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Best business practices from Ancient Greece

Socrates never claimed to be an expert in anything; instead he claimed to be just a man who was trying to understand the world around him. When he encountered someone making a bold claim he would respond with a simple question — he wanted to reduce their element to its plainest form. This method of distilling complex thought into the simplest form has become known as the Socratic method. At its core, its really just a form of conversation where two people work together to arrive at the truth. He understood that it was not enough to have his students memorize facts about the world, instead he led them to arrive at the the truth by having his students question and distill complex problems.

Law schools are noted for their use of the socratic method. Countless Hollywood movies have portrayed first year law students terrified of the professor calling their name, and this vision of socratic dialogue as a tool for inquisition and public humiliation has pervaded popular thought.

This negative perception of Socratic reasoning seems to have taken hold in popular culture. People are often uncomfortable with extended questioning of the merits of their decisions. The lizard brain kicks in, we become defensive. We become afraid, vanity inhibits our rationality. Admitting the faults in our reasoning is hard to do when we’re not accustomed to it — we are attached to our ideas precisely because they are our ideas.

Stop for a moment, I want you to be completely honest with yourself. Answer one question— are you transparent with your coworkers? Your employees? Your customers?

If you aren’t, why is that? Many excuses come to mind, I’m sure, but are they really valid? The reality is this: if you pushed to find the purpose and truth of things you would probably do better work. It’s as simple as that.

This was originally posted on Medium. To read the entire post click here


September 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

photo by PlanPhilly

photo by PlanPhilly

According to Merriam-Webster, a facade is:
the front of a building; also any face of a building given special architectural treatment
a false, superficial, or artificial appearance or effect

The French word façade originated in the mid 17th century, meaning face of a building. It is a derivation of the Italian word facciata (front of the building) and the Latin word facies (face). According to the etymology of the word, it took about 200 years for the ulterior (sarcastic) connotation to take root.

In colloquial parlance, facade has negative connotations. It seems to imply that you’re hiding something beneath a flawless exterior. My guess is that this negative connotation took root after the great depression.

The next time you’re walking through an American city, try to pick out the banks built before 1929, they’re usually characterized by grand facades. In the era before FDIC insurance, how would you judge the stability of a bank? According to architect Albert Kahn, banks were designed due to “the psychology of the average business man. [The building] should … reflect the prosperity of the business carried on within and should inspire confidence in the general public” (source).

What better way to judge the financial stability of a bank than by the amount of money they could waste spend on a building. The more ornate the building, the safer the institution; this became apart of the story of their business. Consumers felt reassured walking into the marble covered lobby of a bank. The prosperity – realized or otherwise – was apart of the story that depositors told themselves.

In the digital era it’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to put up a facade. This facade dictates how your consumers will interact with you, how they will view themselves. The lower cost of digital facades means that not having a polished site is more expensive than ever. Your facade is a large part of your legitimacy in the digital era. Most end users have no idea if your site is build off of a wordpress framework or if its custom coded, but they can tell you if they trust your look and feel.

Its important to build a facade that you can deliver on, unlike the banking system of 1929.

What online businesses do you trust the most? Add your thoughts below

Cultrual Norms

October 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

During my sophomore year at Fordham I traveled to Kenya with a group of students as apart of the Fair Trade Micro Finance program, Amani.

There are many challenges to working in a foreign, and many opportunities to unwittingly violate cultural norms. While in Nyabigena, a small village in rural Kenya, we stayed with our business partners. Our accommodations were modest, but adequate. We spent our time working with our business partners on basic accounting and computer skills.

Theresa, a local of the village, was paid to cook our meals. She cooked over a wood fire, in a small shed. The nearest water tap was about a mile walk. One afternoon Theresa was making us lunch, and one of the men asked her to fetch some salt. They argued for a moment, and then Theresa went to get salt. Little did we know it was a fifteen minute walk for her, each way.

Upon her arrival back she sat down to eat, and I poured her a cup of tea. The men stopped eating and stared at us. I could tell that Theresa was quite uncomfortable with this situation, as you could imagine.

Unwittingly, I had broken a social norm. But once I realized what I had done, I made a conscious effort to pour tea for every woman at the table (one Kenyan and several Americans). To be a woman in Africa is to live a life of innumerable hardship. I could talk to the men all I wanted about gender equality, and the role of women in the developed world. Those words were lost in translation, or willfully ignored. The rules which governed interactions between the genders in America had little utility in a rural Kenyan village. The simple act of pouring a cup of tea was drastically different. It was a physical act which challenged the cultural norms.

The simple act of pouring a cup of tea forced a conversation.

I have no way of knowing if this made a lasting impact, but I really hope it did. Being abroad is an interesting thing, as you’re not quite bound by the social rules of either your home or host country. It is a liberating thing, but it comes with its own set of responsibilities. One of which is to challenge discrimination. I realized in Kenya that as a white male born in America my actions were closely watched, and influential.

It’s something that I will have to be very cognizant of while in Sri Lanka.