The Great Transition

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The Great Transition/10 – It is on the peripheries that one learns how to generate and re-generate vocations

by Luigino Bruni

published in pdf Avvenire (70 KB) on 08/03/2015

God created man as the sea created the continents: by withdrawing.

Friedrik Holderlin

The big processes of change, those capable of regenerating the entire body and give way to a new spring, are never triggered and driven by the elites ruling in the phase of the emergence of the crisis. This dynamic is well-known and generally applied, therefore it is also true for the entities that we have called communities and charismatic movements (because they were born from a charisma, the gift of "looking differently" at the world).

[fulltext] =>

The most difficult but very important job of those who have to manage a living charismatic organisation in decline is to understand - possibly at the right time - that the most important process they should enable is the creation, by their own retiring, of the spaces of freedom and creativity that allow for the emergence of new dynamics and people who are different from those that they have generated. It is similarly important for them to be able to recognise these different people in the youngest son grazing the flock outside the house, in a child from a small town of Judah, in a brother cast away and sold as a slave. But when the ruling classes think, often in good faith, that they have to manage their own change, they almost inevitably end up accentuating the disease they actually want to cure.

The entities that bloom from ideals are of two types: those that arise from the start as organizations, and those that become organisations after being born as a movement. In the first case, the one we have been calling Ideal Driven Organizations (IDO), their flowering and duration depend strongly on their ability to create good structures, works and also robust, agile and efficient organizations. Here, if the founders' project does not become "works", it all ends with the first generation. As for the groups that are born as movements, what happens is just the opposite: the charismatic movement declines if after becoming an organization it cannot be always reborn as a movement, by courageously renewing and dismantling the organizational forms that it has generated, and by resuming its journey towards new lands. Even in these entities there comes a time for becoming an organization, but, if they get stuck at this stage, the prophetic power of the charisma starts fading away, and in some cases it disappears. The prophetic vitality of a charismatic movement is generating a lot of IDO-s, without itself becoming an IDO - because in this case the Organization devours the Ideal's Drive.

Once a movement becomes an organization it can go through a new charismatic spring if in some marginal zone of the "kingdom" some creative minorities begin to rebuild the conditions for reviving the very "miracle" of the first foundation of the charisma: the same enthusiasm, the same joy and the same fruits. The process that leads these minorities become the majority is called reform, and it is the only possible cure for the collective entities that are stuck - still alive but no longer generative. Therefore the really necessary operation for the renewal of a movement that's become an organization and wants to be a movement again is that its managers should understand the need to create the conditions for new freedom and innovation that will lead others, not them, to re-launch a new charismatic phase, to become a movement again. That's why it is understandable that the crucial question is how to manage the process of renewal in those charismatic movement-communities that, notwithstanding the many difficulties, still have the desire and the potential for a future - and, thank God, there are still many of them.

The first general pre-condition is to try not to accentuate the disease while making efforts to cure it. When a charismatic group starts to feel a decline, its leaders naturally begin to think that the cure is to change the structures and work on the organization itself. Thus, to reduce the weight of an organization that has grown too big over time (because of the autoimmune disorders that we discussed on the previous Sundays), one continues to work and focus energies on the organizational aspects.

 But if we look at the history and present of the charismatic movements and communities, we realize that the crises depend on a problem of "demand" (no more people attracted by the charisma) that was created years before by the errors of "supply" (too much structure, little creativity). When the movement goes through development, the need for strengthening the structures of the organization distances the most creative people of the peripheries, and they lose contact with the people and with the real dynamics of their own time, because they are more and more concentrated on the inside of the organization. So, faced with the demand for change, the government and the facilities react by continuing to look inward, creating new committees and offices, that is, they keep looking at the structures only. A lot of hard work is done to simplify structures and so free up energy to give some time and breath back to the people, without noticing that these same people - by their great majority - are no longer in a position to really start proclaiming the message again, attracting new vocations, because the charismatic message itself is in crisis and so is the point in announcing and proposing it in a world that seems to no longer need it. There is a decisive process that should be carried out by involving and activating the active places of creativity and joining them to the borders of the empire. Certainly, all this is first and foremost gift (charis), but it is also organizational wisdom and profound, prophetic and transformational spiritual intelligence.

It is as if - to use a metaphor that may be imperfect but perhaps not useless - a manufacturer of automobiles started to concentrate only on the supply side in the crisis of sales: firing people, simplifying the organization, bundling, closing branches. However, if the problem is mainly on the demand side - the models offered today may be the ones that made it grow yesterday, but no longer meet the tastes of consumers - the real challenge is to invest resources in thinking about new models that would plant the company's mission and tradition in the "market". If, however, people are liberated from administrative offices and move into the commercial space without renewing the "models", the first ones to experience frustration and failure will be the sales people, who find themselves offering cars in which they no longer believe. A typical error committed during these phases of transition is, in fact, thinking that the lack of attractiveness of the message affects only the outside of the community, and it isn't widespread and deep inside it yet. It does not seem to be clear that without telling new and old stories that would rekindle the members and their vocations first, you will never be able to attract new people. Many new "evangelisations" happen when, while telling the good news to others, we also manage to hear it again and in a different way inside us. And so a new-old love story is reborn: a new eros, new desires, new generativity, new children. If you think that the "disease" is curable by acting on the structural hypertrophy as a first step and then, later, on the "new models", the first ones to get discouraged will be the "dealers" themselves. During crises, moral energies are scarce, and it is crucial to decide what priorities to invest them in: getting the temporal order and hierarchy of the interventions wrong is fatal. Because if you change the structures before rethinking the mission of the charisma, the real risk is that you get the direction of change wrong.

Charismatic movements and communities do not sell cars, but they also live and make others live well if and as long as they are able to actualize their charisma-message, translating it in the languages ​​and desires of the present, and so attracting the best people today. Here too the "new models" are born from the studies and the talent of the designers and the creative people, but first of all they come from the visits to the new peripheries where there are new needs. In fact, they come from the listening to the wishes of families and young people, from the body-to-body encounter with flesh and blood people. But the new sense of their own charisma and vocation is not found by looking - in a narcissistic way - within themselves, perhaps creating a new organizational structure dedicated to this. In these crises there is generally plenty of technology, know-how or good engineers, but above all the contact with the world that has moved away too much over the years is missing. Therefore, the charisma can only flourish by going out again to meet the people in the streets, forgetting one's own organizations to deal with the wounds and sorrows of men and women of our days, and especially of the poor - distance from the poor is always the first sign of crisis of the charismatic entities. The "models" can and should be renewed, because the charisma is not the car, but the automaker company that, in order to live and grow has to be able to renew, change and interpret its mission creatively in the present time.

After the great flood, the Book of Genesis (ch. 11) tells the story of Babel. Saved by Noah, humanity, instead of listening to God's command and dispersing on earth, got stuck, built a fortress, using a single language, without diversity. After the great crises, the temptation of Babel duly arrives: we are afraid, we protect ourselves, we tend to keep our own identity, we look only inside and lose biodiversity. Salvation lies in the dispersion, in the many languages, in moving promptly towards new lands.

The great transition ends by this tenth part. We opened it with the fate of capitalism, now we close it with that of the charismas. From next Sunday we will resume our readings of the Bible with Job, and we will continue to look for words that are greater than ours, to try to write and tell each other new stories capable of life and a future.

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The Great Transition/10 – It is on the peripheries that one learns how to generate and re-generate vocations

by Luigino Bruni

published in pdf Avvenire (70 KB) on 08/03/2015

God created man as the sea created the continents: by withdrawing.

Friedrik Holderlin

The big processes of change, those capable of regenerating the entire body and give way to a new spring, are never triggered and driven by the elites ruling in the phase of the emergence of the crisis. This dynamic is well-known and generally applied, therefore it is also true for the entities that we have called communities and charismatic movements (because they were born from a charisma, the gift of "looking differently" at the world).

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Poverty Re-creates the Future

Poverty Re-creates the Future

The Great Transition/10 – It is on the peripheries that one learns how to generate and re-generate vocations by Luigino Bruni published in pdf Avvenire (70 KB) on 08/03/2015 God created man as the sea created the continents: by withdrawing. Friedrik Holderlin The big processes of...
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The Great Transition/9 - Encounters that "light up" spiritual and civil vocations

by Luigino Bruni

published in pdf Avvenire (54 KB) on 01/03/2015

To hide from you I turned off my light,
but you surprised me with the stars.

Rabindranath Tagore

Generative communities and movements have always been those that put their members in a position to repeat the founder's experience in various forms. The same miracles, the same freedom, the same fruits. The history of Christianity is an eloquent demonstration of this: the fruitfulness of the Christian experience can be found in the thousands of communities and movements generated by the same origin that repeated the same experiences of the early days in time and space and have seen bread being multiplied, the lame walk and crucifixes raised. The charismatic experiences capable of a future have always been plural, pluralistic, orchards with many trees, gardens populated by hundreds and thousands of flowers, all equal and all different, growing from the same humus, with colours and scents that are similar or very different. The seed that takes the forms of the land where it grows, creating new personalities that enrich the earth.

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Each member of an authentic charismatic community has, in fact, his or her own features that radically differentiate him or her from other more common characters of our time (the employee, the fan of a writer, the activist of a humanitarian association). All these characters are often also present in communities and charismatic movements, but in addition to them there are some very different ones, too. They are embodied by people who, getting in contact with an ideal-charisma do not encounter something external to them, because they meet themselves. This experience is very common in spiritual movements, but we can also find it – in varying degrees - in some civil, political and cultural organisations. There are, in fact, men and women who, once they get in contact with a spirituality or an ideal, immediately feel a deep harmony between their more real, inner reality and the one they encounter. They are people in whom something of the same charisma approaching them is already alive, but they remain its "immune carriers" until they come in contact with the community where that charisma is at work and alive. When a young man begins to study chemistry and then starts to work in a company, through his studies and work he learns a profession that makes him something that he wasn't before. When, however, a young man encounters the charisma of Francis and feels a vocation, he does not become a Franciscan, because he is already one; in other words, he becomes what he already was. You can learn and acquire a profession, but you cannot learn a vocation: Van Gogh learned the techniques of painting, but he was already Van Gogh at the time.

