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Written by Charles Wookey, CEO A Blueprint for Better Business

What have Kant and Aristotle got to do with the football World Cup, and what has either got to do with business?

They offer different ways of thinking about playing well.

From Kant, we get the idea of doing the right thing as obligation. It’s about compliance, thinking of others and being ethical, acting responsibly. In football terms, it’s about not getting sent off and avoiding the professional foul. It’s playing by the rules. It’s slightly German.

Aristotle, had he been a football fan, might have supported Brazil. His question would not start with doing the right thing and playing responsibly, though of course, he would not be a fan of antics to get round the rules. But his question would not start with rules. It would be what is the purpose of the game, and so what makes a great team. It would be about what are the skills that make a brilliant player. He might point out that obeying the rules, not getting sent off, even if it makes you ethical and responsible, still doesn’t mean you are much good at playing. He would go for the skills of passing, tackling, fluency, strategic nous and vision, and ask how it is that in great teams these become habitual reflexes, just part of how the players are all the time.

Sometimes the focus on what makes a better business stops with the need to be ethical and responsible. These matter of course. But they also leave out something vital. There is more to great football than just playing by the rules. And there is more to great businesses than just being ethical: namely the cultivation of specific ways of behaving which can become second nature and exemplify excellence in business practice. We need more Aristotle than Kant on the pitch and in the boardroom.