Existentialism Leadership, Innovation, and Strategy: Neo-DeMarcoian Banter

I’ve studied the Existentialists for years now and I continue pondering how to apply some of the lessons of these philosophers to today.  So much of what they studied, wrote, and believed are a bit shocking, but as leaders we need avoid the preverbal tossing the baby with the bathwater.  What can today’s leaders, innovators, and strategist learn from these deep thinkers. 

The term “existential” refers to anything related to existence or being. In philosophy, existentialism is a movement that emphasizes individual freedom and responsibility, and the inherent meaninglessness of life. It suggests that individuals must create their own meaning in life, rather than seeking it in external sources. Existential ideas have been influential in a variety of fields, including literature, psychology, and cultural studies, and continue to be debated and studied by scholars and enthusiasts. The term “existential” can also be used more broadly to describe anything related to the nature of being or the human experience. For example, an existential crisis might be a moment of intense self-examination and contemplation about the meaning and purpose of one’s own life.

An existential threat is a type of danger or risk that poses a fundamental challenge to the continued existence or survival of a person, group, or entity. These threats can be physical, such as a natural disaster or a pandemic, or they can be more abstract, such as a political or economic crisis. Existential threats can have far-reaching consequences and may require significant resources and efforts to address or mitigate. In some cases, existential threats may be beyond an individual’s or group’s ability to control or prevent, and may require collective action or intervention from external sources to address.

THE PHILOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice, and the inherent meaninglessness of lifeExistentialists believe that the individual is responsible for making decisions about their own life and must take ownership of their actions and their consequences. This can lead to a sense of anxiety and despair, as individuals must confront the fact that their lives have no inherent meaning and must create it for themselves. However, it can also lead to a sense of empowerment and authenticity, as individuals are able to shape their own lives and make their own decisions. Existentialism has had a significant influence on literature, psychology, and other fields, and has been associated with philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

EXISTENTIALISM VS NIHILISM

Nihilism and existentialism are two movements that share some common themes, but they also have some significant differences.

Nihilism is a philosophical position asserting that life has no inherent meaning or purpose, and that values, morals, and beliefs are subjective and without foundation. Nihilists argue that the world is fundamentally meaningless and that individuals must find their own way forward in the absence of any guiding principles or values.

Existentialism is a philosophical movement that also acknowledges the inherent meaninglessness of life, BUT rather than giving up on the search for meaning, it suggests that individuals must create their own meaning in life. Existentialists believe that individuals have the freedom to shape their own lives and to choose their own values and beliefs, and that this requires taking responsibility for one’s own choices and actions.

One key difference between nihilism and existentialism is that nihilism sees no value in the search for meaning, while existentialism sees this search as a fundamental part of the human experience. Nihilism can be seen as a pessimistic philosophy that sees no hope for the future or for individual fulfillment, while existentialism is often seen as a more optimistic philosophy that emphasizes the potential for personal growth and development.

PERHAPS THE FIRST

Søren Kierkegaard is often considered the first existentialist philosopher. He was a Danish philosopher who lived in the 19th century and is known for his contributions to the fields of philosophy, theology, and literature. Kierkegaard’s work focused on the individual’s subjective experience and the freedom and responsibility that comes with being a human being. He argued that individuals must confront the inherent absurdity of life and make their own choices about how to live, rather than relying on external sources of meaning or authority. Kierkegaard’s ideas have had a significant influence on the development of existentialism and have been widely studied and debated by philosophers and scholars.

Søren Kierkegaard is known for developing several key concepts in existentialism, including the following:

  1. Subjectivity: Kierkegaard emphasized the importance of individual subjective experience and the idea that objective truth is unattainable. He argued that individuals must make their own decisions about how to live and find meaning in life, rather than relying on external sources of authority or objective truth.
  2. Angst: Kierkegaard believed that the inherent meaninglessness of life and the freedom to make one’s own choices can lead to a sense of anxiety or dread, which he referred to as “angst.” This concept is often associated with the experience of confronting one’s own mortality and the realization that life has no inherent meaning.
  3. Faith: Kierkegaard believed that faith was a key component of the human experience, and that it was necessary for individuals to find meaning in life. He argued that faith was not necessarily tied to traditional religious beliefs, but rather a belief in something beyond oneself and a willingness to commit to it despite the inherent uncertainties of life.