This is the great mystery of the charismas and all human vocations (the world is full of vocations). In the decisive encounter of their lives, these people have an "ontological" experience, one that happens on the level of existence, which is much deeper than the mere psychological and emotional dimensions. This means that a Jesuit does not receive the charisma of Ignatius or the other Jesuits, but, mysteriously and really, he finds it in himself, he finds it alive and asleep in the "wine cellar" of the soul, where it has been waiting to be called by name. The encounter with a charisma lights up a latent but real dimension, and generates a process of recognition: the person re-familiarizes with him/herself, and a new awareness and an unveiling of the self and the world emerges from that decisive encounter. If it weren't so all the mystery and charm of vocations would disappear, we would all be destined to be followers of other people and external incentives, and true freedom and true donation would be precluded, as they arise only when one feels that following a charisma is following the best part of one's self, even if together with others and in a fundamental, defining relationship with the founder. Looking carefully at it, this game of becoming what one already is, the meeting between what's external and what's internal, can be found in every true love relationship, when upon meeting the other we realize to have recognized someone who, mysteriously, has already been present somewhere in our lives, where he/she waited silently to be "seen". All this, and in an even more radical way, happens when it comes to collective authentic experiences of the ideal.

Two consequences can be derived from here. There have been, and there are many people on earth who do not "light up" only because they have not had the opportunity to meet a person or a community capable of activating the deepest part in them. Secondly, there are always several encounters of a vocational dimension between people. Although for some (like a nun or an artist, for example) there may be a decisive encounter, this is never the only one, and the sure way to turn off the light on the main encounter is to put people in a position where they are not able to have further encounters of identity. The first and most important meeting does not become a prison if it does not become the only one.

This helps understand that the experience of following a charisma (whether religious or civil) is a very delicate affair. There is always the risk that this ideal recognition between the person and the community may produce a mutually narcissistic neurosis.

A crucial element is the management of disappointment. For those who encounter a charisma and set off on a journey, the experience of disappointment is inevitable because no historical reality can be level with the ideal. The ideal of the community and the ideal within us had to be bigger than life; otherwise they would have not "lit up" anything. Every good maturity is also a disappointment of the promises of youth.

If a disappointment is poorly managed and is not accepted, it produces two possible scenarios. Both of them are very dangerous: (a) the reduction of the ideal to reality, (b) the ideological interpretation of reality to make it coincide with the ideal. The first error is committed by the communities and people that, upon facing the first disappointments (especially collective delusions) reduce the ideal scope of the charisma, and turn it into something more manageable and easy: YHWH gets reduced to the golden calf. The unavoidable outcome of this first error is the failure of this "new", resized ideal to attract high quality people because when ideals are reduced, the excellent people can no longer be recognized. The second scenario is no less dangerous or harmful. It occurs when trying to prevent that people attracted by the great and necessarily non-real ideals come to the stage of disappointment, by building a real ideology. Instead of a common effort to accept and inhabit the "gap" between the promises of the ideal and the possibilities of the real, they turn reality, any reality into an ideal, reinterpreting it every time, blaming the mismatch of the individual as responsible for the "gap". Disappointment as a natural and necessary part of the process of personal growth is therefore denied and drowned in the ideology, preventing the full growth of the members who continue to be comforted and entertained, kept in an infantile condition. They are not disappointed since they are deceived. In the first scenario the difference between ideal and reality vanishes by reduction (of the ideal); in the second one it is eliminated for the sake of increase (of reality). However, what is not offered is the only real possibility for a positive overshoot of this decisive stage of all existence, and that is an education or training preparing people for a coexistence with the gap, tending and processing the inevitable disappointments of adulthood, without erasing either the truth the ideal or that of the reality.

It is understandable, then, that the ability of having a future of a collective reality born from an ideal-charisma depends fundamentally on how the relationship between the founder, the community and the interpretation of the charisma and the individual "vocations" develop over time. The charismatic profile of a society is an expression and a continuation of the prophetic vocation, for which the Bible offers an ultimate type of grammar. The prophecy of the communities and charismatic movements, however, does not belong only to the founder or the community as a whole: each person who received the same charisma embodies it, lives it and develops it by offering their own flesh. In each Franciscan, Gandhian, Dominican, Salesian there is Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea revived, their words and their outrage are resurrected, as well as their criticism of the powers of every age, including our own. Moses, the greatest prophet lives again, and his typical vocation of the liberator of an enslaved people of the pharaoh and his idols. Furthermore, the experience of prophecy is not reserved for the elite of intellectuals or professionals: among the "prophets" that have loved and "lit me up", there are workers, peasants, and women with only five grades of elementary school.

An ideal-driven organisation lives well and makes its members and the world live well if it generates hundreds and thousands of Moses'. But when communities and movements allow these moments of liberation only to their leaders, while all members are assigned the role of the people liberated and guided through the desert, it happens that vocations are turned off, the flowers wither, the prophetic power of the charisma is resized very much, or even too much. And the land of all loses brightness. There are few people on this earth who are more beautiful than young people with a vocation; but there are very few experiences that are sadder than seeing those vocations fade with adulthood.

The charismas will stay alive as long as they generate free people who, having met a voice speaking from a burning bush while they were grazing their sheep, recognize it as a profound voice that has always inhabited them (if it weren't so, we would not know how to recognize it as a good voice and obey it). They depart for Egypt and they see the plagues, the sea opening up, the manna fall from heaven and Miriam dance. And they keep showing us a promised land that is beyond our horizon.

 

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The Great Transition/9 - Encounters that "light up" spiritual and civil vocations

by Luigino Bruni

published in pdf Avvenire (54 KB) on 01/03/2015

To hide from you I turned off my light,
but you surprised me with the stars.

Rabindranath Tagore

Generative communities and movements have always been those that put their members in a position to repeat the founder's experience in various forms. The same miracles, the same freedom, the same fruits. The history of Christianity is an eloquent demonstration of this: the fruitfulness of the Christian experience can be found in the thousands of communities and movements generated by the same origin that repeated the same experiences of the early days in time and space and have seen bread being multiplied, the lame walk and crucifixes raised. The charismatic experiences capable of a future have always been plural, pluralistic, orchards with many trees, gardens populated by hundreds and thousands of flowers, all equal and all different, growing from the same humus, with colours and scents that are similar or very different. The seed that takes the forms of the land where it grows, creating new personalities that enrich the earth.

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The Freedom of the Prophets Liberates Us

The Freedom of the Prophets Liberates Us

The Great Transition/9 - Encounters that "light up" spiritual and civil vocations by Luigino Bruni published in pdf Avvenire (54 KB) on 01/03/2015 To hide from you I turned off my light, but you surprised me with the stars. Rabindranath Tagore Generative communities and movement...
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The Great Transition/8 The pitfall of '"dusk at noon" and its antidote

by Luigino Bruni

published in  pdf Avvenire (59 KB) on 22/02/2015

Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them... they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” (...) But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!”

Book of Numbers 11:26-29

Organizations, communities, movements are living organisms: they are born, they grow, die, get sick and they are cured. There is a disease, the one that last Sunday we called "auto-immune", is particularly severe and difficult to cure, especially because its early symptoms are read as signs of success and health. As with all autoimmune diseases, the factors that used to serve to grow and protect a VDO (value driven organization), at some point begin to infect the same social body that they had been nurturing for so long.

[fulltext] =>

Let us think of the crucial issue of the structures and bureaucracies of a VDO. The birth of the organization, the works and institutions of the "charisma" are a sign of the fertility and strength of the experience. Their appearance is seen and hailed as a blessing and a great sign of fertility. And so while these structures were the fruit and the service of life in the beginning, as they were born from encounters, needs, requests reaching the VDO from outside, at some point they start being produced from the inside in order to anticipate future needs and potential "questions". The central and auxiliary structures evolve, are born and develop internal bureaucracies that absorb an increasing amount of energy, human and spiritual forces that serve to manage the structures generated by the first success. A bureaucratic class progressively develops and works full time. It grows in a hypertrophied way, which is interpreted as a strength and success of the movement-organization instead of being perceived as a sign of decline. Without structures and institutions our ideals remain fleeting experiences, which would leave no mark on history. The structures and the necessary bureaucracies, however, may end up, as in the myth of Oedipus the King, eating up the father who created them - and, as in the tragedy, without wanting to do so or knowing about it.

This law of "dusk starting at noon" can be found in many human organisations, especially the larger ones or those that are towering high above the others. We find it at work especially in people with talent.

A writer or an artist, reaches their best thanks to the encounters and the readings that nourish them in their early stage of training and development. It is at this point, however, that success may end up devouring talent. The writer stops feeding off of biodiversity and, protected and fed by the success, he begins to draw from himself as he becomes self-consuming. He begins to browse through the books of other authors starting from the last page, searching for his own name among the references. As in any narcissism, he falls in love with his own reflection, until he drowns in the lake of his own talent. He no longer feels the need to learn, to listen, to be asked questions by critics. This is where the decline of creativity begins, which initially does not look like a decline because it coexists with the increase of the number of fans, readers, recognition and consent. However, in fact, it is the beginning of the sunset.
You can only be saved at this point if you are able to see the beginning of the decline and act accordingly, even though everyone and everything still speaks only of triumphs. If, however, you wait with this recognition till the moment when the sun is already down, then the process will be at a very advanced stage and often irreversible. As with other autoimmune diseases, the cure can come from outside the body: by yourself you can only see the sun of noon. It is the others who see more and much earlier than you, especially if they are your equals and not followers, and if they have the courage to take the risk of sharing (most probably) the fate of "Jiminy Cricket".

Something very similar happens to the bigger and better VDO-s that are very similar to artists, people of genius - there are actually no organisations that could be more creative, sublime or exciting than the VDO-s. The most important job of its founders and/or leaders is being able to see its self-destructive potential inside the culmination of success, and behaving accordingly by making drastic and painful organizational decisions (for example by discouraging the homogenisation of the members, reducing distances between the leader and the group, fighting self-referentiality, not welcoming to hear an echo of their own voice by their followers, promoting the autonomy of thought in people...).

History tells us, however, that they almost inevitably do the opposite, and build organizations and hierarchical structures to lead all activities and the whole person of all people towards the strengthening and development of that success and acclaim.

How to escape from these sad outcomes that are self-generating and that no one should wish for? How can we not fall in love with our own success, and so condemn ourselves to infertility? Almost everything depends on the ability of the leaders not to make the commonest of all mistakes: fatal reduction of identity. This mistake is usually made when the leaders, in order to direct all the moral energies of the members towards the goals of the organization, want monopoly over their people. They create individuals "of a single dimension" in terms of identity, thereby reducing - often unwittingly - the anthropological and motivational complexity. They forget that every person, especially those of quality are beyond the mission of the organization or movement, however great that is. This is where the true dignity of every person lies, which is greater than any paradise that is promised to them.

