As pointed out in the previous contribution, Beyond the “skills mismatch”: new skills for work 4.0 this type of soft skills, in addition to being difficult to classify by insiders themselves, are now considered of fundamental importance for professional success in the new economic paradigm that is taking shape as a result of the transformations of Industry 4.0. Although such a statement can be easy to acknowledge, it seems much more difficult to sustain how the acquisition of these competences can be linked to the exercise of philosophical-humanistic thought, and, in particular, how it can be the result of a specific activity: that of philosophical practice.
What we want to argue is that the philosophical discipline allows to develop a peculiar and specific approach to the key problems of contemporary organizations, such as the training of the individuals within them. In the final decades of the last century, this has allowed the emergence of new professional profiles related to the philosophical discipline that go beyond the traditional profiles of the researcher and the teacher, among which the figure of the philosophical consultant is in the foreground.
Philosophical counseling: a definition
Within the scope of an organisation, the figure of the philosophical consultant employs the knowledge, methods and tools provided by Philosophy to deal with several different situations and problems (relational, design, ethical) that can usually affect a company. The professional field of philosophical consulting was first established in Germany in the early ’80s by Gerd Achenbach, professor at the Berlin University of Lessing. He was deeply dissatisfied with the speculative and academic closure of the philosophical discipline, which he considered responsible for the loss of contact between philosophy and the issues of the economic and social reality of the time. Since the mid-1980s, philosophical consultancy has spread to other European countries, especially Holland, later reaching the USA in 1992. In Italy, this new profession associated with philosophical studies arrived only in 1999, the year the Associazione Italiana di Counseling Filosofico was established.
As evidenced by the expression Philosophische Praxis, coined by Achenbach himself, in the activity of philosophical counseling the discipline of Socrates and Plato takes on a new guise, which no longer consists in the production of general or omni-comprehensive theories, but in the framing and resolution of the various difficulties of organizational and corporate life, through the systematic and punctual use of a faculty that philosophy – in the course of its millennial history – has developed more than any other discipline: reflexive and critical rationality. But what are the concrete areas in which philosophy can act effectively in the contemporary business context?
Aristotle and Alexander the Great
In a recent article published in the magazine Manageritalia, the executive philosopher Raffaele Tovazzi, who currently collaborates with numerous companies in London and elsewhere, states how the profession of those who employ philosophy in their working environment can be easily compared to what Aristotle did on behalf of the Macedonian sovereign Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. In fact, Tovazzi explains:
”Multinational organisations are contemporary empires and today's CEOs do what yesterday's rulers did: surround themselves with thinkers who help them understand the present and form the future, developing the most effective communication strategies to spread an idea.Raffaele TovazziIl futuro sarà in mano ai filosofi?, in «Manageritalia», 17 ottobre 2018
However, in spite of the Platonic rhetoric of the philosopher in power, there are at least two main areas within which the practice and the specific approach of the philosophical discipline can really present an added value for contemporary organizations.
The first of these is certainly that of Corporate Social Responsibility, a recently established field within the contemporary corporate landscape, developing/stemming from a radical change in the role and aims of companies themselves, concerned with paying more attention to the social and ethical consequences of their business choices. In order to facilitate the acquisition of such a role by the company, the consulting activity in its philosophical declination can provide important help, leading to a clarification of the concepts normally used in corporate vocabulary, such as ethical responsibility or added value, in order to identify the ethical component involved in the the decision making process the higher levels have to engage in.
The possibilities of professional careers for the practical philosopher, however, are not limited to consulting on corporate issues such as corporate social responsibility, but also involve the training of employees. And it is precisely through this second field that it is possible to appreciate the close connection between philosophical practice and the learning of those skills contained in the galaxy of the so-called soft skills, whose strategic importance for the future of work – as highlighted in previous contributions – is currently recognized with increasing conviction by training experts and international organizations.
