Scroll To Top

Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here are the Key Learnings from the Seriously Good Book ...

If Aristotle Ran General Motors

The New Soul of Business

Tom Morris


We appear to forget that extraordinarily wise people have gone before us, have grappled with many of the same basic issues that we face today, and have bequeathed to us great ideas that we can use.

As we can see from its Latin root, corpus, or 'body,' the word corporate denotes first and foremost any body of people with shared interests or concerns, living together or working together in an organized way.

People are not motivated to be and do their best unless they feel some significant degree of satisfaction at work.

Introduction: Business Excellence and the Human Quest

Aristotle had the insight that beneath all the surface differences in what we seem to chase, everyone in this life is really after the same thing: happiness. People do their best when they enjoy what they are doing.

Happiness is participation in something that brings fulfillment. It is not having but doing that is most intimately related to the fullest experience of being. We are at our best and feel our best when we are engaged in a worthy task. Happiness never exists in passivity. It is in fact a dynamic phenomenon of participation in something that brings fulfillment.

The four dimensions of human experience:

  • The intellectual dimension, which aims at truth
  • The aesthetic dimension, which aims at beauty
  • The moral dimension, which aims at goodness
  • The spiritual dimension, which aims at unity

Chapter 1: The Intellectual Dimension at Work

Every human being has a mind. Each of us has an intellectual dimension to his experience. We need ideas as much as we need food, air, or water.

There are basically two fundamental relationships that can exist between you and another individual entity in this world. First, there is the I It relation. This is a way of relating to something as a thing, or object, whose only value is extrinsic, or instrumental. The second basic relationship is the I Thou relation. This is the fundamental stance that one human being ought always to have toward another person, a relationship or respect in which the other individual is viewed as having intrinsic value.

Companies will seek to achieve a superior position by building solid relationships with their customers: relationships based on trust, responsiveness, and quality.

Chapter 2: Truth and Lies

In business we want results. One of the greatest temptations is to do whatever it takes to get those results, even if that involves shamelessly manipulating other people.

When front line employees see supervisors, or when managers see executives, lying for the sake of expediency to people outside of the company, they realize, whether consciously or not, that they may themselves be victims of the same manipulative casualness with truth. The only deeply prudent way to run an organization is to insist that people tell the truth, to each other, to suppliers, to clients, and to the government.

Truth has to be one of the leading values of any organization that values its own health.

Chapter 3: The Truth about Excellence—a Powerful Idea

Short term thinking creates a climate where the urgent easily pushes out the important. Exclusively short term thinking can lead to destructive long term results and create a climate in which ethical decision making is likely to be much more difficult.

The word excellence has a simple etymology. It comes from two Latin roots that together mean >rising out from.= Excellence is always an actual state of superior performance rising out from an original state of potentiality. The western model of excellence is the competitive victory model ... winning the zero sum game. In order for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser, or group of losers. We throw all our attention on the utterly idle questions whether A has been done as well as B, when the only question should be is whether A has done as well as he could. You can possess competitive excellence without having individual excellence. That is, a business or team can be the best in its league or field, without being its best, as long as it happens to be performing better than any currently existing competition.

The comparative growth model of the east allows us to judge whether we are moving in a direction of excellence not by vying with some external competition but by comparing our present state with our previous state, or present self with our previous self. To put comparative thinking about excellence into action requires that we have a clear standard or envisioned goal, an accurate state of relevant self knowledge, a strategy for improvement, and a scale of measurement. The collaborative partnership model is a model focused beyond the bounds of the individual person or business, and it moves us in the direction of a new rationality in keeping with many of the latest discoveries of modern science.

Cooperation is a multiplication of hands to get a job done. Collaboration is a multiplication of heads as well ... in an ideal competition, I'm pushing you to push me to be the best I can be, and you're pushing me to push you to be the best you can be. Each of us performs better than we would have apart from the competition. Collaboration is based on synergistic interaction.

In any true collaboration, a leader will be a learner, as will every other partner to the enterprise.

Chapter 5: Creativity and the Meaning of Life

If you don't know the meaning of anything you're doing, it can sometimes be difficult to plan the day.

The meaning of life is—creative love. Loving creativity. How do your coworkers envision their work? Do they think of themselves as engaged in an enterprise or creating? Are they aware that they are building meaning? If not, you won't see the kind of soaring corporate spirit in your endeavors together that you're all capable of sharing.

Change is most frightening to people when they lack a firm foundation on which to stand. If they have a strong base of unchanging bedrock values, they are better equipped to weather any storm. That's why the best leadership in times of change is clearly values based leadership.

Chapter 6: The Beauty of Business

If we don't understand the whys and wherefores of what we do, we can't chart our way forward with wisdom and insight.

After the publication of his massive Principles of Human Psychology in 1890, the prominent Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James had once said that his most serious omission in that great work was his failure to realize that the single greatest source of human motivation is the need to be appreciated. As long as human beings do the work, make the deals, use the products, buy the services, and chart the future, the genuinely human need for love and appreciation should be the most important issues ... not the ones most ignored.