TOP 10 EXISTENTIALISTS

Here are ten philosophers who are often considered key figures in the development of existentialism:

  1. Søren Kierkegaard
  2. Jean-Paul Sartre
  3. Martin Heidegger
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche
  5. Martin Buber
  6. Jean-Luc Marion
  7. Gabriel Marcel
  8. Paul Tillich
  9. Lev Shestov
  10. Emil Minkowski

While attempting to keep this post somewhat short—let’s examine the three main existential concepts of Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher who is known for his contributions to existentialism and his ideas about individual freedom and responsibility. Sartre’s main concepts in existentialism include the following:

  1. Freedom: Sartre believed that individuals have complete freedom to make their own choices and to shape their own lives. He argued that this freedom can be both a source of anxiety and a source of empowerment, as individuals must take responsibility for their actions and their consequences.
  2. Bad faith: Sartre argued that individuals can act in “bad faith” by denying their own freedom and responsibility and attempting to avoid making choices or taking ownership of their lives. This can involve self-deception or trying to blame external circumstances or other people for one’s own actions.
  3. Existence precedes essence: Sartre’s concept of “existence precedes essence” suggests that individuals are not defined by any inherent essence or nature, but rather by the choices they make and the actions they take. This means that individuals have the power to create their own meaning and identity, rather than being predetermined by their circumstances or background.

Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher who is known for his contributions to existentialism and his ideas about the nature of being and the human experience. Heidegger’s main concepts in existentialism include the following:

  1. Dasein: Heidegger’s concept of Dasein refers to the human experience of being in the world and being aware of one’s own existence. He argued that individuals are not simply passive beings, but rather actively engage with the world and make meaning for themselves.
  2. Being-in-the-world: Heidegger’s concept of “being-in-the-world” suggests that individuals are not separate from the world, but rather are intertwined with it and have a relationship to it. This means that individuals cannot fully understand themselves without also understanding their place in the world and their relationships to others.
  3. Authenticity: Heidegger believed that individuals have the potential to live authentically, which means being true to oneself and one’s own values and beliefs. He argued that this requires individuals to confront their own mortality and the inherent meaninglessness of life, and to take responsibility for their own choices and actions.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who is known for his contributions to existentialism and his ideas about individual freedom, morality, and the nature of reality. Nietzsche’s main concepts in existentialism include the following:

  1. The Will to Power: Nietzsche believed that the fundamental driving force in human life is the “will to power,” which is the desire to exert control and influence over oneself and one’s surroundings. He argued that individuals should embrace this drive and strive for self-overcoming, rather than seeking external sources of meaning or morality.
  2. The Ubermensch: Nietzsche’s concept of the “Ubermensch,” or “superman,” refers to an individual who has fully embraced their own will to power and is able to create their own values and meaning in life. This concept is often interpreted as a call for individuals to take responsibility for their own lives and to seek self-mastery and self-overcoming.
  3. The Death of God: Nietzsche argued that traditional sources of meaning and morality, such as religion, have lost their power and relevance in modern society, and that individuals must create their own values and meaning in the absence of a higher power. This concept is often referred to as the “death of God,” as it suggests that individuals must confront the inherent meaninglessness of life and find their own way forward.

