Tom Morris is a former academic philosopher who transitioned into a life of practical philosophy. He has authored over 25 books of wide-reaching acclaim and is a public speaker and advisor to the largest corporations. He has also been featured in the New York Times Magazine, among many other national and international magazines and newspapers. I should add that, in spite of his success, he is approachable, supportive and a man that embodies the essence of “the love of wisdom”! He answers emails from all over the world through his website www.TomVMorris.com and keeps an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Some people have even called him “the world’s happiest philosopher.”
- Tom could you tell us something about your training and academic career?
Hi, Elly! Sure, thanks for asking. No one in my family had ever been to college. We had farmers, truck drivers, and even a race car pit crew mechanic in the family when I was growing up. My father ran a radio station and then started a real estate company, and my mother mostly worked at home. I was surprised by a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I first encountered philosophy and religious studies, and those areas captured my imagination. I wrote my first book when I was still a student at UNC, and was thrilled to get a full scholarship to attend Yale University for two Masters degrees and a double Ph.D. in both Religious Studies and Philosophy. My first full time job was at The University of Notre Dame where I was able to help build the greatest place in the world for philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. I had the amazing experience of pioneering new topics and organizing others to do innovative new work. I was on the faculty for 15 years and rose from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor with Tenure to Full Professor before I left to launch into something altogether new.
2. How did you transition out of the academia? And what got you started on public speaking?
A group of local business people had heard that the students had a lot of fun in my classes at Notre Dame and called to ask me to speak on the ethics of decision-making, hoping I guess that I could give them good guidance and make the session enjoyable as well. That talk then generated half a dozen other invitations to speak on the same topic, and soon afterwards a man called to ask me to speak to a big gathering of car dealers on the topic of success. I had no idea that philosophers of the past had ever addressed such an issue. My training was very technical. But I began to investigate the practical side of philosophy and was amazed at what I found. I never planned to be a public speaker or what I now call a public philosopher, but life just took me increasingly in that direction. I saw people waking up to wisdom and getting excited about philosophy in new ways. And I watched as people used the ideas I was bringing them to change their personal lives and their businesses. It was an unexpected and amazing experience. Before I knew what was happening, I was speaking in Russia, Finland, Sweden, and all across the US and in other countries as well. It became a huge enterprise I had never expected.
- It would seem that you have mostly focused on morality, broadly conceived? What accounts for this?
I’ve just responded to what people have asked me to speak on. My academic work was at the interface of metaphysics, philosophical logic, and religion. I didn’t do ethics at all, or moral philosophy more broadly. Then people started asking me to speak on ethics, success, collaboration, partnership, change, and culture—topics I’d never even considered researching as a philosopher. And I discovered that maybe half of the history of philosophy had been relatively neglected and forgotten in America in the past 100 years or so. We had come to focus on technical and theoretical issues, in almost an imitation of the natural sciences, and we’d come to ignore as academics the most practical of issues that traditionally philosophers had also addressed. It’s been my joy to help rediscover these issues for our time.
- More particularly, you seem to be mostly focused on the corporate world, having written some of your most widely read books in this area. These include If Aristotle Ran General Motors, True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence, The Art of Achievement: Mastering The 7 Cs of Success in Business and Life,and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric: Leadership Wisdom From the World of the Wizards. Why is it that you have honed onto the corporate world?
Those are the people who kept approaching me and asking for my help with their lives and challenges. I’ve also spoken a lot for civic groups and nonprofits, for schools and universities and to almost every kind of gathering imaginable, but the corporate groups kept coming to me, and offering, eventually, to pay me to think about and speak about the issues that mattered to them. In fact, they would offer me for an hour more than my annual starting salary as a university professor. I was pretty surprised. And I quickly learned that all the topics that challenged them were basically universal human issues, inside and outside business environments. So, I’ve always spoken to the life topics and basics of human nature that underlie everything we do.
- Could you explain what the 7Cs are, both in terms of their philosophical underpinnings and practical relevance and implementation?
One of my first dozen invitations to speak outside a classroom was that meeting of car dealers I mentioned. They wanted to know what the great philosophers had to say about success. So I did more research than I’d ever done on any topic, and I was astonished. From Lao Tsu, Confucius, Socrates, Xenophon, Aristotle, the Stoics, and through the centuries and across cultures—in a medieval Islamic mystic and a seventeenth century Spanish Jesuit priest—I was seeing the same ideas. I read and read and analyzed and distilled it all into seven universal conditions for success in any challenging endeavor. My claim is that this framework of ideas is the one and only universal toolkit for success. Any other technique or idea is just a version or application of one of these in specific circumstances. They are:
The 7 Cs of Success
For the most satisfying and sustainable forms of success, we need:
(1) A clear CONCEPTION of what we want, a vivid vision, a goal clearly imagined.