The importance of avoiding this error applies to every VDO, but it is decisive in the spiritual communities of the kind of people who have a dominant vocation, anchoring in the realm of "forever". Here the serious risk is not to recognize that the dominant identity is never the only axis of the person, and that its flowering inside and outside the VDO depends on the interaction and the cross-fertilization of the many dimensions that make up its life. The paradox of gratuitousness is also to be found here: to ensure that people can flourish and so enrich the organization, themselves, the world, no one should possess them, use them, eat them, or even manipulate them, not even for the noblest purposes.

Every follower of a "charisma" grows well if they find their own way to respond to the vocation received, if they find and cultivate their own "charisma" in what is preceding them. All those who are part of a VDO should try to avoid the mistake of "monopoly", but it is especially true for its leaders who should not support these trends even when they are requested by the very people who come in search of a strong and all-encompassing identity; because if they support them, they soon find themselves surrounded by underpowered people who keep losing their anthropological, moral, spiritual richness over the years. Obviously, these outcomes are non-intentional, and therefore very difficult to see and treat - and for this reason it is important to talk about them.

When, however, this organizational generosity and chastity are lacking, people with vocations "work" for a few years, perhaps for decades, but they almost inevitably come to a moment of radical crisis, where they either quit to be saved or renounce to flourish in order to be saved - the world of religious orders and charismatic communities now offers us a rich and growing empirical evidence for this.

At one point, life puts them on a crossroads: they should either reappropriate their own life in its entirety, looking for a new flowering outside the VDO, or settle for a reduced life with no more eros and desires, even if this re-shaped life is accepted and interpreted as virtue and fidelity to themselves (and perhaps it also produces moral excellence for the individual - but rarely for the VDO). These organizational forms of chastity and gratuitousness are very rare and always sophisticated, because they require managers to be able to assist in development of latent and unforeseen vocations to touch new frontiers other than those already opened.

They should know how to appreciate and enjoy not only good orchestral performances of music that's been already written, but let themselves be surprised by new works, new music and different dances. The VDO-s that have lasted for many generations have been able to generate not only good interpreters but also many "composers" of new music who wrote new melodies often concerts and symphonies using the first dominant motif offered to them, and have continued to make this world and heavens more beautiful.

Finally, there is a great message of hope in the possibility - as history, and also life tell us - that new concerts, dances and symphonies can flourish even inside the VDO-s that are already suffering from auto-immune disease. First, because life is unpredictable and is more interesting than our descriptions of it, and so it happens that just like people, also organizations and communities can wake up one day and find themselves fully healed or getting better. Moreover, in human organisations there are always some vital areas, places and suburbs where some "prophesy" to those on the edges of the camp. But it is still possible to be saved because even in the hardest situations, there is always a third option. There are many people (I have known some, too) who - because of a mysterious but real gift - can have an experience that is similar to what Jesus proposed to Nicodemus: a man can be "born", even when he is "old". You may become adults and yet remain "children", you can grow well by staying in a VDO without becoming cynical or disenchanted. And so sometimes you become a stem cell capable of regenerating the entire organism. This third option is always possible, in all contexts, in all VDO-s, in all the communities. Every day.

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The Great Transition/8 The pitfall of '"dusk at noon" and its antidote

by Luigino Bruni

published in  pdf Avvenire (59 KB) on 22/02/2015

Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them... they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” (...) But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets!”

Book of Numbers 11:26-29

Organizations, communities, movements are living organisms: they are born, they grow, die, get sick and they are cured. There is a disease, the one that last Sunday we called "auto-immune", is particularly severe and difficult to cure, especially because its early symptoms are read as signs of success and health. As with all autoimmune diseases, the factors that used to serve to grow and protect a VDO (value driven organization), at some point begin to infect the same social body that they had been nurturing for so long.

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Do not give in to success

Do not give in to success

The Great Transition/8 The pitfall of '"dusk at noon" and its antidote by Luigino Bruni published in  pdf Avvenire (59 KB) on 22/02/2015 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them... they prophesied in the camp. And a...
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The Great Transition/7 The autoimmune disease of organisations can be cured

by Luigino Bruni

published in  pdf Avvenire (62 KB) on 15/02/2015

Know well, then, that the god orders this. And I suppose that until now no greater good has arisen for you in the city than my service to the god.” (30a; English translation: Thomas G. West)

Plato, Apology of Socrates

Many companies and organizations are created in order to seize a market opportunity, to respond to a need, to provide a service. Others, however, are the emanation of personality, passions, ideals of one or more persons, who put and embody the most solemn words and the largest projects of their lives in their organization.

[fulltext] =>

The earth is full of these "other" type of organizations and communities and many of the finer and higher things of life take place within these organizations and communities, where people's motivations become projects, the projects make history, a history embellished with many colours and flavours. These entities, if they want to last beyond the life of the founder, have a vital need for creative and innovative members. But once these organizations and communities start growing and developing, those who generated them eventually create governance structures that prevent the emergence of new creativity, and so they give life to their own decline. This is a fundamental law of motion of history: the first creativity that generates organizations and communities at some point starts producing inside the antibodies to protect itself against new creativity and innovations that would be essential for them to survive longer. It is a severe autoimmune disease affecting many organizations and communities.

Its root lies in the mismanagement of the fear of losing the originality and the specific identity of the founder's "charisma". For fear of dilution, contamination or degradation the original purity of the mission of the organization-community, people with greater creativity are discouraged because they are perceived as a threat to the identity. And so instead of emulating the founder in their creativity the forms in which it was realized and manifested are imitated. The immutable core of the original inspiration is confused with the historical organizational form that it took in the early stages of foundation, and it is not clear that the salvation of the original inspiration in changing the forms in order to remain faithful to the essence of the original nucleus. And so everything ends up trying to become immutable, to remain unchanged and to wither.

There are many symptoms of this disease. The most visible one is the emergence of a general inability of attracting new generative and valuable people. The most profound one is the famine of eros, of passion and desire, which manifests itself in a collective organizational sloth. If the desires and passions of the new members are oriented towards the historical forms in which the founder has embodied their desires and passions, you end up wanting the fruits of the tree, not the tree that generated them. Those who govern an organization and want it to survive over time should say to their creative and young people: "Do not desire the fruits generated yesterday that are fascinating you today. Be a new tree."

The only real chance for a tree that has borne fruit (a VDO, that is, a value-driven organization) to continue to live and bear fruit is to become an orchard, a wood, a forest. Exposing itself to the wind, and accommodating bees among its branches that may spread its seeds and its pollen in the soil, generating new life. Saint Francis is still alive after centuries because his charisma was generative of hundreds and thousands of new Franciscan communities, all equal and all different, all of Francis' and all expressions of the genius of the many reformers who, through their creativity, have made that first tree become a fruitful forest.

There are no guarantees that the creativity of the new arrivals will bring the same fruits as that of the founder, and that anyone who tastes them recognizes the same taste of the first fruits, or find them even better - "you will do things bigger than me." Certainty, however, is death, unless you have the courage to face this vital risk. A VDO can die because of infertility, but it can also die because of becoming something that has nothing of the VDO and the ideals of the founder - as is happening, for example, in far too many works of religious orders taken over by companies whose sole purpose is profit or income, and have no relationship whatsoever with the first charismatic DNA. In every field, there exists a road to be able to continue the dream of the founders in faithful creativity, but it is in that mestizo territory of venture, trust, wisdom of governance, an alchemy always unpredictable in its results.

The culture and the choices of governance have a specific responsibility in these crucial stages, and most certainly in that of the transition from the founding generation to the next, but also when the time calls for profound and brave changes. At the origin of the autoimmune disease there is almost always the fault of the leaders using the most innovative members only for executive and functional tasks, not allowing them to flourish and develop their talents. Indeed, it is here where the heart of the disease (and its cure) is. In the early days of the foundation, the days of pure creativity that may last for decades, the VDO-s attract excellent people, bearers of talents and "charisma" in synergy with that of the founder. The governing wisdom of the founder and / or his first employees lies in ensuring that creative people can develop themselves in their diversity, in not turning them into maids in the only service of the charisma of the leader. If, in fact, diversity is notCreatività 01 313 appreciated and all the best talents are oriented towards a monistic culture aimed completely at the development of the organization, the VDO ends up losing its biodiversity and fertility, and starts to decline.

Preventing and then treating this form of autoimmune disease is particularly difficult, because it is a pathological development of a process that was initially virtuous and indispensable for the birth, growth and success of the organization.

In the first phase of life of the founder, in fact, many VDO-s experience what is perhaps the highest form of creativity that the human realm knows (the only one that can approach it is that of the artists, which, by the way, is very similar). It is the season of pure, absolute, explosive and disruptive creativity. In order for this great creativity to be embodied in an institution, there is an essential need of people who realize, disseminate, consolidate and implement that creative energy, to channel the water of a new spring. All members are required some creativity, but we could call that of the second level. It is the creativity expressed in the search of forms, modes, means of implementation and embodying of the initial and original creativity in new geographic areas, in new and unprecedented economic sectors and areas. But the first and in many cases only virtue requested of the members of the VDO during this first phase is the absolute and unconditional fidelity to the original inspiration, and all creativity and life force is subject to loyalty and put to its service as a subsidiary. Without this game of absolute loyalty and subsidiary creativity many spiritual movements would not be born, nor the many communities that have made the world more beautiful and continue to improve it every day; just as many associations and social enterprises generated and grown from the daimon of the "prophets" of our time would not have appeared and grown.

Therefore, during this first phase, the creativity of the best members is directed by the governance of the organization towards their functions and for a "faithful" accountability. At the same time, as time passes more and more new members are attracted whose preferences are called "conformist" by the economic literature calls. These persons derive happiness from aligning themselves with the dominant tastes, values and the culture in the group, because these are the values required and necessary at this stage of development. But when the founder or the founding generation leaves, these organizations and communities find themselves with members educated only to loyalty and creativity of the second level, while the organization in this new stage would need creativity of the first level, the same as the nature of the founder and the one that had attracted them - no creative person is attracted to conformist imitators. This is how they fall into 'poverty traps' that feed on themselves. On the one hand, in fact, for the members of the organization it would be essential to have that generative and free creativity (of the first level) that had long been discouraged and therefore they now do not have it. On the other hand, those "negative virtues" that were fundamental in the first phase of the organization now create a culture that isn't really vivid or dynamic enough to attract new creative people who would actually be rather essential to hope for a new spring. This is the main reason why the historical arc of the great majority of idealistic organizations follows the parable of their founders, and the generational change marks in fact the beginning of decline.

However, decline is not their only option, because the organizational autoimmune disease can be prevented, or at least taken care of, even though the only real medicine is to become aware of it when the process is still just starting Our history and the present tell us that sometimes the movements flourish after the death of the founder, communities are raised up by a generational shift and the tree does not die but multiplies in the orchard.

Organizations, like all true life, can live more seasons if they die and rise again many times. However, to learn how to be resurrected, one must first learn how to die. Those who want to save their life will lose it. It is the law of life, and also that of the organizations that are born from our greatest ideals.

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The Great Transition/7 The autoimmune disease of organisations can be cured

by Luigino Bruni

published in  pdf Avvenire (62 KB) on 15/02/2015

Know well, then, that the god orders this. And I suppose that until now no greater good has arisen for you in the city than my service to the god.” (30a; English translation: Thomas G. West)

Plato, Apology of Socrates

Many companies and organizations are created in order to seize a market opportunity, to respond to a need, to provide a service. Others, however, are the emanation of personality, passions, ideals of one or more persons, who put and embody the most solemn words and the largest projects of their lives in their organization.

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The Courage to Think of the Orchard

The Courage to Think of the Orchard

The Great Transition/7 The autoimmune disease of organisations can be cured by Luigino Bruni published in  pdf Avvenire (62 KB) on 15/02/2015 “Know well, then, that the god orders this. And I suppose that until now no greater good has arisen for you in the city than my service to t...
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The Great Transition/6 - The Human Future is Creativity, not Cynical Homogenisation

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/02/2015

‘Not merely in the realm of commerce but in the world of ideas as well our age is organizing a regular clearance sale. Everything is to be had at such a bargain that it is questionable whether in the end there is anybody who will want to bid.’

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (English translation: Walter Lowrie)

The beauty of social life mainly depends on the game and the interweaving of differences. The earth is not only beautiful for the variety of butterflies and flowers. There is much beauty generated by the differences in the ways and forms of doing economy, enterprise or banking. Even greater is the beauty that comes from the differences between people, from the encounter of their different talents, from the dialogue between their motivations.

[fulltext] =>

Many civil “works of art” that continue to beautify our common ground were born from motivations that were greater than economic incentives, from some “because” that was deeper than the monetary “why”. If their founders had obeyed the iron law of business plans, today we wouldn't have all the institutions for the disabled that have loved our special children, nor the thousands of cooperatives born from the desire for life and future of our fathers, mothers and grandparents. These works that flourished because of greater ideals resisted time and ideologies, and crossed through the centuries. They sprang from great motivations that have been able to generate great, enduring and fertile things. Economic and civil life, being human life, has an extreme need of all human resources, as well as the deepest of motivations. Economy reduced to pure economics is lost and is no longer capable of generating life or good economy.

One of the most radical trends of the humanism of immunity of the contemporary capitalism is the need to control, curb and normalize the deepest motivations of human beings, especially those that are inherent, where our gratitude and freedom have their roots. When, in fact, we activate our passions, ideals and our spirit, sometimes it happens that our ways of behaviour go beyond the control of organizations. Our actions become unpredictable because they are free, and therefore they put protocols and job descriptions in crisis. They especially cause crisis in management that – because of its tasks and nature - has to make organizational behaviour controllable and predictable. To be able to handle many different people and direct them all towards the simple goals of the company, it is necessary to implement a strong homogenization and standardization of behaviour, so that they become incapable of creativity (that all of them would like, by their words). Intrinsic motivations are, in fact, more powerful and therefore more destabilizing. We disengage from the cost-benefit calculation and become able to do things just for the inherent happiness of the action. We would not have scientific research, poetry, a lot of art or true spirituality without intrinsic motivations, as we would not have many businesses, communities and organizations that are born from the passions and ideals of the founders and live because and until someone continues to work not only for money. All true creativity has an essential need of intrinsic motivation. But - as we see every day, tragically - intrinsic motivation is also at the root of the worst human behaviours.

Here is the reason why the modern spirit, in particular the economic spirit,  chose to settle with only the instrumental or extrinsic motivations - for fear of the potentially destabilizing effects of the great human motivations. Therefore we have let democracy manage the public game of differences and identities, but we expelled it from businesses. And so our organizational culture seeks to transform human motivation into all the various incentives to reduce the many “because”-s into a single, simple “why”. We have thus reduced the wounds (vulnerability) inside our businesses, but we have also reduced the blessings (welfare).

Incentives have become a great tool for controlling and managing “reduced” people who are underpowered in their many motivations, in order to align them with the goals of the organizations (the incentivus was the wind musical instrument that gave the tune for the instruments of the orchestra, the trumpet that incited the troops to battle, the enchanting flute of the snake-charmer). So economics and managerial sciences have come to settle for the less powerful motivations of humans - even when they try manipulate them by promising new recruits a paradise that they cannot and do not want to give. This is also a price of modernity.

The operation of motivational levelling is dangerous everywhere, because the “man of a single dimension” does not work well anywhere and, most importantly, is not happy. The expulsion of the deepest, generative and free motivations is fatal in the organizations born and fed by ideals, charismas, passions - the so-called VDO-s (Value-Driven Organisations). These “different” organizations have a basic need of the presence of a share, however small, of workers, executives, founders with intrinsic motivation, equipped with a “genetic code” that is different from that assumed and implemented by the dominant management theory. These people are active in social enterprises and civil, religious communities, in many NGOs, spiritual and cultural movements, in the world of environmentalism, critical consumption, human rights; but often we find them also among the founders of family businesses, and in much of the “normal” economy of craftsmen, small businessmen, cooperatives, ethical and territorial financing.

We would not have these organizations and communities without the presence of these “yeast” type of people who are creative, generative and often destabilizing in terms of the established order because they are “driven from inside”, because they are the bearers of a “charisma” that pushes them to act in obedience to their daimon. These workers of an intrinsic motivation have two principal motivational marks. On the one side they are little motivated by the economic incentives of management theory and respond poorly or not at all to the external sound of the charmer flute because they love to hear other, internal melodies instead. At the same time, they are infinitely sensitive to the ideal size of the organization that they have founded or in which they work; not only for economic but rather for identity, idealistic and vocational reasons.

The management of people with intrinsic motivation is crucial when these organizations go through times of crisis and conflict, caused by, for example, a generational or leadership change, or the death and succession of the founder. These moments - that are delicate ones in every organization - are crucial to the VDO-s, because of the most typical and all too common error: not understanding the very petitions and protests coming from the most motivated members. If, in fact, those who manage or accompany a VDO as consultant do not recognize the value of these deeper motivations that are different from the incentives, not only do not reach the goal they hoped for, but further aggravate the crisis of these people and the organization.

When the ideal's quality gets into crisis, usually the firsts to protest are the ones who are more interested in the quality that is being lost. However, if the directors and managers interpret this type of protest simply as a cost, and therefore do not accept it and reject it, the first ones to quit are the best ones - as I tried to show in some studies carried out together with Alessandra Smerilli. Since these people are practically insensitive to incentives but very sensitive to the ideals-values dimension, they are willing to give much more than their contract states, granted that it is “worth it”, as long as the values they have invested in heavily are kept alive and recognized. There are people, even within firms, who attribute such a high value to the symbolic values and ethical principles that inspire their work, for which they are willing to do (almost) everything. But as soon as they realize that the given organization is becoming (or has become) something other, all the intrinsic reward that they drew from their work-activity is dramatically reduced, in some cases it is even annulled (or becomes negative). This is also an expression of the ancient intuition (which goes back at least to St. Francis of Assisi) that real gratuitousness does not come at a zero price (free), but at an infinite price.

Crisis management in VDO-s is a real art, and it requires of the leaders an ability to distinguish the different types of discomfort and protest, and to know how to appreciate and use the protest that rises above all from those who are the guardians and bearers of the values and ideals of the organization. The neo-managerial ideology, however, is getting more and more flattened onto a single motivational register. It does not have the categories to understand the different types of protest and so it is unable to recognize that behind a threat of abandonment a cry of love may be hidden.

People with intrinsic motivations usually also have a great resilience and a great fortitude in adversities. They manage to last long in a state of protest, preferring to stay albeit in protest (Albert Hirschman defines protesters who won't quit as loyal). People with strong intrinsic motivations quit and leave only when they lose the hope that the organization can recover the lost ideals, and sometimes their quitting itself becomes the last message to arouse extreme revision in the leaders. It is understandable therefore that a VDO is wise if it knows how to keep people loyal, giving citizenship rights to their protest, valuing it and not considering it as a cost or friction.

Biodiversity within organizations is going through a significant decline, and motivational levelling produces growing discomfort and malaise even in the heart of capitalism. And those who love and live in ideal-driven communities and organizations have to defend and preserve the now endangered intrinsic motivations. Maybe you can keep running for years in a multinational without giving space to ideal motivations, but the VDO-s die soon if we reduce all our passions to sad incentives.

In people, in all people, the reasons are many, ambivalent and intertwined with each other. Management culture and tools can facilitate the emergence and sustainability of the deepest and most idealistic motivations, or increase organizational cynicism where everyone is contented with incentives and stops asking too much from the organization and soon ends up not asking anything anymore from it.

We shall make the best of this great transition if we create more bio-diverse organizations that are less levelled in terms of motivations, if we are able to give space to the whole person. Then we shall have created some organizations that are inhabited by workers who are a little less controllable and manageable, but more creative, happier and more human.

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The Great Transition/6 - The Human Future is Creativity, not Cynical Homogenisation

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/02/2015

‘Not merely in the realm of commerce but in the world of ideas as well our age is organizing a regular clearance sale. Everything is to be had at such a bargain that it is questionable whether in the end there is anybody who will want to bid.’

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (English translation: Walter Lowrie)

The beauty of social life mainly depends on the game and the interweaving of differences. The earth is not only beautiful for the variety of butterflies and flowers. There is much beauty generated by the differences in the ways and forms of doing economy, enterprise or banking. Even greater is the beauty that comes from the differences between people, from the encounter of their different talents, from the dialogue between their motivations.

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-odd )
The Spirit of Differences

The Spirit of Differences

The Great Transition/6 - The Human Future is Creativity, not Cynical Homogenisation by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 08/02/2015 “‘Not merely in the realm of commerce but in the world of ideas as well our age is organizing a regular clearance sale. Everything is to be had at such a bargai...
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    [title] => Vulnerable Trust is the Strongest
    [alias] => vulnerable-trust-is-the-strongest
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The Great Transition/5  Making new alternatives to the logic of the castes grow

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/02/2015

Communitas is a set of people united not by a “property”, but by a duty or a debt. Not by a “more”, but a “less”, by a lack, a limit that is set up as a burden, or even as an obligation or even as a defective way for the person who is “affected” by it, unlike the one who is “exempt” or “exempted.”
(Roberto Esposito, Communitas).

Communities and organizations that have preserved their creative and fruitful character over time have been able to live with their vulnerability; they have not eliminated it entirely from their territories but they took care of it.
Vulnerability (from vulnus: wound), like many true words of the human realm, is ambivalent, because good vulnerability coexists with bad vulnerability, and often the two are intertwined. Good vulnerability is inscribed in all generative human relationships, where if I do not give the other the possibility of “hurting me”, the relationship does not reach the depth to be fruitful.

[fulltext] =>

Good vulnerability is what we experience in loving relationships with our children, in friendship, in the primary communities of our lives. Today we know that the most creative work teams are those where people receive an authentic – therefore risky – openness for credit. Generativity in all areas has a vital need for freedom, trust, risk, all of which make the person who grants these vulnerable. Life is generated by relationships open to the possibility of relational injury.
 We would not help any child in becoming a free person without granting them a vulnerable trust inside families, in schools and in the many places of education.
 And as adults we cannot flourish at the workplace without receiving and giving risky and vulnerable confidence.

But the culture of the big global companies today looks for the impossible: it wants creativity from their employees without accepting the vulnerability of relationships. Think of the growing phenomenon of the so-called “managerial subsidiarity”, according to which the manager has to intervene in the decisions of a group, taking up the coordination only for those activities that would be worse without his “subsidiary” intervention. Large companies are, in fact, realizing that in order to get the best from their employees they must grant the proper conditions for them to feel free and as protagonists of their own work. No creativity is given except out of freedom, but for subsidiarity to function it is essential that workers and work groups experience genuine confidence – but then they can also abuse it. There are few things on earth that give as much of joy as the participation in free collective action in the company of equals.

In order for this beautiful and ancient idea of subsidiarity not to remain just a principle to be written in social budgets, it is essential that the management should really trust the work group, and it shouldn't want to control the entire process to prevent abuse of trust and receiving “wounds”. If, however, those who are given “delegation” perceive that in fact this “trust” is only instrumental, a technique to make more profits, subsidiarity stops producing its effects. That's why subsidiarity in companies would need the owners' and not capitalists' assets, where the delegation does not proceed from the top down to the workers, but in the opposite direction (as in politics, where the principle of subsidiarity was born). When, however, subsidiarity descends from above it becomes something else that only works when and if the owners decide they should, and it is therefore not very resilient to failures of subsidiarity. Only intrinsic motivation associated with the appropriate institutions allows for subsidiarity and for the participatory forms of surviving after crises due to serious abuses of trust. In reality, the naturally subsidiary institutions would be the democratic and participative businesses (just like cooperatives), where “sovereignty belongs to the people” indeed, i.e. the workers-members that grant it upwards to their managers and directors.

In other words, subsidiarity and confidence can really work when they are risky and vulnerable. If we were to design a coin of human relations, one side would represent the joys of the free encounter between acts of gratuitousness, and the other would show the many images of our wounds that those joys generated.
But – and here is another paradox of our capitalist system – the culture taught in all business schools hates vulnerability and considers it the greatest enemy. And for many reasons. Throughout the centuries, western civilization has formed a clear separation between the places of the good and the bad vulnerabilities. It has not accepted the ambivalence and thus created a dichotomy. Good vulnerability, capable of generating blessing has been instead associated with private life, the family and the woman, who is the first image of the generative wound. In the public sphere, which is based entirely on the male register, vulnerability is always bad. Therefore economic and organizational life was also based on invulnerability. Showing wounds and fragility in the workplace is only and always a negative value, inefficiency, demerit. The past decades of financial capitalism have amplified the invulnerable nature of work culture in the large global enterprises, where every vulnerability must be ejected.

The best way to eliminate vulnerability inside the community has always been immunity. Immunity is the main feature of the large capitalist enterprises today. Every invulnerable culture is also an immune culture: if I don't want to be hurt in my relationship with you, I have to stop you touching me by building a system of relations that avoids any form of contamination. Immunity is the lack of exposure to the other person's touch. Immunitas is the negation of communitas: the soul of communitas is munus (gift and duty) in reciprocity, while that of immunitas is reciprocal ingratitude, the absence and the opposite of gift (in-munus, immune).

All immune companies are radically hierarchical, because they increase the vertical and horizontal distances between people to prevent them from touching each other, and so manage them and direct them according to the company's purposes. The first function of the hierarchy is not to let people mingle with each other (this is the origin of the Portuguese word casta: not contaminated), not to let them touch whoever is different among them, only those that are similar. In all immune-caste societies it is strictly forbidden to touch those that are different because only members of the same caste can and must touch each other. For this reason, caste -driven companies know little about creativity and innovation, because only biodiversity is always generative.

This lack of contact between those who are different is a root cause of the decay of the elites inside caste societies, including our global enterprises. The beggars' movements of the 13th-14th centuries were the forgers of great innovation and economic, social, political and spiritual generativity, disrupting the early mediaeval order of castes and immunity characterising their society, because they welcomed the rich and the poor, and people coming from any region or township in the same monasteries. Those new communities were capable of bringing forth some huge innovations because they put merchants and the poor, bankers and craftsmen, artists and mystics together. That biodiversity turned into creativity and innovation, an innovation that was born from not being afraid of wounds or the stigmata of fraternity. Fraternity is anti-immune, as Francis of Assisi tells us by embracing and kissing the leper – solidarity-philanthropy is almost always immune, fraternity never.

The root of every immune-caste civilization is the installation of the fundamental distinction between pure and impure: there are activities, people, things that are pure and can be touched, and others that are impure and can only be touched by the lower castes. But in all immune-caste societies there is also a deep interdependence between the castes. Even Brahmins need the pariahs (and vice versa), because as a consequence of immunity in these societies the division of labour is radical. This is why the presence of mediators is indispensable, as they have the special function of putting in contact those who cannot touch each other.

This way it is understandable why the big capitalist enterprises are now the sharpest images of an immune-caste society, and that managers are the mediators connecting the various 'castes' of the company without anyone touching the others, the impure ones. Touching is only possible between equals (sometimes there is too much of it among colleagues and it can even hurt). The members of the “lower” ranks can be touched by superiors only with tools and techniques, not directly. Large companies are less and less mixed, even when people work in open space offices (where they remain well separated in terms of power and wages).

We cease to be generative in all areas as soon as we stop meeting and embracing each other, especially the poor. People lose creativity when over the years they reduce contact with those who are different. Something similar is happening to the elites of the organizations, institutions, and therefore also to companies: the culture of immunity that leads them not to get contaminated pre-determines their sterility and decadence. Much of our generativity, energy and strength depend on being in contact with other humanities, cultures, lives and bodies. Hope and excellence are born and reborn from the promiscuous places of living, from the meeting of the entire humanity, from being fed by the many foods of the village.

A deep crisis of capitalism is on the horizon, generated by the decay of the impoverished elites and by their immunity and being unfertilized by good vulnerability of entirely human relations. The fear of relational wounds is creating a global culture of immunity, of which large companies are the major global carriers. For this reason, a major challenge of the coming years will be the very survival of organizations. The apotheosis of the immune-invulnerable culture will in fact be the elimination of organizations, the disappearance of the places where people co-habit and co-operate (live and work together), in order to create decentralized production in their place where everyone works at home thanks to the ever more sophisticated technologies. Consumers without shops, banking without banks, online schools without teachers and students, and perhaps even hospitals without doctors and nurses, populated by highly efficient robots and cameras. The final elimination of vulnerability will eventually be reached this way, we will finally have found the tree of life, but it will be a tree without fruits, or with flavourless fruits. And it will be the hunger for tasty fruits to make us still meet, embrace and live.

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The Great Transition/5  Making new alternatives to the logic of the castes grow

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/02/2015

Communitas is a set of people united not by a “property”, but by a duty or a debt. Not by a “more”, but a “less”, by a lack, a limit that is set up as a burden, or even as an obligation or even as a defective way for the person who is “affected” by it, unlike the one who is “exempt” or “exempted.”
(Roberto Esposito, Communitas).

Communities and organizations that have preserved their creative and fruitful character over time have been able to live with their vulnerability; they have not eliminated it entirely from their territories but they took care of it.
Vulnerability (from vulnus: wound), like many true words of the human realm, is ambivalent, because good vulnerability coexists with bad vulnerability, and often the two are intertwined. Good vulnerability is inscribed in all generative human relationships, where if I do not give the other the possibility of “hurting me”, the relationship does not reach the depth to be fruitful.

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Vulnerable Trust is the Strongest

Vulnerable Trust is the Strongest

The Great Transition/5  Making new alternatives to the logic of the castes grow by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 01/02/2015 ‘Communitas is a set of people united not by a “property”, but by a duty or a debt. Not by a “more”, but a “less”, by a lack, a limit that is set up as a burden, or...
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The Great Transition/4 - Workers not seen any more, managers reduced to technicians

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 25/01/2015

We should get used to reflecting deeply on the fact that my own self is communion. If we can define communities like the regular meeting of a few individuals in a given time and space but also in their power of being a person each, then we should feel the radical insufficiency of the communities, and strive constantly to dissolve them, by exceeding them in communion.

Giuseppe Maria Zanghì, A Few Reflections on the Person

In all the great eras of passage the first shortcoming is that of words.
In this fast age of transition, the world of work also suffers from the lack of poets, artists and masters of spirituality that could donate new words to better understand our joys, sufferings and hopes. We lack the language to say how we are living, to tell and, through telling about them, to treat them.

[fulltext] =>

In the past decades we learned to understand and tell the pains and joys of the factories and the fields. Throughout the past century we have generated literature, poetry, cinema, songs, spirituality of the field and the factory, of the work of freelancers, of employers and employees, who gave us the words to understand and process the wounds and the blessings of that great humanism of work. Through singing it and narrating it we understood it, we experienced its feasts and processed its grief, and so we were saved, almost always. We would not have survived without the poets, artists and charismas of work that loved us first of all by giving us the words – poetry, art and spirituality are above all the gift of different and greater words to give names to our experiences, since without these gifts they would remain mute, ill-spoken, ill-lived.

If there is a place where there is a particularly strong and obvious famine of new words, it is life inside organizations. In particular, managers are crushed into a real relational stranglehold, one they have failed to give a name to. On the one hand they are subjected to an infinite demand for appreciation that comes from their workers. On the other hand, these managers do not find recognition for their own work.
All we hear, if and when we really work is that in our daily work there is much more than required by contract. No company is satisfied by mere contract enforcement, and no worker's salary is enough for them to do their best. The company needs exactly what it cannot buy from its workers: their enthusiasm, passions, joy and love of life, their creativity. Their soul and heart. But these human dimensions are derived only and completely from freedom, and therefore the company is only able to have them if they are donated by the workers, because no incentive is a good replacement of the free gift at work – what's more, it usually destroys it. In other words: the company really needs something that the employment contract, with all its typical instruments – incentives and controls – cannot buy, because it can only be given freely as a gift. And there is no gift sustainable without reciprocity. This is the root of the immense, steady and growing demand for appreciation, recognition and attention by workers that remains in most part unfulfilled. This reality that is obvious to all remains mostly silent for lack of words and categories to express it.

The gap between supply and demand of respect and recognition in business, however, is created and powered by the same culture of large companies and organizations (see my article from last Sunday), the ones that ask so much from the workers to make them gradually abandon other areas of non-working life. So that sick and symbolic, infinite being which is the person, closes all windows of their soul except that of work, and it is promised them that it is the only window through which one can see landscapes and horizons that could in fact only be seen from the perspectives of other windows. And in the weaving of these lives into a single dimension, the manager becomes the first victim of the same relational illness he himself is contributing to, sometimes unknowingly.

What to do? Studies on work welfare are beginning to tell us that the first and essential form of reciprocity invoked by the workers is to be “seen” by their leaders, so they could be more present in the places where the work is done. Then, seeing the work and the worker who works, you would also see all the gifts contained in that work. This type of look is the first reciprocity required by workers, a look of attention that would make the essential dimensions of the work visible. They remain invisible because no one looks at them, or because they are not looked at by the right people to see them and recognize them, or because they are looked at with suspicion and an intention to control them. Of course, even the gazes of our colleagues and our own are important, but they are not enough. In communities, including community work, gazes are not all equal, functions and responsibilities count, and one’s work must be seen especially by those who have responsibility over one’s work. But as it is now revealed by French scholars like Norbert Alter or Anouk Grevin, in modern large organizations the theory and practice of management makes more and more managers unable to see the work because  they are “forced” to spend their time in the midst of paperwork and computers, to produce charts, indicators, controls; or to do “institutional” evaluation interviews, in which they have half an hour to consider work that is not seen in the daily routine of the twelve months of the year. You can see the traces of work, the operations, but these sophisticated tools do not allow to you see the whole human-spiritual experience of the worker.
And so you end up not assessing the most important aspects of work; these would need the sense of sight above all. The good life that used to be experienced in the efforts and in contradictions and is still there in many small businesses, also depends on the fact that the entrepreneur is working together with their employees, in their company – and that creates solidarity and a virtuous circle of recognition. The best way to recognize the gift that is in every work is to see and acknowledge work in its everyday ordinariness.

But there's more. Even managers are workers, and they too have a vital need for reciprocity, recognition, and being “seen”. In large anonymous companies, however, where the owners are away, fragmented, sometimes non-existent, there is no one “above” the manager to see his work, to recognize it, to thank them. They are flooded with requests for attention and reciprocity, but they don't have anyone in turn who should be able to recognize their work and thank for it, which then remains un-recognized, and the organization becomes a major producer of ingratitude, thereby becoming increasingly unsustainable (even when they try to compensate for it by high salaries).

So we should learn again to look at work and see it, all the work and the work of all.

But before that, and more radically, we must collectively have the courage to do two things that would be revolutionary.

First, companies must help their workers, all workers, to re-open those existential windows that have been darkened partly through their own contribution in the past decades. In order for workers' lives to flourish they need the light of the whole house, or else the room dedicated to work loses brightness, too. We cannot ask our career and our leaders to satisfy our need for recognition, esteem, love and heaven on their own, because if they attempt it they transform our enterprises into churches without God and worship, like it happens in every case of idolatry. At the same time, if the frustrations and disappointments make us stop asking much (not all) from work, then life, the whole of life may sadden and vanish. We will restore the air and light for work by letting the sun shine into all areas of life.

But you also need a second move that is even more radical, difficult and decisive. There were entire eras when we learnt and knew how to work and manage complex operations in homes and monasteries. The first organizations were the deliveries of babies, the cooperation of women for life, for the management of the end of pregnancy, the work of the hands of women who accompanied the pains of birth. Women, hands, life: these are all ingredients that are just too absent from our organizational culture that is entirely based on the male register and lacks the culture of hands and its typical wisdom. Work culture in complex organizations flourished and matured in the abbeys, by centuries of ora et labora: the spirit in the service of the hands, allied hands of the spirit that, together, fed work. The top managers of large organizations were trained by reading and copying the codes of Cicero and Augustine. We will cure the relationships in our businesses only if we put them in the hands of new, humanistic managers, people who are experts in humanity, capable of listening, of caring, of interiority, of looking after the many travails of organizations. But business schools are exclusively focused on the tools and techniques, although they should be teaching their students poetry, art, philosophy, spirituality, having some classes inside factories, and so training them to look at work, feel its smell and true scent instead of the synthetic one of the conference rooms in hotels.

The market of tomorrow will have a vital need for people who are complete, in and outside companies, who can cultivate and activate the fundamental human dimensions we have called gift, reciprocity and interiority for millennia, and that make life worth living, be it at work or at home.

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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The Great Transition/4 - Workers not seen any more, managers reduced to technicians

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 25/01/2015

We should get used to reflecting deeply on the fact that my own self is communion. If we can define communities like the regular meeting of a few individuals in a given time and space but also in their power of being a person each, then we should feel the radical insufficiency of the communities, and strive constantly to dissolve them, by exceeding them in communion.

Giuseppe Maria Zanghì, A Few Reflections on the Person

In all the great eras of passage the first shortcoming is that of words.
In this fast age of transition, the world of work also suffers from the lack of poets, artists and masters of spirituality that could donate new words to better understand our joys, sufferings and hopes. We lack the language to say how we are living, to tell and, through telling about them, to treat them.

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The Claws of Ingratitude

The Claws of Ingratitude

The Great Transition/4 - Workers not seen any more, managers reduced to technicians by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 25/01/2015 “We should get used to reflecting deeply on the fact that my own self is communion. If we can define communities like the regular meeting of a few individuals i...
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The Great Transition/3 Young executives sacrificed, just like in the armies and pagan cults

by Luigino Bruni

published inAvvenire on 18/01/2015

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.

Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as Religion, 1921 (translated by Chad Kautzer)

At this stage in our – sometimes in-depth – thinking about the non-sustainability of economic and financial models that we have set up in recent decades, there is one aspect that seems to be rather overlooked if we put it in relation with the weight it has in our political life, in democracy, in our well-being and ill state. It is the management culture of the organizations, which is becoming a true global ideology, developed and taught at major universities and widely implemented by multinational corporations and in global consulting associations. It is an ideology that is entering in many areas of social life, because it appears as a value-free technique, which has been able to recycle many of the symbolic codes that Western civilization has associated with good life and wealth for millennia.

[fulltext] =>

And so, without batting an eye, we accept that our relations are increasingly surrounded and controlled by these new global players. Social media and networks in which “live” and where a good part of our relational life now takes place, are governed by profit seeking companies of this new culture.

But there are some cracks appearing in the walls of these companies now that should be taken very seriously if we are to avoid the implosion of the edifice. We are seeing a growing relational and emotional fragility of the employees and managers of companies, especially large and global ones. There is a strong growth in the use of psychotropic medications among managers, which is growing together with their anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia. Brilliant and successful executives wake up one morning you and find themselves with no more energy to get out of bed. It is the syndrome that is known worldwide by the English term burn-out, which has a very literal meaning. Many multinational companies now insert a burn-out phase into the normal development of a manager's career, because it is a stage that is becoming very frequent for the way this type of work is conceived, planned and promoted. And at the first burn-out is followed by another, and then more, because after a successful treatment one has to return to the same relationships, the same culture that produces pathological malaise. The preferred victims of this new epidemic of the rich are the consultants in multinational companies, the financial analysts, accountants and lawyers of the large and professional law firms and above all a great number of managers and executives of large companies, banks, funds, insurance; but there are also worrying signs in public administration, in NGOs, in the social economy, and in some works created by religious charismas because of the pervasiveness of this managerial ideology that is now taught at all universities and business schools and in the MBA courses of all the world.

At the root of this new working malaise there is a real paradox. A golden rule of this organizational and managerial culture is the prohibition to mix languages and emotions of private life with those that belong to business life. Words such as gift, gratitude, friendship, forgiveness and gratuitousness that we all recognize to be fundamental in family, social and community relationships must be kept absolutely outside the workplace, because they are deemed as improper, inefficient, and above all, dangerous. If we go beyond the rhetoric of the teams and team work and take a look inside the real dynamics of these new capitalist enterprises, we will find that managers are increasingly lonely, interacting with other individuals alone, they have functional and fragmented relationships with many partners and supervisors that vary depending on the task (the task assigned) and the contract. In these organizations there is more hierarchy than in traditional ones, even if they have a participatory look.

But while these new businesses on the one hand cultivate behaviours of separation (such as managers who do not "mingle" with their subordinates in canteens or recreational and sports clubs), on the other hand when they have to select and then motivate executives they use the typical words taken from the contexts of family, friends, ideals, ethics and spirituality. There is talk of esteem, merit, respect, passion, loyalty, faithfulness, recognition, community – words and codes that activate the same dynamics inside the person that he or she has learned and practiced in private and family life. The same commitment is required and the same passions are in play.

If we take a small step back in history, we find that the relational metaphor that inspired the first companies in modernity has been that of the community. The first workshops and then the family businesses of the century were organizations built on the relational paradigm of families and communities, also because of the great social and economic weight of the monastic communities and convents in the Middle Ages. Although these were hierarchical (and paternalistic) communities, they were still communities. Then, still in Europe, in the second half of the twentieth century there appeared their “political” metaphors: companies, especially large ones, that were reproducing the class struggle typical of that time, and the factory was an image of political society, of its conflicts and cooperation.

In the large companies of the Third Millennium something unprecedented is happening that closely resembles religious culture, and, in some other respects, military culture, too. In the traditional companies of the first and second capitalism, they asked a lot from both workers and managers, but never too much and, above all, not everything. That left other areas (family, community, religion, party ...) in which the other, no less important chapters of life could take place. A lot – and in some cases everything – was asked of people, however, in the religious sphere (convents, abbeys and monasteries) and, to varying and usually lesser degrees, in the military (the nation and the land). There you could give everything because the promise was worth it (God, Heaven, the Fatherland).

The great and dangerous bluff of the modern organizations of capitalism is hidden in their use of the symbolic and motivational registers of the same type as they were used in the past by the faiths but – and here's the point – distorting and resizing them radically.

The new capitalism has noticed that without activating their most profound human motivations and symbols, people do not do their best. So they ask for much, (almost) everything from their new employees, they ask for a commitment of time, priorities, passions, emotions, which cannot be justified by resorting only to their contracts and pay (even if it is a lot). Only the gift of self can explain what is being asked and given up in these work relationships. But if the company would really recognize all of the “gift” that it asks of its employees then it would create community bonds (cum-munus), which is something the company doesn't really want because those relationships wouldn't be as manageable and controllable anymore. So it stops at the recognition of the less deep or true dimensions than the gift of self, and it does everything to channel back any form of behaviour within the realm of duty and contract.

In the early years, while the executive-workers are still young, the game of promises, expectations and refunds of mutual recognition and attention between the enterprise and the worker works well and produces a spiral of increasing engagement, results and rewards. ButBurnout 04 rid as time passes, these unrecognized affective and relational investments accumulate and become emotional credits, until one day you realize that they will never be paid in full. At this point the original “narcissistic contract” enters into crisis, and the rewards of the early days turn into disappointment and frustration. The phase of insecurity, unworthiness, of feeling a “loser” begins, and soon the image of the "ideal worker" that has been built over time collapses, too. We understand that the game was not worth the candle of our life that in the meantime has been consumed, sometimes exhausted and even put out. And the game continues with other young people, who will soon be replaced by others – the “consumption” (or “sacrifice”) of the youth in these organizations is impressive, just as it is in armies and some pagan cults.

The great words of life bear fruit only if they are not manipulated. They need large spaces, to be accepted in their complexity and, above all, in their ambivalence that makes them generative, alive, and true. And – because of their own intrinsic nature – they do not let themselves be used for profit, certainly not for a long time. Human history offers us an immense collection of attempts to use the great words of humanity for private benefits. Magic and idolatry are nothing but this. But every ideology is essentially an attempt to manipulate one or more great words of humanity (liberty, fraternity, equality), reducing their complexity and ambivalence to be able to control them, thereby controlling persons and consciences, too. Managerial ideology is manipulating esteem, recognition and community, because it uses them without gratuitousness, and therefore no liability for costs and emotional wounds that the relational ambivalence of these great words inevitably produce.

We all want Heaven, we all would like to live our lives in a heroic way, but businesses and their objectives cannot be the places where these promises can be kept and realised. The sky above their land is too low, their horizon is too narrow to be really that of the promised land.

 

Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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The Great Transition/3 Young executives sacrificed, just like in the armies and pagan cults

by Luigino Bruni

published inAvvenire on 18/01/2015

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.

Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as Religion, 1921 (translated by Chad Kautzer)

At this stage in our – sometimes in-depth – thinking about the non-sustainability of economic and financial models that we have set up in recent decades, there is one aspect that seems to be rather overlooked if we put it in relation with the weight it has in our political life, in democracy, in our well-being and ill state. It is the management culture of the organizations, which is becoming a true global ideology, developed and taught at major universities and widely implemented by multinational corporations and in global consulting associations. It is an ideology that is entering in many areas of social life, because it appears as a value-free technique, which has been able to recycle many of the symbolic codes that Western civilization has associated with good life and wealth for millennia.

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The Organization of Consumption

The Organization of Consumption

The Great Transition/3 Young executives sacrificed, just like in the armies and pagan cults by Luigino Bruni published inAvvenire on 18/01/2015 One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish and disquiet formerly answere...
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The Great Transition/2 - Crucial innovation stems from among the youth and the poor

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/01/2015

Two prisoners, in two neighbouring cells, who communicate by knocking on the wall. The wall is what separates them but it is also what allows them to communicate. So it is between God and us. Every separation is a link, too.
Simone Weil (Gravity and Grace)

Innovation is a term in botany. It is used for buds and new branches. Innovations therefore need roots, good soil and a living plant.
They are life in bloom, generativity in action. And the innovations that become food, gardens and parks also require the work and patience of the farmer or gardener who accompanies them and looks after them during the frosts of the hard winters. And so the bud grows into a flower, the vineyard produces good wine, the fig tree starts to generate fruit after years of infertility and is saved.

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To understand what is happening to our economy and society, we need to get back to the botanical meaning of the term innovation, because it says a lot about the reasons of the crisis and the direction to follow. A first message that comes to us from the logic of innovation-bud is called subsidiarity: our hands and technology can only subsidize innovation, that is, they can help the bud bloom; but they cannot invent it. The most important part of the innovation process doesn't really depend on artificial interventions of the various "hands": it blooms, first of all, because of its inherent strength. For this reason it is only an illusion to think of increasing innovation in our economy without first dealing with the health of the humus, the trees and the plants. The reason for the lack of innovation is not in the bud that has "decided" not to flourish any more, neither in the laziness of the gardeners.

The crisis of our time depends on the drying out of the secular civil humus that has nourished our society and our economy; a humus composed of the ethics of virtues and generative sacrifice. And on those ancient fertile lands there are above all weeds flourishing and innovating today. To be able to see the innovations of the good plant again we have to start enriching the soil again, saving fragile trees and planting new ones in other lands. It is the humus (adamah) that feeds the homo (Adam) and generates all true humanism.

At the same time, in our time there are more innovations than we can see and record, because we look for them in the wrong lands. Many of the trees that innovate today have different shapes from the trees of yesterday, they often appear strange, and grow in soils where we do not expect to find them. We look for the beautiful and the good in the land where we used to see them and we do not see them anymore, so we are saddened. In fact, it would be enough to change places and eyes to start hoping already.
We cross our city centres and we see closed shops, offices emptied and rented, and often, the ugly betting rooms, the dens of gamble; and we are saddened with reason upon seeing these dead trees that were once full of buds.

It is the impoverishment of the gaze, the collective sense of sight that shortens the horizons and imprisons us in the problems and evils that are also always very abundant. The peoples get healed when inside the suffering of the "already" they know how to see a "not yet" that is possible and better. Hope is alive and at work if we are able to see the tree growing in the forest of falling trees, and dream the new wood and the forest of tomorrow around this new shoot. The growing tree is already there, we just have to learn collectively to recognize it and bring it to bloom by accompanying it. By seeing different trees full of buds you learn a lot, and it happens almost always during an existential crisis when the glint of the eyes lets you see differently and see more. There are a thousand colours in the many cities like Naples of our youth and the poor, but since we are asleep and sedated by consumption keeping us away from the streets and suburbs, we do not know how to notice them any more, and not seeing the sun and the bright colours of the sky we prevent the colours of our youth and the poor to relight in our cities.

If we give a careful thought to the plots of history, for example, we see that economies and civilizations have been able to recover, share and grow when they were able to see new salvations in different places that, in turn, were always peripheral. When there is no bread for the crowd, the five loaves for the new miracle lie in the hands of a little boy, where only different eyes can see and appreciate them.

Post-war Europe has produced authentic miracles because her political, economic and spiritual leaders have been able to include - with universal suffrage, but also in the factories, in schools for all... - millions of immigrant farmers of mainly southern origin, with many women and young people among them. And by emancipating them, despite all mistakes and contradictions, they have raised them all up. There is no other way: the essential energy in all the restarts is the hunger for life and future of the young people and the poor.

Contrary to what some celebrated innovation experts think and teach, many large rivers of wealth and employment are born because someone during the times of despair did not stop beating his fists on the rock until his hands were consumed. And one day another one replied, the fists formed a dialogue, the tears formed a spring. But young people and the poor who are hungry for life and a better future are not enough. Because it is the essential role of institutions to help the poor and the excluded become the engine of change in a country. Financial institutions are crucial among these.

The founders of the rural banks, savings banks, co-operative banks in the late nineteenth century had understood or realized that for the transformation of artisans and sharecroppers into entrepreneurs and co-operators there was a need for financial innovations, because traditional banks were no longer sufficient. That new season of industry and labour needed new local banks so that those communities could innovate in a new economy. And so they asked families, churches and political parties to start new processes, to collect the small savings and create people's banks that would be democratic and inclusive.

Today there is a whole swarm of new economy (the one I called "fourth economy" in last Sunday's commentary) that would need new financial institutions that are able to first see it, then recognize it as a good type of economy, then give it their trust and, finally, credit. Traditional financial institutions - and the great economist Joseph A. Schumpeter knew it very well over a hundred years ago - do not have cultural and economic categories for understanding the "ridge" type of innovations. Ridge innovations, unlike those of the "valley" type, are in fact typical of the age of transition, when some people, or many, find themselves on the ridge of their time and start catching sight of and pointing to new horizons. Consolidated institutions, and financial ones certainly, generally manage to believe in the innovations of the valley type, those that move within the world as it is and as it has been already for a good while. So usually they finance two categories of people: the ordinary people of the "normal" economy and the dishonest ones. But traditional institutions cannot understand innovations of the ridge type, because they cannot see them - they would not be the ridge type if they could.
And so the new entrepreneurs of the "fourth economy", when they go to the banks, with little physical capital (because they do not need it) and generally without experience (because they are young people), do not pass the exam of the credit limit and are increasingly trapped inside the algorithms and indicators of the economy of yesterday.

