Practical wisdom in management from the religious and philosophical traditions

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Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 19 July 2011



Lenssen, G., Roosevelt Malloch, T., Cornuel, E. and Kakabadse, A. (2011), "Practical wisdom in management from the religious and philosophical traditions", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 30 No. 7/8.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Practical wisdom in management from the religious and philosophical traditions

Article Type: Series editorial From: Journal of Management Development, Volume 30, Issue 7/8

Practical wisdom and traditions

The debate on the causes of the financial crisis has focused on global imbalances, market failures and governance failures. It concludes that the “wisdom” of the markets and the rational choices of market actors can no longer be trusted. As a result, more regulation and better incentives are recommended. According to this analysis, the financial-economic system needs better “hardwiring”.

But what about the “softwiring” of the system? What about the quality of judgement, responsibility and stewardship? In management education we need to ask ourselves: what is wise decision-making, what is wise leadership and how do we bring wisdom back into management education? The pursuit of superior knowledge without the pursuit of practical wisdom is incomplete and can cause much damage. We seem to have lost something in our institutions and culture of high modernity.

In this series of special issues we want to explore the value of practical wisdom in management from the religious and philosophical traditions and thereby reconnect with lost treasures.

With the progress of industrialisation and modernity, only reason and knowledge are hailed as the guarantees for human advancement. Ongoing secularisation has led to traditions being considered as seats of backwardness. Aggressive atheism and populist anti-Islam feelings have portrayed all religions as either plain ignorance of scientific progress or even dangerous regressions into intolerance. In the modernist view, all traditions, religious and non-religious, belong in the dustbin of history.

What is lost is the wealth of practical wisdom in these traditions through the proverbs, analects, suras, tales and parables in their writings and readings, reinforced by their oral traditions on how to lead a good life, to act wisely and responsibly, and to pursue both self-fulfilment and the common good. They unveil how we shape the world by the spirit we project on it. From this perspective, the traditions offer a wealth of insights for wise management and inspiring leadership. They provide the spiritual capital for practical wisdom.

The project of rational enlightenment can be considered incomplete and modernity rudderless without a re-connection to the practical wisdom from the religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.

2 Globalisation and ethics

Globalisation and the global market economy need an ethical framing and a moral compass to be viable, sustainable and equitable. The emergence of a world ethic has been called for to make this happen. But projects on secular world ethics are encountering difficulties because they are often disconnected from the deep-rooted spiritual and philosophical traditions and their cultural context. Such secular projects do not start from these roots and therefore are at risk of remaining superficial and ultimately meaningless.

The extreme secularist viewpoint holds that these traditions are connected to dogmatic religions and this renders them divisive, irreconcilable and thus unfit for contributing to such a world ethic. But it is precisely practical wisdom as derived from these traditions which serves as a platform for discovering the common ground between the traditions. It makes the traditions speak to each other in a global society and a global economy. But it starts with an intimate discovery of the traditions in their cultural context.

The Practical Wisdom project embraces modernity (critically), views business and management as forces for the common good, and holds firmly to the belief that commerce and free trade make essential contributions to global peace and stability. It seeks to construct a bridge between the worlds of management and the spiritual and philosophical traditions on a basis of mutual appreciation instead of mutual suspicion.

In September 2009, a conference on “Practical wisdom in the Christian tradition” took place at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, co-organised with the University of St Thomas of Minneapolis. A special issue of this journal was published in 2010 reference of the SI.

In June 2010, a conference on “Practical wisdom in the Chinese classical traditions” took place at CEIBS International Business School in Shanghai. The programme of this conference can be found on page 629 of this special issue.

In July 2011, two conferences will be organised and a double special issue will be published in 2012: “Practical wisdom from the Jewish tradition” organised by the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Guilford Glazer School of Business and Management in Israel, supported by the Mandel Foundation and “Practical wisdom from the Islamic tradition” organised by The Al Akhawayn University School of Business Administration in Morocco.

During the following years conferences will be organised on the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, as well as overall conferences linking the traditions at Yale University and Cambridge University.

For more information contact:

Gilbert LenssenEABIS and Leiden UniversityTheodore Roosevelt MallochYale UniversityEric CornuelEFMD and HEC Andrew KakabadseEABIS and Cranfield University

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