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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 22
23rd September 2005
I. 'The Meeting' by Thomas Basboll
II. 'Meeting with Ute Sommer' by Geoffrey Klempner
III. 'A Standard for Stakeholder Engagement' by AccountAbility
This issue opens with an article from Thomas Basboll, entitled simply, 'The
Meeting' which seeks to expand the possibilities of what 'Philosophy of
Business' can be.
Robert Pirsig, in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks of a
'wave of crystallization' when a single new idea can precipitate a cascade of
new ideas. The crystallization is produced when a single 'seed' crystal is
dropped into a super-saturated solution. I believe that Basboll's article fits
into that rare category.
In my article, 'Philosophy for Business People' (Philosophy for Business Issue
21) I made the following announcement:
... I would like to help business people find out more
about themselves by assisting them in the process of
Socratic self-inquiry. This is one area where I think I can
put my particular skills to good use.
The motto of my philosophos.org web site says,
'Philosophers should know lots of things besides
philosophy'. Philosophers should be fully prepared and able
to conduct empirical research. And that is what I propose
I want to talk to business people.
If you are a professional or business person, just pick up
the telephone or send me an e-mail. I am making myself
available for up to one full day's consultation. All I ask
is my travel expenses. If you like, you can buy me a drink
or a meal. You won't be sorry.
Although I was optimistic about the outcome of my offer, I didn't expect to be
invited to fly out to Turkey.
My flat in Fethiye on the Aegean coast - an hour's coach ride from Dalaman
Airport - overlooked the Marina and offered a breathtaking view of the bay. The
Glass House Philosopher online notebook records some memorable conversations
which I had with Ute Sommer, the business woman who invited me. An extract from
my notebook is reproduced below.
For those who missed Issue 21, the closing date for my offer is 31 December
2005. I am prepared to go anywhere.
This week AccountAbility announced a major new initiative on stakeholder
engagement, one of the hot topics in the philosophy of business. While many
have been content to mouth well-meaning generalities, AccountAbility have
produced a impressively detailed and well thought out framework, which, even if
only a small part were implemented, would lead to a major change in the climate
of business today.
I. 'THE MEETING' BY THOMAS BASBOLL
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was both a philosopher and a diplomat . His
achievements include seminal research into the relationship between the real
and the possible, which served as a basis for the subsequent development of
existentialism, which, in turn, was one of the defining movements of early
twentieth century philosophy. He was also an active participant in efforts to
set up the League of Nations at the close of the First World War, making him,
in an important sense, not just a philosopher of the possible, but a master of
the art of the possible, namely, politics. History has, in a sense, moved
beyond both of these achievements. Existentialism has been replaced with
phenomenology and the League of Nations with the UN. But while names change,
ideas live on. Bergson was present at the creation of possibilities that we
struggle with to this day, for better or for worse.
It may be useful to keep this experience in mind when reading the following
passage from an essay entitled simply, 'The Possible and the Real,' from 1930.
Bergson is here trying to get us to see that human life consists of 'the
continuous creation of unpredictable novelty' by contrast with the tendency to
imagine that our experiences amount simply to the 'realisation' of what was
already possible. If we examine our experiences in detail, says Bergson, we
will see that possibilities do not become real; rather, it is reality that
becomes possible. Every experience we have makes new realities possible - not
old possibilities real.
I am, for example, to participate in a meeting; I know who
I am going to meet, what table they will sit at, in what
order things are going to happen, and what we are going to
discuss. But even if they arrive, sit down, converse, just
as I expected them to, and say just what predicted, I am
impressed with the unique novelty of the whole situation,
as if it has at that very moment been drawn with the
original strokes of an artist's hand. 
It was such meetings, in which Bergson really participated that made the League
of Nations possible. More importantly, these meetings themselves were not so
much possible before they took place as they became possible as they took place.
