Yesterday on the radio: “Immanuel Kant gave managers the best way to never make mistakes”.
Is that true that Manu K. (1724 – 1804) found out the Philosopher’s Stone of Management 200 years before Windows, and it is not yet taught neither in kindergarten nor in the Words Of Jack Welch? By Jove, something must be done about it!
What it is referred to here is (“of course!”) Kant’s moral imperative as it stated in the Critique of the Practical Reason: “Act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as the universal law“. Or in simpler words: could my decisions be held as universal laws, and everyone feel better about it? Whatever decisions a manager makes, should pass the test: “would anyone, in the same situation, make the same decision? Would this decision enforce the greater good (actually, it is more: the well-being of all)?”
More than pushing the average manager to play God, it is an interesting question to ask always. But certainly not the only one. Fun fact: Kant sees democracy as a despotism (we are in the XVIIIth century, Democracy is not a widely spread disease at the time), and democracy is probably not the best way to govern Corporatia (as opposed to, say, a benevolent dictatorship perhaps? One day we will have to discuss the beauty of systems and how they almost self-regulate but this is so, oh ultra liberal).
In that talk show, contradictors opposed Adam Smith to Kant: companies are there to grow, for their self interest. Self-interest is the driver behind existence and as such, opposes collective interest (I sometimes need to make decisions so that I survive, and these decisions may inflict damages others. Competition. The Law of the Jungle).
Was Kant so wrong then? Probably not. What is really interesting is that he provided then an excellent tool for testing managerial decisions. “Do I make this decision because it benefits me most, or because it is a good decision for everyone”. This brings ethics in a world of beasts in which we know that short term decisions (me first, then whatever happens is not my problem anymore) are not as value-generating as cooperation-fostering – and yes, often more selfless – long-term decisions. Kant brought substance to a leadership questions: why should you follow me? Because I try to come with a vision that will benefit the largest number, and I am willing to put resources to it.