Rethinking Enterprise

Philippe de Woot

He was Emeritus Professor at Louvain Catholic University in Belgium, where he taught Business Policy, Strategic Management and Business Ethics. He led multidisciplinary research in these fields and was actively committed to research and promotion of Corporate Social Responsibility.

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Philippe de Woot, in an article based on his latest book, argues that economic actions based on ethical and political dimensions are increasingly essential.

If there is a key trend in our time it is that of the progress of science and technology. This trend has become a steamroller whatever the vagaries of history and economic conditions.

Science has undergone an unprecedented acceleration in the last century and several factors have contributed to this.

The accumulation of knowledge and its rapid dissemination have provided researchers with broader and more ambitious research fields, with inter-disciplinary approaches and universal access to information that has fostered new and bolder research. Technological competition, now global, has expanded and multiplied the means of funding research and development.

We have got to the heart of many secrets that seemed indecipherable just a few decades ago. We have discovered the mechanisms of life. We have come up with precise figures on the origin of the universe. We have discovered its first moments and are beginning to know “the music of the stars”.

It is enterprise that transforms scientific knowledge and technologies, often as soon as they emerge, into products and services. By mastering the methods and tools of techno-science, enterprise has the power of knowledge behind its economic strategies.

Techno-science constantly provides new opportunities and more powerful competitive weapons. It thus becomes a key element of economic development and competitive power. Enterprise is therefore the main mediator between science and society. Yet is it an agent of progress?

Questioning the purpose of enterprise and the development model that drives it means questioning material progress, its orientation and its ambiguities.

This question has intrigued humans since the beginning of civilization.

Greek myths extensively discussed it and placed it in its proper perspective, which is that of creative impulse but also the concerns of men: pride and fear. For them, the creators of material progress played a major role in society. They were heroes– but damned heroes.

This approach leads to the question of whether men, these “ephemeral beings”, can appropriate mastery of technology without giving it a societal purpose or subjecting it to a broader vision of the common good. This a question that, in various ways, transcends history.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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