Over the past two years, students on the Master in Management programme have had the opportunity to follow a series of Humanities lectures. The idea to introduce a range of conferences led by a number of prominent figures such as Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, Louis GALLOIS, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of PSA Peugeot Citroën and Jean-Paul AGON, CEO of L'Oréal, was initiated by Michel Edouard Leclerc. The Humanities & Management programme also includes a 5-class module co-developed by teams of NEOMA and Prep School teachers. Laurent Bachler, Professor of philosophy at Lycée Vaugelas in Chambéry and a business philosophy consultant, has contributed to the project and explains the features and richness of the course.
Just how important do you think Philosophy and the Humanities are for a Business School?
Philosophy and Humanities are based on a confrontation of different viewpoints. There is no immediate or single answer to the questions people may be asking themselves when studying these disciplines. Philosophy makes it possible to take different points of view on the same question into account; but in no way does this mean that there is only one right answer. Philosophy, in my opinion, gives business school students access to two basic premises: it enables you to articulate your point of view convincingly, whilst allowing you to put yourself in another person's place and understand their point of view. These two abilities are essential irrespective of the career you decide to follow.
In your opinion, are the students really aware of the importance of studying philosophy?
The level of awareness is not the same for everyone and depends to a great extent on the individual's background. If their teacher is good and they enjoy the subject, they leave with a positive opinion. If this is not the case, then it is our role to convince them, arouse their interest and give them the motivation and desire to think about the proposed themes. As a teacher, we want them to be involved in the course and say, "I really find this subject interesting".
I accept that my students are not interested at the beginning, but my aim is to awaken their interest. In a business school, the basic and primary prerequisite and interest the students need to develop is economics. In my opinion, an interest in philosophy is not a prerequisite, but an objective. Students must remain open-minded and be interested in what is going on in the world, they must read and broaden their cultural knowledge because this will help their future careers and positions in companies. It is up to us to convince them. This is our challenge!
What do the students learn from the Humanities and Management course ?
We need to identify the skills that students need to acquire. In certain subjects they really need to become experts. Such knowledge is very useful when it comes to determining who is right. This is expertise.
The aim of Humanities is not a matter of determining who is right or wrong when a divisive issue arises. The skills the students develop are not controversial and it is not a question of students "winning" an argument either. However, the skills they are taught relate to creating ties with others and being able to work together. We have the right to disagree. But how do we exchange our points of view in a meeting or whilst working on a team project, for example? How do we continue talking to one another, exchanging ideas and making progress together, whilst continuing to express our points of view?
Our classes are designed so that the role of the teacher is making sure that all the different points of view are expressed, without taking sides. The teacher never says, "Here is the right answer: write this down... "
We teach "soft skills", or "human skills" as I prefer to call them. These are probably the most important skills needed today. I'm certainly not looking to turn my students into scientists. The business world does not only need people with specific technical knowledge. I encourage them to be curious and to take an interest in the bigger issues.
What do they learn? To be generous, to commit to an idea and to give. To give ideas, great ideas, ones that matter. When that happens, it's fantastic. Sometimes they come to class saying, "We're going to fight." As the word 'debate' implies. But finally, they leave with many things. For students in economics, learning to be generous is even more important. In order to receive, you need to give. Start by giving and you will also receive a response from others, from others who do not necessarily share your way of thinking. This is also true for ideas, whether your point of view is changed or not.
If economics is the art of exchange, then philosophy is a course in basic economics in that it teaches us to exchange our points of view.
How was the course co-designed with the NEOMA BS teachers?
The main idea behind this course was to combine our skills and outlooks. Professors from a number of disciplines were involved: economics, social sciences, philosophy... this is an extremely rare opportunity.
We combine our viewpoints and also periods, representing a wide range of references from the history of thought - from ancient times, through the 18th century and right up to the present day: using newspapers, television, etc. Our aim is to present students with a balanced selection of content and authors.
Generally speaking, what really helps most people to overcome their difficulties is talking to people with different points of view and who are different from us: either socially, in terms of age or cultural background. Studying a text written by Aristotle from 2400 years ago and applying the ideas to today's issues can teach us a lot of important lessons, for example. Looking at some of the great philosophical works of the past can really help us to move forward. Classical culture is not mummified - quite the contrary! It is taught and studied because it is enlightening and is still valid today. When a student becomes aware of this, the teacher feels tremendous satisfaction.
