Stoicism Wisdom for Businesses
Mention Stoicism and chances are people would think you are referring to the noun form of the commonly know adjective. Tell them that Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that continues to have relevancy for the modern world, and I'm guessing you might solicit a frown or a loud, "WHAT?"
This is not to say that people are ignorant. Stoicism was popular during Roman times, but with the fall of the Roman Empire, it went downhill too. Fundamental beliefs of Stoicism also clashed with another rising school of belief, i.e. Christianity. The starkest example of this being disagreement over the nature of God. Religious and spiritual aspects aside, Stoicism has plenty of useful guidelines for today's world, particularly when it comes to handling business disasters. To begin with, it could be considered a reality check. One that places you on the correct footing, then presents the most sensible path to move forth with.
1. Focus on Controlling What You Can
Life sucks. Bad things happen to the best of us, the most capable of us. The Stoic response to failures begins with the acceptance that shit happens no matter how hard you try to prevent it. Instead of brooding over why it happened, focus on how to react to it. And move on.
This is not to disregard the reasons for failures. Instead, it is to acknowledge the grim reality that plenty of things are beyond our control, foremost of which being the past. While we can all learn from the past, can we change it? If not, why brood over it? Stoicism encourages the clear separation of what we can control and what we can't. To put this in the context of business, do not obsess over external factors such as industry downturns, technological changes, lousy staff, etc. Focus instead on your reaction to them. Acknowledge that beyond your thoughts and intentions, practically everything is outside of your control. Therefore, make the best of what you do have an actual grip on i.e. your reaction to shock, grief, disbelief and so on. Do not sink into negative emotions. Doing so only make things worse.
Know What Thy Can Control
A foremost component of Stoic thought is the acknowledgement that many things in life are way, way beyond our control.
2. How You Choose to React to a Crisis Is Entirely on You
One way to summarise Stoicism could be to say that it is a set of guidelines for life. With an emphasis on surviving adversity and practicing self-restraint. Stoicism recognises that fear, anger and despair are all personal choices. In other words, you do not have to feel negatively towards a crisis. You do so only because you chose to.
Yup. You whine over the loss of a business contract not because you're only human, but because you choose to react that way. Instead of allowing these negative emotions to overwhelm you, why not concentrate on mastering them? To put it in another way, do not allow yourself to be lured into a state of learned helplessness. Always believe in and practice your conscious ability to both contain and redefine adversity.
3. Shitty People Do Not Deserve a Response From You
This goes under the umbrella of what was stated in (1) and (2). I highlight this again because in my opinion, most of our unpleasant experiences in life stems from someone being shitty.
Think about it. There are so many examples. The school bully. The nit-picking boss. The scheming colleague. These are people who do not take the Stoic approach to life; who attempt with all sorts of ways to manipulate things beyond their control. Why waste time joining their games? Why allow their negativity to dictate your actions? Again, this isn't to say you should just allow a bully to take your lunch money, or a business competitor to steal your trade formula. It is to always have a realistic, controlled approach to such nuisances. Respond with a clear, calm mind, not with one that is already enslaved by negativity. Seek to remedy, never to get-back. Aim to resolve, not to avenge.
4. A Mastery of Self Through Stoicism
The Stoics have an interesting exercise. The practicising of misfortune. Seneca, one of the key figures of Stoicism, recommended that in times of affluence, we set aside days to practice poverty. This involves doing things like abandoning your creature comforts, going hungry, dressing in rags etc. Now, this sounds like asceticism. It's also mostly impractical in today's world. But consider the real purpose of Seneca's exercise. Is it not to strengthen yourself against the possible downturns of life? By thinking about it, knowing it and imagining its taste, wouldn't you have a clearer idea of what to do if it indeed happens to you?
For businesses, I think it is a reality check. So your business is booming now. You have a huge new office. You are taking your clients and staff out for thousand-dollar meals. Are you going to regret such extravagances when times are bad? Are you going to look back and regret not managing your funds more wisely? The basic tenets of Stoicism emphasise on four cardinal virtues. That of wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. While these sound somewhat contrary to business, which is a contest for material gain, dosages of the four virtues in business management never hurt. If you need examples, just google how many businesses failed because of excessive expenditures during good times. I bet they regret not practising temperance during their best days.
5. A Way of Moving On
Stoics "count each separate day as a separate life," as stated by Seneca. They cherish the new opportunities available with each coming day.
Stoicism also advocates clear goals. Another quote from Seneca goes that if you have no clue which port you are sailing to, no wind is ever good for you.
The worth these beliefs have for business management is crystal clear.
To live each day as a separate life also encourages the belief that failures are finite. Yes, a disaster could be very traumatising. It might even be crippling. But life always goes on. Life only stops if your negative emotions insists that it stops. Yes, you lost a huge contract. Your business might be going under. But does this mean you wouldn't have another opportunity? Does this mean you would never be able to do business again for the rest of your life?
Of course not.
Move on, a Stoic would tell you. Learn from it and move on. Don't dwell on things you cannot change. Move on and there is always another tomorrow. Another new life.
Do you think Stoicism has practical applications for businesses?
© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong