Cambridge rings BT for a little platonic chat

May 20, 2005

BT executives are learning that it's good to think as well as talk - after consulting some of the country's leading philosophers for advice on keeping customers.

Cambridge University's philosophy department confirmed this week that it has been working with BT on issues of loyalty. As well as making money, the consultancy project organised by the university's new Forum for Philosophy in Business is part of a mission to bring philosophy back down to earth.

The forum contends that whether academics like it or not, business leaders are today's "practical philosophers", grappling with abstract problems.

Dominic Scott, senior lecturer in the Cambridge faculty of philosophy and co-director of the forum, said: "Plato notoriously came up with the most abstruse and abstract theories. But his starting point was how Athens could have been better governed."

BT wanted the academics to tell them how to increase customer loyalty. The philosophers, in turn, asked the company to define "loyalty".

Dr Scott said: "BT are the ones with 30 years' experience, but we find it helps them to stand back and examine some of the buzzwords we accept unthinkingly."

The forum is also discussing issues of trust with pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Dr Scott was not worried that other academics might question the advisability of philosophers getting into bed with industry.

"If there was ever a problem, we would just discuss and argue about it," he said.

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