(2) A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain that goal.
(3) A focused CONCENTRATION on what it takes to reach the goal.
(4) A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision.
(5) An emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we’re doing.
(6) A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course.
(7) A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.
- After many talks over many years, in audiences in the hundreds, what would you say resonates most with them?
I’ve been lucky enough to have almost every size audience, from a CEO and his eleven direct reports around a table to groups of 5,000 and 10,000 people in a room. And that becomes almost like the philosophical equivalent of a rock concert! This week I spoke to 875 hospital executives and 450 data people. Audience members began surprising me years ago by telling me that I bring them hope. They learn from my talks that there is wisdom for whatever we face. We aren’t alone. We don’t have to make up everything ourselves. Wise people have traveled this road before us and have faced what we confront and have learned. They’ve often left us their notes, and we can use those notes to help in our own challenges and opportunities. Plus, the biggest thing has also taken me by surprise. People say that my energy, my passion, and my use of humor create a transformative experience. Let me share what one executive just wrote me about a talk this week. I’ll just copy and paste from his email:
“Tom: YOU WERE FANTASTIC. TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. My team could not talk enough about the experience. They referred to you as an experience, not a “speech” or a “session.” To me, that is an amazing compliment, when you can present, and people feel it as though you connected directly with each and every one of them. Regards, Joel Rickman, Vice President, Verification Services, Equifax Inc.”
I sometimes feel Kierkegaard smiling and the Buddha laughing with pleasure, even if Socrates looks like he’s not quite sure.
- Could you name some of the corporations that you have consulted, and say something about how these relations came about, and what kind of consultation they tend to seek in a philosopher?
I’ve managed to speak to most of the largest companies in the world, and to lots of smaller companies as well, and it crosses all industries: Toyota, Ford Motor Company, Mercedes Benz, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, The Hospital Corporation of America, Bayer, Hitachi, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sacks, Raymond James Financial, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, UBS, International Paper, Taco Bell, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, Prometric, Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, Glaxo Smith Kline Pharmaceuticals, Mars Candy, Ace Hardware, Verizon, Unilever, Mattell, Ernst and Young, The NCAA Final Four, The US Airforce and on and on. I give you such a sample so you can see some of the breadth of people and industries. They find me by word of mouth. Someone hears me speak and tells a friend and they call.
Most of my corporate clients want wisdom on success or how to handle change well, or what it takes to make real partnerships work. Across industries, the challenges are interestingly universal.
- After having been invited as consultant to some of the largest corporations, what would you identify as some of the key areas of concern?
People get stressed and worn out by nonstop demands, a changing economy, uncertainty, quickly evolving technology and ongoing craziness in global markets and politics. They often come to me for deep wisdom to help refresh their associates and give them the confidence they need not just to survive but flourish amid all the challenges.
- Following consultation, do you ever conduct a follow up, or have you been witness to the implementation of any changes, and if so, have these made a difference to best business practice?
Let me give you an example. In an audience of 2,500 financial office managers in California, a man named Tom Lakatos decided to use The 7 Cs of Success back in his office in Orlando, Florida. His small office for Am Ex financial advisors (later renamed Ameriprise) had been struggling. Their performance had been ranked 217th out of 255 separate districts in the country for their company. In just a short time, maybe 6 months or so, using The 7 Cs and reporting on their use of these ideas weekly and discussing how they could implement them in new ways, they added to a team of maybe six people ten more associates and were now ranked 19th in the country. Imagine that. They had gone from a national ranking of 217th to a rank of 19th in a matter of months. Tom was promoted to another office. Then he took the Columbus, Ohio office, within a year, from a ranking of 85 to Number 3 in the nation. And he credited it all to the philosophical ideas. He said spouses were calling him and reporting that his colleagues were better at home and with the kids and not just at work! So the ideas were helping universally.
- Could you say more about how the 7 Cs are implemented?
That’s a good question to ask. There are actually three distinct uses of The 7 Cs.
First, when you’re considering a new personal or professional goal, you can use them as a test, like this:
C1: Can I develop a clear conception of this potential goal and vividly imagine its attainment?
