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Socrates and Emotional Intelligence. Or not!

Socrates and Emotional Intelligence. Or not!

The estimable Dr. Travis Bradberry yesterday posted a LinkedIn update consisting of the following:

  1. Him saying, "Great advice from long ago."
  2. A quote, being, "The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
  3. A picture of a bust of Socrates, with the words "Socrates, Greek Philosopher" below it.
  4. His company logo and slogan

This snippet post has (at the time of writing) received 1,740 likes and 101 comments, of which over 90% are gushing in praise over the brilliance of the message. It is the kind of response that many LinkedIn posters dream of achieving. How did such a small update achieve so much? And should it have?

I Can Read and I Am Brilliant

The most obvious conclusion is that people like it because of the connection between ancient and modern wisdom, the findings of the prototype Western philosopher illuminating the brilliance of a thought leader in emotional intelligence 2.0. Contributors to the thread write:

Great Stuff!! We may think we are reinventing the world but most wisdom originated very far back in history and thanks to articles like this it teaches appreciation and humility about what we think we have discovered vs those who had figured this out many hundreds of years prior to our existence!

The original change agents! Socrates and Bradberry

​Others have taken it as an opportunity to illustrate the relevance of ancient and contemporary thought leadership to their own thinking.

The key point evident to me from this quote is the essential nonconflicting relationship between the old and the new which would make it unnecessary to fight either! This attitude would allow for wisdom of the old with the efficacy of the new to blend together in unimaginable ways that render things interesting

The secret of change is to understand and motivate the people who needs to execute the change, then articulate an strategy that everyone owns in a way that they feel proud about it.

We all like to feel good and clever, but, in this instance, are we really just fooling ourselves? Have we, by taking the opportunity to display our supposedly profound selves really just illustrated our foolish and erroneous nature?

The Uncomfortable Reality

It's not a quote by Plato's Socrates. Or Xenophon's Socrates. Or Aristophanes' Socrates. Or Timon's Socrates. Or even, for that matter, anybody's historical Socrates. As Michael (Mike) Webster so eloquently put it, "No, Socrates the teacher of Plato, did not say this. Or anything like this type of drivel."

So, what is it? It is a quote from a service station attendant named Socrates from Dan Millman's book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, published in 1980. Dan Millman is a successful gymnast, athlete and martial artist who now works in the self-help field. This book is extremely well received by those who have read it. It might well be worth reading and employing as a self-help book. The Socrates character in it might be a profoundly illuminating character. Buy it and find out. But don't be tricked into thinking this Socrates has anything to do with ancient wisdom.

It might be, of course, that Dr. Bradberry was referring to this book, After all, 1980 is a reasonably long time ago and it could be arguable that there is no real evidence that he claims it comes from Plato's Socrates (the picture of Socrates and the words "Socrates" and "Greek philosopher" are just circumstantial, m'lud).

What is for sure, though, is that the quote Dr. Bradberry posted has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Socrates. The Socrates character in Dan Millman's book is aligned to the kind of Eastern spirituality that would have been total anathema to the actual Socrates. The quote Dr. Bradberry shared is as far removed from Socratic thought as possible. Indeed, the great modern writers on Socrates (e.g. Kierkegaard, Vlastos, Popper, Nehamas, Nietzsche) are of the opinion that Socrates was outstandingly capable of challenging old ways of doing things but did not presume he could deliver the new. You can read a little bit about how Socrates is a prototype change agent here if you are interested in this type of thing.

As for Dr. Bradberry's Socrates. It is not Socrates. It could never be Socrates. Nobody who reads or writes seriously about Socrates could be fooled for a second. Yet, (madness) it has great traction and a lot of people will walk away feeling they have been touched by ancient wisdom, despite having been touched by almost nothing at all.

The End

As those who read my scribblings already know, I'm pretty passionate about ensuring management thought is underpinned by intellectual solidity, an evidential base, and meaningful discussion. The success of Dr. Bradberry's post illustrates the challenging nature of this passion. A high-profile name posts something that is 100% inaccurate and receives almost universal praise for doing so. What is more mind-blowing is that when the inaccuracy of the quote and source is revealed in the comments to the article, it makes not a blind bit of difference to the degree of praise it is getting. In my experience, this is not uncommon.

Unfortunately, all that seems to matter in the contemporary online space is how marketing and self-promotion can be employed to make people feel clever and motivated. It's almost as if the practice of emotional intelligence 2.0 and it's screwed on sub-disciplines are intent on building a false consciousness that will turn us all into happy robots, blithely liking meaningless quotes and management cliches whilst failing to properly engage with the messy, dirty organisational reality that surrounds us.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

PS: The quote in the picture does actually relate to Plato's Socrates. I think it is worth thinking about. 

Andy Murray and the White Elephant Tennis Centre
Irony | Haruki Murakami

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Sunday, 21 April 2019

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The Ironic Manager seriously rethinks how organisations work at the most fundamental level and offers a variety of solutions for businesses struggling to cope with the ambiguity and stresses inherent to contemporary organisational conditions of constant change.

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