Plato’s Republic: Snapshot of a “Classic” Source for Valuable Business Lessons

AllegoryOpinions vary as to what defines a “classic” business book. My own opinion is that it offers insights and counsel that are of timeless value. To paraphrase Bernard of Chartres, a 12th century monk, their authors provide the shoulders upon which each new generation of leaders stand.

Some of the best sources are not (technically) business sources. For example, Plato’s Republic and more specifically the “Allegory of the Cave.” For those who have not as yet read it, here’s the situation: Plato’s brother, Glaucon, and his mentor, Socrates, are engaged in a conversation about reality. The allegory focuses on a group of people who are chained to a wall in a cave, and have been all of their lives. They see shadows on the wall cast by figures between them and the source of light behind the figures, outside the cave. (Keep in mind, this is an allegory.) The cave and wall are real as are the shadows but what about the figures that the shadows represent?

Here’s my take: The cave, the wall, the shadows, the chained people, and the figure behind them are all real. But they are not the ultimate form of reality. That would be the sun whose light shines through a hole in the cave’s wall. When thinking about answering a question or solving a problem, get to its essence. In fact, asking “Why?” again and again and (yes) again is the best way I know of to identify a problem’s cause(s), rather than become preoccupied with its symptoms

Lessons? There are dozens. Here’s one I think is especially important:

Symptoms (e.g. shadows) are real but when trying to solve a problem, dig beneath a problem’s symptoms, deep down to its root causes…the original source. Think like a physician: Use symptoms to direct you to what they result from.

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