Business leaders would benefit from studying great writers. – … The format would be simple. A handful of future leaders would gather in an isolated hotel and devote themselves to studying great books. They would be deprived of electronic distractions. During the day a tutor would ensure their noses stay in their tomes; in the evening the inward-bounders would be encouraged to relate what they had read to their lives. …

Then there are practical questions. Surely high-flyers are decision-makers rather than cogitators? And surely they do not have time to spend on idle thought? … Anyway, executives clearly have enough time on their hands to attend gabfests such as Davos, where they do little more than recycle corporate clichés about `stakeholders´ and `sustainability´. Surely they have enough time for real thinkers.

Inward-bound courses would do wonders for `thought leadership´. There are good reasons that the business world is so preoccupied by that notion at the moment: the only way to prevent your products from being disrupted is to think further ahead than your competitors. But companies that pose as thought leaders are often `thought laggards´: risk analysts who recycle yesterday’s newspapers, and management consultants who champion yesterday’s successes just as they are about to go out of business.

The only way to become a real thought leader is to ignore all this noise and listen to a few great thinkers. You will learn far more about leadership from reading Thucydides’s hymn to Pericles than you will from a thousand leadership experts. You will learn far more about doing business in China from reading Confucius than by listening to `culture consultants´.

Inward-bound courses would do something even more important than this: they would provide high-flyers with both an anchor and a refuge. … The business world has been groping towards inward-bound courses for years. Many successful CEOs have made a point of preserving time for reflection. … Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School was so shocked at how many of his contemporaries ended up divorced or in prison that he devised a course called `How will you measure your life?´. It became one of HBS’s most popular courses. …

`Mindfulness´ is all the rage in some big corporations, which have hired coaches to teach the mix of relaxation and meditation techniques. Big ideas are becoming as much of a status marker in high-tech hubs as cars and houses are in the oil belt. … Mindfulness helps people to relax but empties their minds. `Ideas retreats´ feature the regular circus of intellectual celebrities. Inward-bound courses offer the prospect of filling the mind while forming bonds with fellow-strivers. They are an idea whose time has come.“

The Economist, 4. Oktober 2014

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