Humanistic Management Manifesto. Foreword

by Marco Minghetti and Fabiana Cutrano

TO FEEL everything in every way,
To live everything from all sides,
To be the same thing in all ways possible at the same time,
To realize in oneself all humanity at all moments
In one scattered, extravagant, complete, and aloof moment.

Fernando Pessoa

The classical entrepreneurial paradigms, which have gradually established themselves over the last hundred years, are increasingly demonstrating their inability to offer neither satisfactory interpretations of the corporation, nor effective operational instruments for its management. The current limits of scientific management and its offshoots under a technical, psychosocial and political profile have been highlighted by many authoritative experts.

In this work, we are interested in underlining that the conditions of permanent uncertainty and low predictability of most strategic variables, now more than ever, imposes the need for companies to rapidly transform themselves. The change cannot be considered a phase of corporate evolution, as it has become the norm in contemporary organizations, called upon to be “mutants” time and again.

Intellectual capital thus becomes an inevitable generator of added value. However, as the “ideas factory”, unlike the assembly line, is based on creativity, on unexpectedness, on surprise and on emotions, the assumptions of a world where the roles are precise, the skills defined and the expertise homogeneous, no longer hold. The reality of a situation can no longer be traced with straight lines that connect individual points: on the contrary, it is represented by an infinity of possible paths, each of which merits exploration.

Instead, a single thought dominates scientific management and it is easy to understand the reason: having at one’s disposal a doctrine and relative set of formulas for intellectually and administratively dominating that part of our life, extremely mobile and elusive, dedicated to work, is certainly fascinating and apparently functional. Nevertheless, the doctrines and the formulas that have followed, from Taylor onwards, have almost always had a short life, especially in the last two decades. It is interesting to note how, once a doctrine and related formulary have faded, nobody wants to mention it any more and even less so, to make amends for having devised or recommended it.

In any event, the numerous failures of interpretations of the company as a machine or a perfect system have progressively given way to accepting the imperfect, the unusual, and the non-predeterminable. The old organizational metaphors are substituted by images arriving from play worlds and bound to the dimension of spare time. This happens because the awareness has finally prevailed that those creative attitudes that until now have always been relegated to the private sphere and considered to be in contrast with the conception of professionalism are necessary at work. The traditional methods and subdivisions of the company are waning and the necessity for experimenting approaches that are neither vertical, nor horizontal, but multidirectional and flexible is becoming increasingly felt. The need for a widespread ethical firmness has been imposed on everything, without which no economic situation, “old” or “new”, can last: as international news have eloquently borne witness to over the last few years.

In the light of these transformations, it appears necessary to produce an alternative vision of what “management” is, of how to manage corporations. Is a new paradigm needed? Before replying, maybe it is a good idea to discuss the actual notion of paradigm, as we are dealing with a concept with its own precise epistemological history, of which too relaxed a use is made for marking out the normative boundaries and frames of reference.

Historically, there are two versions of paradigm. The first, exposed to the temptations of a strong philosophy, sees the paradigm as a towering and omnivorous truth. The second, instead, is closer to the etymology of the term, to a classical, pre-scientific use: that which Thucydides did with it, for which paradeigma indicated the example that the master gave to his disciples to support certain theses, but without elevating himself to a paradeigma (a model of virtue or action). In this sense, the paradigm is a modest analogical support to help students better understand what experience, history and knowledge have to tell us.

In short, the first meaning is too strong, the second too weak. Better then to pass from paradigm (which, in any case, is static, closed and non-evolutive by definition) to a new discourse, which, with Lyotard, we could defined as “simply narrative” and founded “on a model related to ideas of internal equilibrium and conviviality”. A discourse able to grasp original concepts that can turn into novel practices, more appropriate to the continuous flow, in the Heraclitean sense, of the river of life and the evidence that the human dimension, luckily for us, escapes all conceptual containment: because the corporate one is also a “vital world”, with the individual at its centre.

To make this point clearer, it is useful to remember one of the most stimulating questions tackled by medieval logic concerning the problem of universals: do ante rem entities exist to which the real, material thing must necessarily conform? Platonic ideas, as well as the concepts, the essences in a strong sense, are universals, as a model of the existing singulars that are instead post rem. The universals are opposed, precisely, by the existentials (all of them are not just categories, but “things”). The existentials have their own reason for existence in their concrete giving  and sometimes, in their functioning. The being of the existentials is not necessary, but contingent: they are, but might not be; they exist here and now, but not necessarily there, afterwards or before. The “vital world”, as such, is an existential.

More precisely, according to Erving Goffman, a vital world is a relational system guided in its collective performance by shared beliefs and systemic empathy (and here “systemic” is not equivalent to “non-accidental”, but “structural”). As in string quartet, a rock band, a theatrical company, a winning sports team, a research laboratory or in a practice of associated professionals, in small and medium-sized Italian companies, in professional communities and in project teams that are created inside large corporations. It is essential that they are subjects in the making and thus changeable, in “conversation” with the surrounding world of others in existence, they adapt to them and vice versa. They can exist now in the north-east of Italy, in a suburb of London, or in a laboratory in Lens, but not necessarily in Canada, New Zealand or, in the future, in the same north-east area or in that same suburban neighbourhood in London4.

