Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
[…] that is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way (Lessing, 1969, The Four‐Gated City).
It was Whitehead (1979, p. 39) who famously (or perhaps infamously) described European philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. In doing so, of course, Whitehead (1979, p. 39) did not mean “the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. [Rather, he meant to] allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them”. Seeming to draw some inspiration from this approach, Carlopio, through this collection of quotations, offers us more than just a series of annotations and affirmations based on the wealth of insights scattered through ancient aphorisms. Rather, as Crvenkovic (2007, p. v) recognises, they are presented “in a conversational coaching context for executives, HR managers, employees and reflective readers undergoing workplace and personal change”.
In keeping with the coaching style, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds is divided into four parts – Awareness of self and others; Life and death, health and happiness; Wisdom, communication and learning; and Achievement, goals and effort – with quotes from the likes of Socrates, Plato, Lao‐Tzu, Buddha, Cicero and Pliny on each of these topics being followed by a Carlopio reflection and then a coaching affirmation. An example, and one of my personal favourites (from Part 2 – Life and death, health and happiness), reads as follows:
The Gods too are fond of a joke (Aristotle, Greek critic, philosopher, physicist and zoologist).
Our lives are full of ironic and paradoxical situations. We can let them anger and frustrate us. We can let them depress us and we can become jaded and cynical. Alternatively, we can learn to live with them. We can accept them as jokes of the Gods and laugh along with them. The choice is ours.
I choose to see light and humour in my life.
I wonder if this is what former CEO of Burger King, Gibbons (1999), was thinking when he wrote if you want to make God really laugh, show him your business plan, a deconstruction of corporate governance (or would Gibbons consider that an oxymoron?).
Regular readers of the Journal of Management History will be familiar with a style that seeks managerial wisdom through the identification, understanding and contemporary application of ideas that have long preceded us. This is the first reason to see Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds as a positive contribution to this process. That it is not merely a recitation of the same old favourites but, rather, includes Lao‐Tzu, Buddha, Confucius and Aesop in an intercultural collection of knowledge is the second. The third is that its size and style provides a handy basis for contemplation, which, according to Descartes (Carlopio, 2007, p. 71), we ought to do more of in order to improve the mind.
In light of its intent, the first of my only two quibbles with its content is that, what is for me at least, an important statement about the book's purpose is left to the epilogue. Recognising that change is an emotional as well as cognitive process, and that:
[…] we need to encourage people to talk, and to talk about what is important, but not necessarily always comfortable […] [Carlopio expresses the fervent] hope that this book will help in this process (Carlopio, 2007, p. 114).
It struck me that this discussion would have served as a useful guide to the reader beginning the “journey experiencing the words in this book” (Carlopio, 2007, p. ix). The second is the absence of a brief nod to Heraclitus (500BCE/2008) who, after all, was among the first to recognise that “On those who enter the same rivers, ever different waters flow” (change is the only constant). Still, it was also Heraclitus who observed “They do not understand that what differs agrees with itself; it is a back‐stretched connection such as the bow or the lyre” (Hooker, 1999). So, this too was a learning experience.
Carlopio, J. (2007), Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds, Verdant House, Maleny.
Crvenkovic, T. (2007), “Foreword”, in Carlopio, J (Ed.), Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds, Verdant House, Maleny, pp. v‐vi.
Gibbons, B.J. (1999), If You Want to Make God Really Laugh, Show Him Your Business Plan: The 101 Universal Laws of Business, American Management Association, New York, NY.
Heraclitus (500BCE/2008), DKB12, available at: www.heraclitusfragments.com/index.html (accessed 24 March 2008).
Hooker, R. (1999), Heraclitus, available at: www.wsu.edu/ ∼ dee/GREECE/HERAC.HTM#NT4 (accessed 24 March 2008).
Lessing, D. (1969), The Four‐Gated City, MacGibbon & Kee, London.
Whitehead, A.N. (1979), Process and Reality, Free Press, New York, NY.