Can we gain too much knowledge

The four Kantian questions - compass in day-to-day management
When it comes to corporate management issues, you don't have to invent anything new, but rather go back to the spiritual roots of your own culture. The core of Western value thinking is critical self-examination and the common struggle to find the right path - that which is what leadership is in the original sense of the word. For example, it is worth taking a look at the four Kantian questions when executives are looking for a compass to keep their teams on the road to success.

Philosophy is in! «was the headline of the weekly newspaper The time recently in an editorial. And indeed: thinking about the essence of people, dealing with the fundamental questions can still serve as orientation in everyday management. We find the essential anchor points of our culture in occidental philosophy.

As a central result of his reflections, for example, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) left us four questions that reflect the challenges facing managers and companies:
1. What can I know?
2. What should I do?
3. What can I hope for?
4. What is man?

The vast majority of employees in companies are “knowledge workers” who build up knowledge that is constantly being updated. In the meantime, the fastest renewal of knowledge has become a key competitive factor. But what can I even know, and how does knowledge work? According to Immanuel Kant, humans cannot recognize reality (the thing in itself). He makes an idea of ​​the appearance, for example, gains a subjective impression of a certain person. The idea of ​​the individual then becomes a definition of truth that spreads throughout the company. Sentences like "What we did before is right!" Or "The new IT will solve all problems" or "We know what the customer wants!" Are not a basis for knowledge.

Before you come to an assessment, as a manager you should look closely and ask: What does one perceive, what the other? Who says what and what is the motivation? How does someone come to his statements? This requires a high level of mindfulness. The more interfaces there are to be managed in the organization, the more important it will be to contrast perceptions and include different perspectives. Because everyone can only know as much as they are able to compare their own knowledge with that of others. Knowledge thus becomes a community action, a process of joint reflection and thinking ahead - with the aim of finding a solution that most closely matches reality.

In relation to companies: What needs to be done so that the knowledge work can function in the best possible way? A characteristic of the new service economy is the networking of knowledge with the aim of increasing customer benefits. Only if the divisional silos in an organization are broken down and the knowledge carriers seek dialogue can the best solution be found in the interests of the customer. How well this lively problem-solving network works depends less on processes and structures than on the corporate culture: Do colleagues trust each other? Is communication running smoothly? How are the different characters and talents integrated? How do you succeed in harmonizing the cultures of different locations and countries? It is up to the manager to demand a culture of collaboration and dialogue.

With his writing To eternal peace Kant promoted the evolution of man towards cooperation. For him it is clear: Peace is not a natural state, but has to be worked for hard by people repeatedly approaching each other, arguing with one another in a cultivated manner and reconciling. And it is this ability that makes companies successful today. Admittedly: In tough competition you also need a certain amount of aggressiveness, but it should be channeled towards winning - as a team.

In order to bring the organization into a mode of the best possible cooperation, it has to go through a process of cultural change. Because walls and prejudices cannot be removed overnight. Getting involved in a joint development process, addressing unpleasant topics and expressing concerns requires courage. For cooperation to succeed, everyone has to be ready to accept feedback and correct themselves - even more: to renew themselves. If this open discussion does not succeed and a non-aggression pact is agreed, there will be a false peace that paralyzes the entire company.

There are two contradicting drafts of important philosophers on the third question: Aristotle speaks of humans as zoon politikon, as herd animals that feel cared for and belong in the tribal society, in the family. Here people experience security and security, but archaic bonding forces such as loyalties or fear of loss also have an effect here. According to this definition, a company strictly separates inside and outside. Conflicts stay below the surface, which is why the group works in itself, but has no dynamics. Kant, on the other hand, emphasizes the individual. According to him, man is free to use his own understanding. Enlightenment is the way people come out of their self-inflicted immaturity.

What does the Aristotelian view of man mean for dealing with change? So that the team structure does not completely freeze, the main task of a manager is to show other ways, to break taboos and to use a structural reorganization for reorientation. In the sense of Kant, the manager would above all encourage people to think for themselves and entrust them with challenging tasks. Yet for most people, fear of punishment is less than fear of personal failure. Therefore, many employees shy away from setting something in motion themselves.

A good manager bridges the gap between the two images of man and does justice to both the zoon politikon and the emancipated individual. Leading means promoting the individual and always paying attention to his or her loyalty to the group. Then the development from I to We succeeds throughout the organization.

The sensible prevails! Wherever work is experienced as a place of personal development, as meaningful and where employees see themselves as an active part of a knowledge community, they will also make a noticeable contribution. Committed employees are looking for just such an environment. The number one chief task is therefore the development of meaning, the formulation of a philosophy, a guiding star. Only when the way is shown can a community be formed that unites for a specific cause. People have a need for alignment. If a company is unclear about its goal, energy is wasted because everyone is building their own future.

The development of meaning is a two-stage process. First a vision has to be developed, and in a second step the meaning has to be made for everyone else. Everyone has to find access to it, get a concrete picture of it and assign themselves personally. If the picture of the future is convincing, the group wants to achieve something together that others benefit from. Without a vision of the future, the future of a company is literally inconceivable.