention recently is that businesses in France, and even Google in the US, have begun hiring in-house philosophers as the next ‘Chief’ of the company. This new Chief is said to be a “mixture of consultant, life coach and strategist”.

  • Chief Information Officer
  • Chief Administrative Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Customer Officer
  • Chief Ethics Officer
  • Chief Risk Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Chief Happiness Officer

The philosophical lover that I am really likes the idea of a Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO), but I do however have my reservations about who should fill such a role (of course I have concerns, I wouldn’t be into philosophy if I didn’t!). The reason being is that philosophy, as an approach towards interpreting the world and its meaning, is based on multiple and conflicting schools of thought. There is no right or wrong or definitive answer, there is only contemplation, hence what makes philosophy philosophical. As a side note, there is a great Monty Python philosophy skit that probably tells you all you need to know about philosophy.

In hiring a CPO, one would automatically question which philosophical school of thought the person aligns to, as this will influence their perception of the company and the level of contribution the CPO will make. A big problem for me is that most philosophical education, especially in Western contexts, has its formalized teachings and practices predominately geared towards Western schools of thought only. The reason I bring this up is that there are hundreds of Eastern philosophies that are seldom explored but for which, in my opinion, are more than complimentary with the established Western views.

For example, one of the things that makes some Eastern philosophy interesting for me is a critique of identity. In the West we celebrate our individualism often at the cost of our collective society. We believe we came into this world, rather than coming out of it. The former situating us as being different from nature, the latter seeing us an expression of it. How we see the relationship between self and other is fundamental to philosophical thought. For business, this can impact perceptions on corporate social responsibility, ethics, sustainability, and technology.

Furthermore, philosophy itself attracts criticism. In fact, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th C, Martin Heidegger, famously said that “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”. He instead turned to art as an avenue for human truth revelation, and he also engaged in Taoist and Zen Buddhist texts (aka Eastern philosophies) in the formation of his so-called ‘Western’ ideas. So, perhaps, the real ‘Chief’ that businesses need to invest in are in fact artists or even ‘enlightened Gurus’ — someone who will actually make people within the company question their very existence.

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