Philosophy for Business and Career: The Value of Critical thinking in business, career and personal life. 1 (of 3)


Philosophy for Business and Career:

Listen to Lee talk about how philosophy skills underpin all areas of his life.


The Value of Critical thinking in business.

In this first of 3 posts written by Lee Madden, Philosophy, Edinburgh, graduate 2006, now management consultant with EY., Lee reflects on the key role philosophy plays in his role as a Management Consultant with professional services firm EY.

I’ve written for this blog before about the role my degree in Philosophy played in helping me both enter and then succeed in the professional world and I’ve made no secret of my passion for Philosophy as a subject itself. However, over the last year, I’ve increasingly realised that the skills and experiences I gained studying Philosophy are more than just helpful in any career – they’re actually fundamental to helping businesses I work with meet their objectives. Specifically, the critical thinking component of Philosophy which is, as they love to say in the corporate world, a “soft skill”. (As a quick aside, I’ve never really understood why people use the phrase soft skills as many soft skills are bloody hard to learn and even harder to master, but hey, I don’t make the rules.)

Anyhow, as I’m in the process of developing a training course tentatively titled “critical thinking for analysts”, I’m going to share 3 instances where my training in Philosophy – and specifically critical thinking – has been central to success in work, volunteering and career-thinking.

Number 1 – A client project

I work in Financial Services and, despite the title, don’t do a lot of work that actually involves much money. In fact, most of the work I do involves figuring out how to make businesses more efficient and this usually involves things like “customer experience”, process improvement, business strategy and regulations. This may all sound rather tedious and sometimes it can be, but often it is really interesting. For example, I was working with a client recently, in Edinburgh actually, and I could sum the piece of work up in lone sentence: “help us understand our business better”. In short, I was brought as part of a small team of external consultants to work with a business I knew next to nothing about and help them better understand it.

What does all this mean and why is it relevant to Philosophy? Two things really.

  • Firstly, I realised that I had to be able to see things they couldn’t and help them connect the ideas and concepts within their business area.
  • Secondly, I realised that I had to do a lot of thinking with my clients, not for them, meaning that whatever we figured out, we would have to help our clients understand our thought process, the underlying evidence, how we arrived at conclusions and the basis of the opinions.

(i) Connect the dots: The way we did this was really simple:

  • come up with a set of premises before starting,
  • test the validity of those premises with our clients through dialogue and debate
  • draw out the conclusions that logically follow from the premises that we knew to be true.

Off we went – taking time to talk to a bunch of people across business areas who knew WAY more about the details than I did but had significantly less time to think about them, so focused were they on their day job. In these discussions I heard things that agreed, things that totally conflicted, and even things that made no sense at all. This was all fine – and moreover, it was what we expected.

(ii) Help them think more clearly: Then comes the tough part- most people don’t like change and it’s important to discuss it and work through the logical reasons why change is necessary.

This was vital with my Edinburgh client – taking time to explore what we had heard – even the contradictory stuff – with the people who had commissioned the piece of work was crucial. They had to hear it all in a logical and structured way, have the time to ask questions, challenge our thinking and listen to what we had to say. Doing so allowed them to develop their own understanding of the business and, by the end of the project, put aside their preconceptions and explore their business with us.

I’m not saying they couldn’t have done it without us, but it certainly would have taken them a lot longer.  We were able to apply a logical, critical thinking approach to their business and were comfortable exploring problems with them by logically representing information, clarifying ambiguities and asking the right questions.’

Other posts in this series

Philosophy and a volunteering challenge

Philosophy and career decisions


If you’ve any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Lee at

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