C2: Can I pursue this with a strong confidence?
C3: Can I attain a focused concentration on this, and figure out a way to use the divide and conquer tactic?
C4: Can I pursue this potential goal consistently, and given everything else I’m doing?
And so on. And of course, in considering something for a team, you just ask these questions of the group. Can we pursue this with confidence? And so on.
Second, when you’re actively pursuing a goal, you can use these conditions together as a support for that process.
That means using the framework as a checklist. Am I functioning well in accordance with all seven conditions—are we—or am I forgetting or ignoring one or more? One of my old friends likes to say that The 7 Cs are enlightening, in themselves, but to be life changing, they have to be relentlessly implemented. And that’s his slogan: Relentless Implementation! He’s built incredible business success with The 7 Cs by taking them as lively action guides every day and helping all his associates in their own implementation of them.
Third, when something seems wrong, you can use The 7 Cs as a diagnostic tool for locating the source of a specific problem.
In almost every case, you’ll come to realize that one or more of these seven conditions may need extra attention and emphasis. Maybe we’re losing our sense of COMMITMENT, or we need a boost in CONFIDENCE. Or we need to renew our CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process.
Also, it’s a bonus and is interesting to note: The logical nature of this framework of ideas is such that the conditions you’re strongest on can help you correct the one or more that might be weaknesses.
- What would you say to students of business who tend to think “business ethics” is an oxymoron? I continue to have students that come to the course convinced that business cannot, and should not be moral! Business is essentially, if not exclusively about profit maximization any way, any how, and people will just turn to corrupt means to ensure success.
In ancient times it was once said, “The market is a place where men go to deceive one another.” So things have never really changed. But there is a very different approach, isn’t there? When Adam Smith wrote the Bible of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, he was presupposing a set of ideas he had already written about years early when he did a study of virtue. The more enlightened ancients understood well that virtue is strength. Ethics is a form of strength within people, among people, and in companies. When we look beyond profits, we end up with the most satisfying profits. When we see business as a genuinely human endeavor of building value and our own souls as we do the work, we flourish. Too many young people don’t understand the depth of what’s possible in business. My friend John Mackey, who founded the healthy chain grocery store, Whole Foods, wrote a book called Conscious Capitalism that’s all about this. A Japanese Billionaire, Kazuo Inamori, has written well on this in his books A Passion for Success and especially Compass to Fulfillment. Our work can be a spiritual and philosophical thing, and for the greater good, as well as for our own financial support. Unethical success is always self-defeating in some way in the long run and is corrupting inwardly. I’ve never known a rich bad and truly happy person.
12. You have also written books beyond the walls of the corporate world, which speak to the “good life,” and “wisdom.” Could you explain your interest and teachings in this broad area?
In a sense even the business books are about life. If Aristotle Ran General Motors is really about happiness and fulfillment. If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is about virtue, love, friendship and meaning. True Success and The Art of Achievement are really life books, not just business. And I’m publishing a series of novels now that represent the peak of my thought and understanding about all life and death issues. They can be found at www.TheOasisWithin.com. Also, just out is a book about Steve Jobs, Socrates in Silicon Valley, that captures a lot of general life wisdom. Plus, the next one up will be Travels With Confucius, all life insight stuff! Why are we here? How can we make the most of our time? Those issues are crucial for me.
13. Do you have any advice to give philosophy students who would like to cultivate a career outside of the academia?
Yes. Be open. Be creative. Take initiative. Find new ways of putting wisdom to use. You’ve cultivated creative imagination, logic, analysis, and adopting new perspectives. You can put that to work in innovative new ways.
14. Finally, what has a life dedicated to philosophical inquiry taught you?
Life is supposed to be a series of adventures. The one you’re on now is preparing you for the next one in ways you often can’t even imagine. Nothing is to be feared. Keep hope alive. The worst things can make possible the best things. Wisdom matters. We are all imperfect beings who can improve immensely, and challenge is often the tool that helps this along. We all have obstacles within ourselves, but we can free ourselves from those obstacles and do incredible good in the world. The more I live and think hard and learn, the better things go. And it’s important to cultivate a capacity to enjoy the process along the way.
And I have to agree with Socrates. As long as I live and breathe, I shall never cease to do philosophy. Thanks for joining in the great effort extending over these thousands of years to do your own part in bringing more wisdom into the world! And thanks for thinking of me to chat with about it all!