Therefore there is an urgent need for a new springtime of different financial institutions that do not look back in search of the guarantees of yesterday when deciding whether to trust and grant credit to new business projects, but instead, are able to look ahead and see the guarantees of tomorrow, those generated by the project that do not exist yet but might come along if they can see them and encourage them. And accompany them. A new key element of the financial institutions of the "fourth economy" is to think of themselves as real partners in the projects, a lot more and very differently from how it is already happening. The protagonists of the new economy speak languages that are different from those typical of the world of "doing business", they were not trained in business schools and therefore don't really know the codes of accounting and balance sheets, however necessary they are. It is therefore essential for a financial institution that glimpses innovation capable of generating income and employment not be limited to the provision of credit, but to place itself side by side with and assist these new entrepreneurs, who will become the good hands of the gardeners. The figure of the "fourth economy" bank will have to be found less at the counter and in the offices, and more in the new places of production, they will have to be more like entrepreneurs and less like financers, more the connoisseurs of trees and sprouts and less those of chemistry.

As I am writing the concluding lines of this article in Nairobi, I am looking at a morning march of thousands of young people from the window, wearing their only good clothes, coming from the slum shacks, going to work in the nearby bustling industrial area. And I can see that in the midst of the pain rising from these suburbs, true hope is also reborn. It is only by working that we can hope that one day we will be leaving our shacks behind, wearing our good clothes, never to come back.

 Further commentaries by Luigino Bruni in Avvenire are available through the Avvenire Editorial

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The Great Transition/2 - Crucial innovation stems from among the youth and the poor

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/01/2015

Two prisoners, in two neighbouring cells, who communicate by knocking on the wall. The wall is what separates them but it is also what allows them to communicate. So it is between God and us. Every separation is a link, too.
Simone Weil (Gravity and Grace)

Innovation is a term in botany. It is used for buds and new branches. Innovations therefore need roots, good soil and a living plant.
They are life in bloom, generativity in action. And the innovations that become food, gardens and parks also require the work and patience of the farmer or gardener who accompanies them and looks after them during the frosts of the hard winters. And so the bud grows into a flower, the vineyard produces good wine, the fig tree starts to generate fruit after years of infertility and is saved.

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The Roots of Development

The Roots of Development

The Great Transition/2 - Crucial innovation stems from among the youth and the poor by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 11/01/2015 Two prisoners, in two neighbouring cells, who communicate by knocking on the wall. The wall is what separates them but it is also what allows them to communicat...
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    [title] => The Genius of the Future is Mestizo
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The Great Transition/1 - Four (and more) different economies; new alliances

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 4/01/2015

How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road to progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trade unions and all the rest? How are you going to save it, I say? By what? By credit? What is credit? To what will credit lead you?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Idiot)

While we suffer from a crisis that seems (and is) too long, in order to cultivate hope that is not vain we should be able to see the bustling crowds of new life, businesses, work and innovation in the undergrowth of our economy. Because it is there, really. However, the quality of the new phase of our capitalism will depend on which contemporary economy is able to "attract", absorb and exploit all the young, intellectual and technological energy that is being released in and outside of the "canvas" (web).

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To date, financial and globalised capitalism seems to be far more equipped to bring the most creative part of our society to its side. It is so because of its powerful financial means, but also because it casts a spell through its symbols on the bests of the youth. It has been able to incorporate and recycle the most creative part of every generation that has up till now held up the success of capitalism in the twentieth century – just as Eve Chiapello and  Luc Boltanski show in their book "The New Spirit of Capitalism", recently published in Italian, too (Mimesis).

We need to become more aware of the fact that our economy is made up of at least four different economies (although those designing taxation, incentives and industrial policies continue to think that capitalism is only one). The first – that we can still call "capitalism" – is made up of businesses, banks, insurance companies and investment funds that are only born only to seize opportunities for profit or, more frequently, income.
These are almost always large organizations with widely scattered owners, run by managers who are paid beyond any common sense. They operate globally and carefully pick the right places for their tax offices and production units for the sole purpose of minimizing taxation and maximizing earnings – and they succeed because they have enough money to pay excellent tax advisers, authentic "saints" of tax havens and union havens. This capitalism creates efficient philanthropic organizations and sponsors with scientific and social research through homeopathic doses of profits. But its purpose, the only real purpose that makes it move is to make the most money in the shortest time possible. Gaming multinationals are the prime examples of this capitalism, which now includes many companies bought at a great price by private equity funds that in the recent years of severe lack of funding and liquidity are growing and gaining...also from the thousands of firms in difficulty they are buying up. At times these are "saved", financially, but jobs may not be saved, and almost always the founder's original project burns out, even when the old name and the old brands are kept – for profit. It is a process that is taking place on a large scale and is often intertwined with the illegal economy that is also in search of companies going through a crisis of capital. It is a phenomenon of vast and profound incorporation that is distorting much of our "made in Italy", and that is happening under a general inattention. The capital that are attracted in during times of crisis are (almost) never good. ‘How many companies of the "first capitalism" type are there in Italy?’ I asked a friend of mine who is a great connoisseur of the Italian economy a few months ago. ‘90% of the big anonymous companies that are not related to an owner family,’ he said.

There is, then, a second economy, made up of companies that resemble those of the first type of capitalism only in form. We realize that as soon as we set foot in their facilities and talk with the entrepreneurs, managers and workers. The culture that makes them move is another one, their horizon is deeper and wider. This is the "capitalism" of family firms. Behind the business plan here is the presence of a concrete person and a family, marking a first radical difference. The family capitalism is not in itself a guarantee of fairness, good management and ethics (we see that every day). The presence of a family at the helm of a company, however, is often a guarantee that the owners are interested in the long term and not in maximising profits of a very short period. Without the axis of time and the horizon of the future clearly visible in the company, work is not a friend of capital or of the "owners". This second economy is still one of the main walls of our economic and civil system.

There is a third economy, and it is precisely what some call the “third sector”. It is that of the social and cooperative economy, non-profit organizations, territorial and ethical financing and "value driven" businesses, and all that swarm of economic activities germinated from the heart of the Christian community and organised civil society. It is the economy that flourishes by ideals that are greater than economics. In times of crisis this third economy is continuing to grow, but is also experiencing an epochal crisis that turns primarily on the depletion of ethical humus from its soil. The second and third economy are the ones, in fact, that are suffering most because of the deterioration of the capital of the civil virtues that gave birth to their companies in the past decades. The first capitalism, however, grows very well in soils depleted of civil humus – just think, once again, of the gaming (gamble) multinationals that proliferate in the deserts of institutions and families.

But there is also a fourth economy (and we stop here, even if we could continue with public economy, with the criminal or the submerged ones...). It is creating jobs and is performing innovation in the field of the so-called sharing economy that seeks funding for new businesses outside the traditional circuits, through networking (crowd-funding), and is growing exponentially. It is work arising from the diverse world of critical consumption, from many last generation organic farms, where the farmer is more and more likely to be a young woman, a graduate who speaks four languages and divides her time between the care for her business and international travel. Many of the new jobs can be found here that are blooming around the care for cultural, artistic, musical goods, or the old water mills restored to produce energy, work and energy sovereignty. And it has so much beauty, a beauty that can really save us all. This is another, not so obvious type of economy, made up of activities that are very different but have their common denominator in an idea of fundamentally collaborative economy, where work and wealth do not arise primarily from competition, but from cooperation and the seeking of mutual benefit. It is a very intensive economy of the young, many of them immigrants, where the search for maximum profit is not the first motive, because the priorities are environmental sustainability, aesthetics, the taste of collective creativity, the joy of seeing sick and poisoned territories flourish, inventing apps (applications) that would work, and so - it's not just a random example - the "fresh produce" of the supermarket that is about to expire is transforming the waste into the cornerstone of the homes of many poor people. It is a new economy where gratuitousness and (a certain type of) market coexist and grow together.

Speculative-financial capitalism is pulling in heavily not only into the second economy of family firms, but, with its powerful media and great rhetoric it is also invading the third sector. The only possibility that these economies that are still different can be saved and grow is if a great alliance is created with the fourth largest economy that is young and creative, the one that is moving into new "environments", speaks other "languages", thinks, acts and prints in three dimensions.

The economies that are other than the first capitalism today must be able to bring the fourth largest economy over into their territories. And in the meantime they should also act on the border areas with first capitalism, the mestizo border areas. Within certain limits, that are variable and mobile in every age, even the first capitalism can produce good fruit. Every era has seen it do so. It is when, just as now, it overflows its banks and floods houses and fields that capitalism becomes the first enemy of the economy, work, and the common good. The unlikely and unexpected encounters are the most generative ones. It's biodiversity, in all its natural and civil forms, that feeds us and makes us all rich.

To meet this challenge which now seems impossible, a symbolic, linguistic and communicative change is also essential. Civil economy (the second and third economy) no longer has to resort to just vocabularies of ethics, virtues, altruism, of giving and solidarity. We must use the semantic register of sharing, excellence and creativity and apply them for larger goals than mere profits. It is through asking difficult things and presenting demanding challenges that we may attract the excellent people, especially when they are young. The world of civil economy still does not attract enough creative and innovative youth because it has not been able to renew its symbolic code appropriately, to translate its great words (gratuitousness, brotherhood, common good) in other words and new signs capable of arousing the enthusiasm of the best people in the best stages of their life, and then transforming their enthusiasm into work and life projects. We still have time, at least to give it a try.

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The Great Transition/1 - Four (and more) different economies; new alliances

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 4/01/2015

How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road to progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trade unions and all the rest? How are you going to save it, I say? By what? By credit? What is credit? To what will credit lead you?

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Idiot)

While we suffer from a crisis that seems (and is) too long, in order to cultivate hope that is not vain we should be able to see the bustling crowds of new life, businesses, work and innovation in the undergrowth of our economy. Because it is there, really. However, the quality of the new phase of our capitalism will depend on which contemporary economy is able to "attract", absorb and exploit all the young, intellectual and technological energy that is being released in and outside of the "canvas" (web).

[jcfields] => Array ( ) [type] => intro [oddeven] => item-even )
The Genius of the Future is Mestizo

The Genius of the Future is Mestizo

The Great Transition/1 - Four (and more) different economies; new alliances by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 4/01/2015 How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road to progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trade unions and all the rest? How are you...