This last point will seem needlessly 'philosophical'; let me therefore spend a
little time making it clear what I mean. There is of course a sense in which
one does not want to deny that the meeting you will be having next week or this
afternoon is at this moment possible. There is nothing that logically prevents
it from becoming a perfectly real meeting at the appointed time. Your client
will in all likelihood show up and will want to discuss a prearranged topic. If
she does not, that does not prove that it was impossible all along, only that
this, too, was possible, i.e., her not being able to keep her appointment. But
it is because we do not know what will come of a meeting in its details, i.e.,
what the meeting in its turn will make possible, that we do not really know
what is possible before it happens, only that it is possible. There is a
multiplicity of possibilities that correspond with any given reality. Those
possibilities are finally created as the meeting is itself is realised. It is
only the most schematic features of a meeting that are possible before the
So we have here a philosophical argument for heeding the balance between
planning and presence. The results of a meeting will not be decided beforehand,
even when the meeting goes exactly as planned, indeed, even when the meeting
results in the awarding of the very contract to the very person who planned the
very meeting to that very end. For something much more important happened than
the achievement of the concrete goal. The meeting itself became possible; a new
relation was established; a new relationship was created. And this determines
the specific nature of the contract, not as a reality following from the
meeting, but a possibility that is now created within the meeting (or produced
at some point during the meeting, which is rarely consciously noted.) This
event sends a ripple of new possibilities out from the moment of the meeting,
and is caused not by any specific decision, but the way the meeting made itself
possible in every moment of its unfolding.
This is not to say that one should abandon all preparations before a meeting
and simply resolve to 'live in the now'. Planning carries the accomplishment of
the past into the structure of the future and has its clear place. There would
be no meeting if no plans were made and coordinated to hold it. But what a
phenomenological sensibility - a sensitivity for what is going on right before
our eyes - can provide us with is an awareness of the newness of each element
in the process, the fresh perspective in a familiar scene that is always
available. We must be ready to accomplish the reality as it happens, i.e., we
must make what is real possible or we will lose it. It is not sufficient to
imagine that experience, life, is just our bearing witness to the actualisation
of possibilities that are then immediately relegated to the past, to remain
there forever. No, we must understand that our activities, and especially those
that involve other people, are constantly bringing the past 'up to date',
constantly bringing the weight of history to bear on the present moment. We are
constantly using the real to transform what is possible.
Perhaps the best way to bring this idea out of the mists of mysticism is to
return to the schematic idea of logical possibilities. These are, in fact,
infinite in number, and overwhelmingly so. Suppose I arrange a meeting with Mr.
Jones at 2 pm on Tuesday to talk about what we might do about the weather. Well,
it is possible that he will show up and it is possible that he will forget to
come. It is also possible that he will be late. Or he will be early. Indeed,
there are an infinite amount of moments at which he might show up, not all of
which are equally interesting. Creating possibilities by being really and truly
present, is a matter of selecting from among the infinity of possibilities that
underpin what is happening right now exactly those that are interesting, that
will endure into the moment beyond the meeting as it starts. Consider the
difference between starting a meeting with the words, 'You're late! Please find
a seat,' and, 'I hope you are all right.' These two responses to the reality of
the same late arrival produce different possible reasons for the event of that
arrival. I don't want to suggest that one response is better than the other,
only that they clearly make the same reality differently possible. And this
affects the mood of the meeting, conditioning how it unfolds, i.e., it
manifestly alters the possible.
Time has duration, said Bergson; it persists. It is 'what keeps everything from
happening all at once,' what keeps all possibilities from being realized in one
single moment (which would be tantamount to letting nothing happen ever after).
It is the durability of events that must respected and this is why it is so
important to be fully present at the meetings one is attending. One must be
open to the possibilities that are being created at every turn in order to give
those possibilities the durability they deserve, each in the measure appropriate
to them. Too often we look at a meeting's agenda and think to ourselves (or even
say out loud), 'Let's just get this over with,' meaning by this that each point
on the agenda is a possibility that will be realised by speaking a finite
number of words. The good leader who heads a meeting will look at the agenda
and see the challenge as being 'How do we make this possible?' meaning by this
that we must arrange, organize, create an event out of the material provided by
an infinite number of possibilities from which we select a smaller (but somehow
still infinite) number. Were Bergson's meetings with Woodrow Wilson during the
First World War made possible by the prospect of victory or the prospect of
peace? This difference, which one imagines had important consequences for the
development of the institutions that we look to secure the peace today, is the
sort of thing I am after. It is also akin to deciding whether Jones has arrived
late or arrived after all. What Jones may ultimately bring to this meeting is
inexorably transformed by this decision.
