Phronēsis: Putting Wisdom Into Action. An Aristotelian Perspective of Management Wisdom in the Hotel Industry

Goodsir, Warren
Rasmussen, Erling
Ingley, Coral
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

To date, there have been few studies concerning the practice and development of wise management (phronēsis) in contemporary organisations. The management literature, while acknowledging the need for wisdom, has instead focused on instrumental and economic rationality and has either categorised concepts of wisdom as irrational and fanciful, or ignored wisdom altogether. Moreover, although the rationality that drives organisations to achieve competitive advantage for economic ends - but often denies human well-being - is being called into question, it is evident that wisdom remains a misunderstood and misrepresented practice. Therefore, this study adopts an Aristotelian perspective to investigate wise management practice within the hotel environment. The research explores the purpose and values that influence hotel management decision making, what is considered wise management practice, how the development of wisdom is enabled or obstructed, and how the development of wisdom can be supported by organisations.

To meet the research purpose and aims, a qualitative phronetic social science (PhSS) approach was applied within this study. Responding to Flyvbjerg’s (2001) call for further refinement of the theoretical and methodological positioning of PhSS, this study applies elements of critical theory alongside PhSS. It also adopts a dynamic ontology that negotiates between theoretical and pragmatic approaches while critically evaluating the social and political environment from the perspective and ethic of phronēsis. This approach leads to a dialectic epistemology constructed through dialogue and deliberation between the respondents and researcher. Following PhSS, case study methods were used to obtain data from two hotel group cases involving 24 in-depth interviews with hotel manager and analysis of company documents. Application of PhSS provided a novel approach to the study of wise management practice within a commercial hospitality context.

The findings reveal that the hotel groups within this study integrate and emphasise the creation of both business and social value. This suggests that the hotel groups have adopted a pluralistic approach to hotel management that extends beyond an either/or focus on social value and business profits. This pluralistic perspective of hotel management captures the need to balance the interrelated, yet often competing, interests of shareholders, key stakeholders and wider community. It also reveals complexities and tensions which stem from the need to balance making profits with caring for people, and from the need to maintain predictability within the technical environment while working within an unpredictable social environment. In this way, the study moves away from purist conceptions of hospitality as a gift and business as self-interest by taking a more pragmatic look at how hospitality is conceptualised in contemporary capitalist society. It also reveals a glimpse at the potential of phronēsis for balancing competing ontologies and epistemologies and opens new avenues for approaching the study of hospitality in contemporary society. However, while the research identifies the intention to embrace paradox and balance competing hotel demands, the evidence suggests that the hotel groups do not fully understand how this balance can be successfully achieved.

The thesis provides significant theoretical contributions to wise management practice and decision making in a number of important ways. These include the development of a conceptual model of wise management practice, a deeper understanding of the intellectual capacity of practical intelligence (nous), clarification of the relationship between nous, phronēsis and êthos, and an understanding of how phronēsis is cultivated within organisations. Importantly, the study also makes distinctions between the intuitive elements of tacit knowledge, affective information and ethical perception. These distinctions add evidence to support interpretations of expert intuition as a rational and valid source of information that can provide insight into the particulars of complex situations.

Building on this understanding of expert intuition, the thesis provides a novel perspective of how intuition, experience and evidence contribute towards balanced decision making. Moreover, the study also emphasises the importance of community in supporting the development of wisdom and in providing perspective to help balance information and interests. It is clear that wise individuals do not act in isolation but, rather, are situated within and informed by a community. The role of community revealed within this study extends the discussion of phronēsis beyond the focus on individual wisdom generally found within much of the wisdom literature.

Phronesis , Wisdom , Management , Hospitality , Decision making , Ethics
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