EXISTENTIALISM in the 2020s

Existentialist ideas about individual freedom and responsibility, the inherent meaninglessness of life, and the need for individuals to create their own meaning continue to be relevant and influential in the 21st century. Some issues and thoughts that have been influenced by existentialist ideas in the 2020s include:

  1. The impact of technology on the human experience: Many people have explored how technology is changing the way we experience the world and our relationships with others, and have considered the implications of this for individual freedom and responsibility.
  2. The role of social media in shaping identity: Existentialists have long emphasized the importance of individual authenticity and the need to create one’s own meaning in life. In the age of social media, many people have questioned the impact of these platforms on our sense of self and our ability to be authentic.
  3. Climate change and the human experience: Some people have argued that the reality of climate change and its potential impact on the future of humanity raises existential questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and the role of individuals in shaping the future.
  4. Mental health and the meaning of life: Existentialist ideas about the inherent meaninglessness of life and the need for individuals to create their own meaning have had a significant influence on the field of psychology, and continue to be relevant in discussions about mental health and the human experience.

EXISTENTIALISM and LEADERSHIP

Existentialism emphasizes individual freedom and responsibility, and the inherent meaninglessness of life. It suggests that individuals must create their own meaning in life, rather than seeking it in external sources. In this sense, existentialist ideas can be applied to leadership in several ways:

  1. Emphasizing the importance of individual authenticity: Existentialists believe that individuals should strive to be true to their own values and beliefs, and this can be relevant for leaders who seek to be authentic and genuine in their interactions with others.
  2. Encouraging individual responsibility: Existentialists argue that individuals must take ownership of their own lives and decisions, and this can be relevant for leaders who seek to empower and inspire their followers to take responsibility for their own actions.
  3. Recognizing the inherent uncertainty of life: Existentialists believe that life has no inherent meaning and that individuals must confront this fact and find their own way forward. This can be relevant for leaders who must navigate uncertain and complex situations and help their followers do the same.
  4. Fostering a sense of purpose: Existentialists argue that individuals must create their own meaning in life, and this can be relevant for leaders who seek to help their followers find a sense of purpose and meaning in their work and lives.

EXISTENTIALISM and INNOVATION

Existentialist ideas about individual freedom and responsibility can be relevant for innovation in several ways:

  1. Encouraging individual creativity: Existentialists believe that individuals have the freedom to shape their own lives and to create their own meaning, and this can be relevant for encouraging creativity and innovation. By embracing their own unique perspective and ideas, individuals can contribute to the development of new and original solutions to problems.
  2. Fostering a sense of purpose: Existentialists argue that individuals must create their own meaning in life, and this can be relevant for innovation by helping individuals find a sense of purpose and motivation in their work.
  3. Embracing uncertainty: Existentialists believe that life has no inherent meaning and that individuals must confront this fact and find their own way forward. This can be relevant for innovation by encouraging individuals to embrace uncertainty and to be open to new ideas and approaches, rather than seeking to rely on predetermined solutions or fixed ways of thinking.
  4. Taking ownership of one’s own ideas and actions: Existentialists argue that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives and decisions, and this can be relevant for innovation by encouraging individuals to take ownership of their own ideas and to be willing to take risks and embrace change.

EXISTENTIALISM and STRATEGY

Existentialist ideas about individual freedom and responsibility, the inherent meaninglessness of life, and the need to create one’s own meaning can be relevant for strategy in several ways:

  1. Emphasizing individual creativity and autonomy: Existentialists believe that individuals have the freedom to shape their own lives and to create their own meaning, and this can be relevant for strategy by encouraging individuals to think creatively and independently when developing and implementing plans.
  2. Recognizing the inherent uncertainty of the future: Existentialists believe that life has no inherent meaning and that individuals must confront this fact and find their own way forward. This can be relevant for strategy by encouraging individuals to embrace uncertainty and to be flexible and adaptable in the face of changing circumstances.
  3. Fostering a sense of purpose: Existentialists argue that individuals must create their own meaning in life, and this can be relevant for strategy by helping individuals find a sense of purpose and motivation in their work.
  4. Encouraging individual responsibility: Existentialists argue that individuals must take ownership of their own lives and decisions, and this can be relevant for strategy by empowering individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and the outcomes of those actions.

Existentialism as applied to Leadership, Innovation and Strategy—too much of a stretch?  Love to hear your thoughts 

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