(I would like to acknowledge my colleagues Bent Meier Sorensen, Asmund Born and
Ole Fogh Kirkeby, whose work inspires these brief observations and goes a
considerably distance beyond them.)
 For more on this French philosopher, who is experiencing something of a
revival of late, see Lawlor, Leonard, Moulard, Valentine, 'Henri Bergson', The
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 Edition), Edward N.
ZaltaŹ(ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2004/entries/bergson/.
 Bergson, Henri. 'The Possible and the Real' in The Creative Mind:
Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: Citadel Press, 1946, p. 107.
(Translation modified slightly based on Peter Kemp's Danish translation.)
(c) Thomas Basboll 2005
Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy
Copenhagen Business School
II. 'MEETING WITH UTE SOMMER' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
From Glass House Philosopher Notebook 2, Page 78
On the train to Manchester Airport I scribbled out a list of everything I could
think of related to 'philosophy for business', allowing one idea to spark
another in no particular order. Then I realized: there is enough material here
for the next few months - or years:
Boredom and creativity
Presentation of the self
Work rate and organization
Philosophy of travel (!)
Friends and allies
Gurus and mentors
Fashion and style
Controlling and exploiting fear
Philosophy vs psychology of business
The suit (what is it about ties?)
The work ethic
Master and slave (Hegel)
Games and gamesmanship
In praise of idleness (Russell)
Character armour (Reich)
What precipitated this rush of ideas is an article for Philosophy for Business
which came in just yesterday from Thomas Basboll, 'The Meeting', exploring the
phenomenology of one of the ubiquitous facets of the life of the business
person (and not only business people, of course).
I only needed to read the first couple of sentences, then I thought, 'Yes!'
This is it. Everything. I don't mean the topic of 'the meeting' as such -
although especially pertinent to me as I look forward to my meeting with
business woman Ute Sommer who invited me to Turkey - but rather the very idea
that this could be a topic for philosophical inquiry. As it most definitely is.
If there can be a philosophy of The Meeting, think of all the other aspects of
business life that there can be a philosophy of...
On Friday, Ute Sommer talked about the changes she has seen, where
American-style management is coming increasingly to dominate European business.
'The new managers don't have any people skills, all they know about is money,'
Ute said. She went on to explain that the dominant climate now is one of fear
and mistrust. You can't count on your colleagues to cover your back, you can't
offer constructive criticisms for fear of making enemies. If you want to keep
your job, you learn to keep your head down.
Ute is at the top of her profession, a financial controller who lives very
comfortably on what she earns from just two months consultancy a year.
Typically, she will be called in to clean up the mess after the Finance
Director of a company has been fired, and finds the staff 'running around - how
do you say? - like chickens without their heads.' Ute's current assignments are
in Geneva, Zurich and Milan.
Because she comes from outside, Ute is immune to a large extent to the nastier
excesses of company politics. Unlike the company men she is free to say what
she thinks without fear of reprisals.
I showed my list to her. The item which immediately struck a chord was stress.
Ute agreed that business people live and eat stress. They are driven to
succeed, time and time again, and every new threat drives out all memory of
past successes. You are only as good as your latest deal.
I am reminded of a something that psychotherapists say, about the 'inability to
hold on to the good.'
The most successful business people have little time to enjoy their wealth, so
can it really be about the pursuit of money? I would argue that a bank account
is not wealth. Wealth is access to, power over resources. Things you want or
need or enjoy. Money is no good to you if you have little or no time to spend
Money is what defines the game. Success or failure has no other measure than in
financial terms. In the world of big business, all values are convertible to
money - just as Marx said. Yet, paradoxically, the money you make for yourself
- your salary and bonuses - does not even have value as money. It is reduced to
a mere symbol like the score on an amusement arcade machine.