People will not feel fulfilled in what they do, and will not be experiencing that measure of personal happiness they are capable of attaining on the job unless they are feeling that the aesthetic dimension of their experience is being respected and nurtured by the people around them and by the conditions of their work.

Chapter 7: The Moral Dimension at Work

I believe that if we deeply understand what ethics are about, we can come to see that it is always connected to our long term personal fulfillment.

Too often in business today people tend to take a negative and legalistic approach to ethics as fundamentally no more than a matter of mere compliance, as if the main point of ethics or morality were just staying out of trouble, legally and otherwise. Anyone who thinks that the main concern of ethics is just staying out of trouble can be tempted to take a shortcut.

Chapter 8: The Challenge of Ethical Action

Some of our moral responsibilities clearly involve the long term consequences of our actions, and in an environment of forced immediacy, these can easily be overlooked or ignored. When we think about the consequences of our actions, we tend to think only of immediate effects (e.g., quick payoffs, easy convenience). But there is a problem. What impact will my decisions and my behavior have on the people closest to me over the long run? And what sort of person am I becoming, long term, by the decisions I make?

The pressure to be a team player can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the team. If things are done well, with excellence and within a firm ethical framework, this can be a great spur to personal growth, a motivation or incentive for improvement, a real force for good. But in the wrong environment, this pressure can have tremendously detrimental effects.

There can never be enough specific rules to cover everything we recognize as an ethical situation. Life is far too complex. The rules could never be complete. Second, because of this complexity of real life, the promulgation of rules as the entirety of the ethical dimension of life can encourage an exception or loophole mentality, a manipulative mind set that ends up being anything but ethical. Third, rules can conflict. If ethics are nothing but following rules and two rules conflict, requiring of us different and incompatible actions, how do we find a solution? Fourth, a related problem is that all rules need interpretation. If ethics were just a matter of rules, we'd need rules for the interpretation of the rules.

Chapter 9: Wisdom, Virtue, and Corporate Strength

We need wisdom and virtue in our lives. Wisdom is just deep insight about living. Good advice from the realm of experience, a keen perception of what is right. Virtue is the habit or disposition of acting in accordance with wisdom doing the wise thing.

I have come to believe that a person's character is his or her settled degree of wisdom and virtue. An established pattern of thought, feeling, behavior that has arisen out of repeated action and reaction in the world. Character is then the sum total of all those morally relevant habits that we have developed.

When associates see their colleagues, supervisors, managers or executives treat people outside the company in unethical ways, they naturally become wary of how they themselves will be treated in the future by these people in their own organization. A person capable of treating anyone unethically is capable of treating everyone unethically.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the great philosopher Socrates had a student named Plato, and that Plato had a student named Aristotle? Is it just an amazing coincidence that sometimes great teachers have great students who themselves turn into great teachers?

When something goes wrong, debrief the people involved. Get their imaginations in gear, and help them to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Likewise, when something goes very right, tell the story around the organization. Get people's imaginations going in a positive way.

Chapter 10: The Spiritual Dimension at Work

Spirituality is fundamentally about two things: depth and connectedness. The more spiritually developed a person is, the more that individual will see a depth of meaning and significance under the surface appearances of things in our world.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

The great mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal suggested that there are three orders of reality: the physical realm (the order of the body); the intellectual realm (the order of the mind); and the spiritual realm (the order of the heart). Too often we live in just one or two of these realms and neglect many things that are very important for a full life.

Hard truths can and should sometimes be spoken, but never just to destroy, always also to build.

Chapter 11: Uniqueness and Union

The four universal spiritual needs felt by human beings are both simple and powerful. We all have a deep need for a sense of:

  • Uniqueness as individuals
  • Union with something greater than the self
  • Usefulness to others
  • Understanding about our lives and work

Become a student of yourself as well as of other people. The proper form of or individuality we need to value is the need to bring creative contributions to all our partnerships and collaborations.

The teamwork that an organization should promote is not the herd mentality that leads people lemminglike in the wrong direction. It is precisely the opposite, a state of mind and pattern of action in which individuals join their associates in doing things together that none of them could have accomplished alone. The best teams are groups of individual leaders bringing their talents, experiences, and energies together in creative ways in service to some valued community of concern.

No emphasis on teamwork should ever give associates reason to suspect that individual creative thought and initiative is unwelcome. Proper philosophical balance. What used to be called the 'soft issues' of business will increasingly be the differentiations of sustainable excellence in every industry in the world, as we move into a new century.

UltimatelyCafter the technology is in place, our organizations are well structured, and all processes are flowing smoothlyCwhat will make or break any business will be the spirit of the people who do the work.

Chapter 12: Usefulness and Understanding

The ancient Greek philosophers thought of us all as teleological beings (from the Greek telos, "purpose"), purposive creatures who need specific goals as well as an overall mission in life.

In order to be and stay competitive, we need the brains in addition to the bodies of everyone at work.

Epilogue: Creating Corporate Excellence

As Socrates once admitted about himself, being a philosopher doesn't mean that he has all the answers. It only means that he can help you ask all the right questions.