If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business by Tom Morris

  1. “I believe there are some basic truths, discernible by philosophical reflection, which undergird any sort of human excellence in flourishing, whether in a company like GM or in the country at large. In our families, friendships, neighborhoods, communities, civic organizations and business relationships, four profound but simple foundations – universally accessible, pervasively applicable and incredibly effective – underlie the attainment and sustaining of the very best results.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Ultimately, greatness is rooted in simplicity, if we make consistent use of the most fundamental, simple concepts and truths about excellence as foundations for everything we do
  2. Learn from the eminent dead!
  3. People are the only true foundation for lasting excellence and must get a significant degree of satisfaction at work, must sense that their work is a good thing and doing it must bring them some measure of intrinsic happiness
  4. Extrinsic rewards without intrinsic fulfillment are poor motivators
  5. Everyone in life is really after the same thing – happiness
    1. Happiness as pleasure, personal peace (tranquility of mind, participating in something which brings fulfillment
  6. External world will never lead us to nirvana
  7. Happiness is never passive, it is found in active pursuit of something worthwhile
  8. 4 dimensions of human experience which structure all of human life are timeless virtues for the soul of any productive endeavor with people and thus four foundations for sustainable human excellence – truth, beauty, goodness and unity
    1. The intellectual dimension which aims at truth
    2. The aesthetic dimension which aims at beauty
    3. The moral dimension which aims at goodness
    4. The spiritual dimension which aims at unity
  9. Truth
    1. Need ideas as much as food, air and water
    2. Truth is simply the mapping of reality that corresponds to how things truly are
    3. Asking someone’s advice is one of the most ennobling gestures
    4. Must have an environment which respects truth as this goes together with respecting people
      1. Truth is the foundation of trust and nothing is more important for any business endeavor than trust. Trust is an absolute necessity for truly effective interpersonal activity
    5. In business, as in every facet of life, relationships rule the world
    6. Truth must be consistent with beauty, goodness and unity
    7. Double power principle – To the extent that something has power for good, it has corresponding power for ill. Most of the time, it’s up to us how we use that power
    8. Sharing of knowledge yields more than shared power
      1. As knowledge is shared, it expands
    9. Truth is easily victimized by our desires – we can rationalize almost anything
    10. Lying changes us to lose our grip on truth and its importance
    11. No one ever really gets away with a lie
  10. Excellence
    1. Competitive, zero-sum, individualistic, adversarial mindset can have great results but it is not the best way to go about your life or business. This mindset ignores personal excellence which is not competitive with others and the aim is to be your best.
    2. Comparative growth mindset is very healthy – are you better than a previous version of yourself?
      1. Self-knowledge, strategy for improvement, scale of measurement are necessary to track progress over time
      2. Self-centeredness is self-defeating, self-giving is self-fulfilling. Simply put, by seeking to benefit others, you can end up benefiting yourself beyond any expectation
    3. Collaborative partnership – synergistic interaction, win/win, founded on truth and respect
    4. Excellence is functional and/or aesthetic and/or relational
    5. Shared, lofty vision is motivating in and of itself – the most beautiful situation
  11. Beauty
    1. Most satisfaction and renewal comes when in contact with beauty (nature, beautiful relationships, etc.)
    2. One of the most neglected human experiences in business is beauty
    3. Beauty and truth are almost always found together
    4. Beauty is both active and passive and can be different for everyone
    5. Is there meaning to life?
      1. Nihilism – no
      2. Relativism – yes, if you give it meaning (purposively structure life so it is a meaningful life)
      3. Absolutism – yes
      4. Morris’ answer – creative love. Loving creativity. A kind of performance beauty. Our creative performances are then to be thought of as reflections of the love that brought us into being
        1. What are you doing? What are you building? What is your art? What are you creating, day to day? Is your life guided by creative love? In doing your work, are you somehow involved in acts of loving creativity?
    6. Some of the greatest wisdom is simple but profound and practical
    7. Change most frightening if you don’t have a firm foundation on which to stand. That’s why the best leadership in times of change is clearly values-based leadership
      1. Change is the condition for creative growth and creative growth, in a positive direction, is the meaning of life
    8. Human beings develop to their fullest in structured activities. And that is what business is fundamentally all about: the art of creating, maintaining and refining structures of relationships and activities in which human beings can grow, prosper and live life to the fullest. This is the beauty of business
    9. The beauty of business is the artistry of life
  12. Goodness (moral dimension)
    1. Goodness is truth and beauty manifest in human behavior
    2. Morality is not about deprivation but ultimately living as well as possible
    3. Ethics is about spiritually healthy people with socially harmonious relationships
      1. Inner strength, outer fulfillment
    4. One of the great changes of the modern world is inappropriate compartmentalization of our lives
    5. Goodness is the only investment that never fails
    6. Beware boredom as it can’t be sustained and leads to bad actions
    7. Inability for short-term self-sacrifice is at the core of many of man’s problems – take the long-term, delayed gratification view!
    8. History of human ethical enlightenment is the history of increasing inclusivity
    9. Decision making
      1. Beliefs + Values >> Perceived Problem >> Decision #1 – Feasible Options we could take >> Decision #2 – option to put into action
      2. Almost all of our present problems are a result to some extent of our past decisions
      3. Whenever you make a decision, wherever you act, you are never just doing, you are always becoming
      4. Playing by the rules, by compliance is a poor way to think about ethics
    10. Imagination is the single greatest power in human life
    11. Wisdom and virtue are needed for ethical living
      1. Wisdom – simply deep insight about living. Good advice from the realm of experience. A keen perception of what is right
      2. Virtue – the habit or disposition of acting in accordance with wisdom. Doing the right thing
      3. 3 keys to cultivate wisdom and virtue – network with sages, take care of the little things, cultivate a perceptive imagination (an enhanced capacity for envisioning how our decisions and actions impinge on other people as well as our own process of personal becoming, in morally appropriate and inappropriate ways)
    12. Character is the sum total of all morally relevant habits that you have developed
    13. Integrity is a function of character
    14. Given the right context of intimate and sustained association, greatness gives rise to greatness
    15. Most human beings are masters of self-deception and rationalization
  13. Unity
    1. Unity is the culmination of goodness, beauty and truth
    2. Spirituality fundamentally about depth and connectedness (unity)
    3. Freeing ourselves of delusions is a difficult path but is the one true path to meaning and fulfillment
    4. Become a student of yourself and other people
    5. Not a virtue if it disconnects you from man in general
    6. Benefits never confer the level of satisfaction that contributions do
    7. Everyone has a deep spiritual need to feel useful
    8. I am but dust and ashes. However, for me, the world was created (humility and nobility)
    9. Truth is the most resilient and lasting tie for connecting people and organizations, if the truth is spoken in love
    10. When we connect our work with meanings and purposes attached to our deepest aspirations, we find the result to be beautiful in one of the deepest possible senses. Additionally, environments of beauty for life and work make it more likely that activities within those environments will inspire and bear fruit on a spiritual level
    11. 4 universal spiritual needs – uniqueness as individuals; union with something greater than the self; usefulness to others; understanding about our lives and work
    12. People have ceased asking “is it true?” and concern themselves only with “will it work?”
    13. Public opinion should always be secondary to our focus on the quality of what we contribute
    14. We have a tendency not to sink our roots deeply enough. We look around us at the best practices of other organizations that seem to work and we try to emulate them in our own endeavors. We don’t often analyze exactly why they work or investigate what it is in human nature that makes them work
What I got out of it
  1. Truth, beauty, goodness, unity are the 4 universal traits people, and therefore businesses, need to live a happy and fulfilling life