In saying this, I am mindful of the trap over superficial over-generalization
and cliches. What is dominant or prevails for the most part is by no means
universal. Not all business people are 'unhappy' in the Aristotelian sense. But
I contend that the majority are.
Do you care about hunger or poverty? Don't waste your time going cap in hand to
these people. They can't help you, not even if you succeed in pricking their
consciences, a rare enough event. The game has no room for begging bowls, only
for winners and losers. - The only question is, Which are you?
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2005
III. 'A STANDARD FOR STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT' BY ACCOUNTABILITY
This week, AccountAbility launched the exposure draft of the first
international standard for stakeholder engagement: the AA1000SES. The standard
is now available for download from Accountability's website:
'This standard raises the bar on stakeholder engagement. It moves it from a
nice-to-have conversation to an integral part of how organisations do business,
subject to the same disciplines and quality checks that would be applied to any
other aspect of learning and development, or governance and accountability',
said Simon Zadek, CEO, AccountAbility.
Organisational challenges make it more important to engage with both previously
ignored stakeholders and with more familiar stakeholders on new topics in new
Unfortunately the current gap between rhetoric and proof and the discrepancy
between the quality of practice and outcomes threaten the credibility of
stakeholder engagement itself.
Currently, the credibility of stakeholder engagement is threatened by the wide
range of quality of practice and associated claims. Without a clear and agreed
basis as to what constitutes quality stakeholder engagement, the credibility of
good practice will be undermined, reducing the value of stakeholder engagement
to organisations, their stakeholders, and more broadly to society and the
The AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard Exposure Draft:
* Advances the right of stakeholders to be heard, and the
organisations' obligation to adequately respond to their
* Provides a principles-based, open source framework for
quality stakeholder engagement
* Offers a robust basis for designing, implementing,
evaluating and assuring the quality of stakeholder
* Provides guidance for continuous improvement, recognising
different levels of practice.
* Can be used as a stand-alone standard or as an integral
element of other standards (e.g. AA1000 Assurance Standard,
* Is relevant across a full range of engagements from
micro-level issues specific engagements to macro-level
engagements on major societal concerns.
* Applies to businesses, civil society and labour
organisations, public bodies and multi-stakeholder networks
The AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard is informed by insights from peers
and practitioners - ranging from beginners to leaders - in the field the
standard received positive feedback by both:
'The Dow Chemical Company welcomes the initiative of Accountability in the
development of an exposure draft on Stakeholder Engagement. For too long, it
has been assumed that all engagements with stakeholders are equally value
added. Based on our experience with various engagements with stakeholders, this
is simply not the case. The AA1000SES exposure draft is an important next step
in our journey towards rewarding, value added engagements for all
stakeholders', said Scott Noesen, Director of Sustainable Development.
Elin Schmidt from Novo Nordisk, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility
Management said, 'Designing an AA1000 module for Stakeholder Engagement is an
important step in the continued progress towards a truly sustainable future.
AccountAbility's initiative is exemplary, particularly in the way the
stakeholder engagement process has been designed to support the development of
the AA1000SES module. Linked with the work of the new ISO26000 this will be a
valuable tool for organisations that wish to engage more systematically with
their stakeholders. We at Novo Nordisk expect to be using the AA1000SES module
as an inspiration in our interactions with stakeholders and are also
considering how it may help inform our assurance process.'
AccountAbility invites and welcomes feedback and established a structure
feedback process. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or engage in the online
discussion forum at http://www.accountability.org.uk/forums/default.asp.
There will be a public launch at one of the AccountAbility's A21 event forums
(October 3 - 5, 2005), which will give delegates to opportunity to explore and
discuss the AA1000SES.
AccountAbility is an international institute working to make companies, and
other organisations, accountable for their impacts on society and the
environment. AccountAbility publishes research, acts as a think-tank to guide
public policy, and works with its member organisations to establish best
practice through standards and professional development.
(c) AccountAbility 2005
[Adapted by the Editor from the AccountAbility Press release 22nd September
2005, together with the summary of the Stakeholder Engagement Standard which is
also downloadable from the AccountAbility web site]