What Marcus Aurelius can teach us about product development in a time of crisis

Meditations was the personal diary of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), written as the Antonine Plague swept through the Roman Empire. It gives a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of one of the most powerful people who ever lived, in the midst of war and pandemic. Drawing upon his study as a student of Stoic philosophy, Marcus wrote a series of clear, practical directives to help him find stability and growth during a crisis. Though intended as a book of private reflections, and written almost 2000 years ago, Meditations is more relevant than ever.

Right now, the only constant seems to be change. Though turbulent periods bring serious challenges, Marcus suggests an “awareness that everything is born from change”. Whether radically restructuring how we work, or finding new ways to engage with each other from a distance, the ways we’ve adapted to our current situation point towards what will emerge as the new normal. 

To spot these opportunities, we must remain open to new data, especially if it contradicts us. Far from being an egomaniacal dictator, Marcus drew humility from his Stoicism, writing that “if anyone can refute me - show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective - I’ll gladly change.” Not clinging to our past beliefs, or fearing what the future might uncover, but doing the best we can with the information we have.

Without a philosophy of life, we are liable to be blown about during a crisis. Meditations shows one way to build a solid foundation.

If Meditations resonated with you, or you’d like to discuss Stoicism further, feel free to get in touch.

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