A new trend that has recently emerged amongst start-ups is the "Chief Philosophy Officer", which has somewhat succeeded the "Chief Happiness Officer". As a business philosophy consultant, what is your view on this new position?
This is a difficult question because the position is extremely new and can include almost anything. But I believe that bringing in somebody whose role is to take care of the relationships between the members of a group is a very good thing.
Within a team, a specific task is assigned to each member with a further element required to make the connection. When I intervene as a philosopher in the workplace, one of the first signs of difficulty is related to "disconnection". This means that people find it difficult to talk to each other and exchange ideas, tensions that are often attributed to a lack of communication arise within the team. But overcoming these difficulties requires more than an improvement in communication. This means taking the time to reflect and discuss the meaning of our work. This means philosophy.
A philosophical approach implies that, in times of difficulty and especially professional difficulty, the best resources we have are other people. By staying alone, it is almost always impossible to solve the problems encountered. People remain their own prisoners. However, by talking, you can ask for advice, discuss a problem, hear other points of view and, quite simply, learn....
If the role of the Chief Happiness Officer or Chief Philosophy Officer is to look after the dialogue between company members, then a lot more needs to be done! And that means doing a lot more than simply organizing get-togethers and drinks for everyone! It could mean encouraging dialogue: "talk to each other even if you don't agree, and maybe try to see things differently".
Isn't the role you are describing the role of a manager?
For me, the role of a manager is to give a sense of meaning to the work being done by the team by answering the following question: "Why are we working together?" and to provide motivation.
However, it is possible to motivate people to do a task that is seemingly meaningless. For example, I can easily see myself motivating a class to take part in a paper-ball throwing contest. You'd probably agree that this doesn't really serve any purpose! But the opposite is also true. People can become demotivated when their task does have meaning. You can be motivated without seeing the point, just as you can see the point whilst not feeling motivated. Both issues need to be dealt with. And I think that this is what a manager should be doing.
The role a philosophical viewpoint plays within a team is slightly different because the facilitator is not a superior in the organisation. Running into difficulties at work often means we have to talk about what we have not been able to do, which implies exposing our weaknesses. In such a situation, is a hierarchical superior the best person to offer help? The answer isn't so obvious because a manager has to judge a team member's performance. On the other hand, if the interlocutor is someone from the same hierarchical level, who is not going to judge the performance of the others, then the exchange and therefore the task of finding a solution will be facilitated.
If you had to give 3 pieces of advice to the NEOMA students, what would they be?
Three words : curiosity, confidence and encounter :
- Curiosity : be curious, open a book even if it is only to read one page. Take an interest in a wide range of different things.
- Confidence : have confidence in yourself. Philosophy is about looking at the bigger questions to which there are no answers. If ready-made answers to the complexity of life existed, we'd know about them! Have confidence in yourself because you are the ones holding the reins in tomorrow's society and it is the role of a school like NEOMA to prepare you for the task of building this future society. The future belongs to you. Have confidence in others as well. You will be much better off by accepting what other people have to offer.
- Encounter : Take good care of your relations with other people. This is the only thing that really matters. You will encounter many unexpected things and meet people of different ages, cultures and social backgrounds. In our lives today, we often think that we don't have enough time to do the things we need to do. Taking the time to meet other people is like having access to an infinite resource. So it is never a waste of time.
THE HUMANITIES CONFERENCE SERIES
This is the second chapter to a general learning approach, the first being a fundamental Humanities course for all first year Master in Management students, that includes such subjects as sociology, psychology, ethnography, economics... . This year's course focuses on the theme of money, viewed from a wide range of perspectives. The aim of the lectures is to make students think about the social utility of companies and their own role in society as future leaders and managers.
In 2019, the School had the pleasure of hosting Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, Louis GALLOIS, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of PSA Peugeot Citroën, Jean-Paul AGON, CEO of l'Oréal, and Thomas GOMART, Director of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI). Michel-Edouard Leclerc also gave a talk on his role as a Company Director.
During the first quarter of 2020, following Thierry Guibert, CEO of Maus Frères (Lacoste, Gant, Aigle, Tecnifibre, The Kooples brands) and Jean-François Julliard, CEO of Greenpeace France, NEOMA will have th eplasure of hosting Jean-Baptiste Santoul, CEO of Ferrero France, Henri Giscard d'Estaing, CEO of Club Med, and Rony Brauman, Former President of Médecins sans Frontières.