Raffaele Tovazzi talks about the profession of philosophical consultant and the training courses currently available to access it
Forming philosophical skills
The main motivation behind the link between the philosophical discipline, understood as a training practice, and the heterogeneous set of soft skills is effectively underlined by these words of Stefania Contesini, trainer and philosophical consultant, as well as coordinator of the laboratorio Filosofia Impresa at San Raffaele University in Milan:
”It is necessary to take into account the fact that organizational training has undergone decisive changes over the years that make it not only the place of transmission of specialized content. In fact, training also means activating general skills (relational, decision-making, elaboration and analysis) that [...] can boast, if considered in their richer meaning, a certain familial air compared to those cultivated by philosophy.Stefania ContesiniLa filosofia nelle organizzazioni, Roma, Carocci, 2016, p. 12
Among the strategic skills included in the broad field of soft skills and philosophical discipline, there is, therefore, a common ground, which for Contesini can be profitably exploited by the philosophical trainer to induce the acquisition of real philosophical skills in employees. These are complex and multidimensional skills, which philosophical practice is – by its very nature – particularly prone to train and strengthen, and which can be divided into five different types, each corresponding to a specific area of philosophical speculation: conceptualisation, argumentation, judgement, moral sensitivity and moral evaluation. Their acquisition by managers and employees is, therefore, the main objective of a philosophical approach to company training, also by virtue ofthese elements being “the fundamental ingredients of soft skills” (Contesini 2016, 109).
In order to achieve these aims, the training intervention can be implemented by encouraging the immersion of the target audience in a context different from the usual one, through the aid of multiple cultural devices such as films, literary and philosophical texts, case studies and current events, from which to carry out various activities such as reflecting on value or ethical conflicts, emotional or relational issues, or reconstruct the argumentative structure of a journal or television debate. The effectiveness of such a formative process, which might seem rather simple in its structure, ultimately depends on the richness of the conceptual philosophical resources, which has settled over millennia of history, and through which the practice of dialogue and the exercise of reflexive reason examines and challenges the convictions, preconceptions and choices of managers and employees of the 21st century.
It is important to highlight how in some of our country’s geographical contexts, characterized by a strong economic dynamism, the diffusion of such professional figures in the current labour market has favoured the establishment of higher learning courses explicitly dedicated to the construction of “hybrid” profiles, exhibiting a wide range of humanistic knowledge combined with economic and managerial skills. However, these are sporadic cases, which are certainly not the result of a unified training design at neither national or European level. The challenge, therefore, remains that of elaborating in a conscious and reasoned way a reform of the educational curricula starting from the earlier grades/levels, in order to anticipate the evolutions of the labour market and at the same time provide a richer range of opportunities for the humanities, taking the first step towards the redemption of the erroneous widespread image of “useless” degrees.
To learn more
- Agarwal, Anant (2018). “Data reveals why the “soft” in soft skills is a major misnomer”. Forbes, october 2. URL https://www.forbes.com/sites/anantagarwal/2018/10/02/data-reveals-why-the-soft-in-soft-skills-is-a-major-misnomer/#69ab33126f7b (2020-05-08).
- Contesini, Stefania (2016). La filosofia nelle organizzazioni. Nuove competenze per la formazione e la consulenza. Roma: Carocci.
- Magnani, Alberto (2018). «Le “inutili” lauree umanistiche danno sempre più lavoro». Il Sole 24 Ore, 19 febbraio. URL https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/le-inutili-lauree-umanistiche-danno-sempre-piu-lavoro-AE82cT1D (2020-05-08).
- Origlia, Maria Cristina (2018). «Aziende alla ricerca di competenze filosofiche». Il Sole 24 Ore, 7 febbraio. URL https://alleyoop.ilsole24ore.com/2018/02/07/aziende-alla-ricerca-di-competenze-filosofiche/ (2020-05-08).
- Tovazzi, Raffaele (2018). «Il futuro sarà in mano ai filosofi?». Manageritalia, 17 ottobre. URL https://www.manageritalia.it/it/management/offerta-di-lavoro-per-chi-ha-studiato-filosofia (2020-05-08).
- Vascellaro, Dario (2016). «La filosofia è utile alle aziende? Certo che sì!». Il giornale delle PMI, 3 novembre. URL https://www.giornaledellepmi.it/la-filosofia-e-utile-alle-aziende-certo-che-si/ (2020-05-08).