The company is therefore a world that is not fixed, not predetermined, transient and infinitely mutable, which management reads, interprets and listens to, not just for its own purposes, but also for the aims of those it has admitted and co-opted. From here the need to adopt forms of reading, interpretation and action directed, before everything else, to advise everyone on methods and possibilities to rediscover themselves, talk about themselves, make the most of their experience, prompt initiatives of personal care that, in addition to paying attention to physical well-being, are aimed at improving self-knowledge, as it is a narrative and philosophical art. An outlook that, at the same time, is platonically convivial and open to dialogue with others, the world, and the future. Crucial values, elusive where a techno-scientific work culture prevails, one that is incapable of referring to that more general belonging to a culture that cannot be anything other than humanistic.

This is how the idea came about for drawing up a “Manifesto” that in spirit (certainly not in letter) calls to mind that of the futurists. At first a series of propositions, regarding the dimensions – epistemological, psychological, political, aesthetical and ethical – necessary for describing any type of vital world (therefore also that of businesses). Nevertheless, unlike those who have also recently adopted the Manifesto genre to think about the themes of communication and corporate culture, we did not want to express “founding” theses, but rather “temporary”, “transitory”, “inconstant” and “impermanent” ones, as is the reality in which we live today. Variations in the musical sense, intended as rearrangements of a theme in terms of rhythmic, harmonic, contrapuntal or timbre aspects, such that the theme can always be recognised in constantly different forms. A compositional style that refers more to the Pictures at an exhibition by Mussorgsky (perhaps in Ravel’s masterful orchestration or, better still, in the incomparable interpretation by Emerson, Lake & Palmer) rather than Drucker’s theories.

Hence, chapters of in-depth analysis written by experts (just as the Futuristic aesthetic of Marinetti was specified by Boccioni, Carrà and others), united by a reflection that, until now, each had proposed individually, but also participating in, even if to a different extent, the debate on these issues that took place from 1997 to 2003 in Hamlet magazine, partly summarized in the book L’impresa shakespeariana (The Shakespearean Company)..

Another fundamental element of the workgroup is the characterization of its components. If each one of them, on one hand, represents a height of excellence in a branch of learning, a specific sector (sociology, epistemology, the theatre, ICT, etc.), on the other they are connoted by a strong aptitude for versatility, for multidisciplinarity and for contamination: a senior vice-president of personnel/cinema critic/psychotherapist (Varchetta), a professional trainer/comedian/town councillor (Bertolino), an anthropologist/writer/ technologist (Varanini), a sociologist/consultant/cultural operator (De Masi), an observer of the entrepreneurial world for several decades, four-headed as Brahma, Guardian of the Vedas (Varvelli), a well-known figure in the management field, but also in the visual arts and mathematics (Trupia), a university professor/communications professional/contract manager (Azzoni), a social researcher/ business television and business theatre producer (Notarnicola), a journalist/Internet guru/ manager of high-tech companies (Costa), a CEO/educator/essayist (D’Egidio), an epistemologist/ magazine editor/autobiographer (Demetrio), and a scholar who deals with politics, industrial economics, corporate strategies, networks and networking at the foremost Italian universities (Rullani).

In substance, portmanteau people, similar to the portmanteau words or mots-valises that were introduced into the poetic language of Lewis Carroll. The analogy is not casual.

Language – both the standard everyday one and the poetic, “deviant” and original one – is a system of signs governed by a code that is not given just once for good, that is not a closed, static matrix, but open, susceptible to change according to identified “needs”. If needs change, the code restructures and adapts itself to the new necessities. Take for example the “words-in-freedom” of the futurists: they are a linguistic tool for effectively translating a new sensibility that developed in the wake of scientific discoveries such as the telegraph, the telephone, the gramophone, the train, the bicycle, the motorcycle, the car, the transatlantic liner, the airship, the aeroplane, the cinema and the great daily newspaper, a “summary of a day in the world” (the list is by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti). It is the establishment of a new way of perceiving the world that ignites within the futurists the need and urgency for a new language (http://

Therefore, if we wish to introduce a new managerial discourse, it is necessary to express it in a “different” language, which can only be spoken by those whose own personal experience is marked by the rules and limits of the situation which caused the new “needs” to come forth and the desire to clearly express them.

However, it should be underlined that there are some highly distinctive elements characterizing the formulation of our Manifesto with respect to the futurist example. Firstly, the methodology adopted to arrive at the final product has been oriented to make the most of group creativity. The introductory “Variations”, compiled in their final version by the editors, have been developed through the discussion and preparation, by all of the experts, of a single questionnaire. In this way, a shared conceptual platform is established, which everyone has helped define and subsequently verify and validate, and from which specific analyses have been formulated: of a prevalently theoretical nature for the first part of the volume and specifically more practical for the second part. In any case, everyone has also been free to criticize or distance themselves from one or more of the Variations: thus, the final section reflects all of the aspects of the group’s intellectual elaboration.

For certain aspects, the method utilized is similar to the classic Delphi, a “scientific” method. At the same time though, it decidedly moves away from it, as our Manifesto has no pretension of scientificity in the classical sense. Actually, if anything, the aim is the opposite. What we needed was a way of ordering our thoughts, giving them a unity that did not sacrifice variety, to create a final product which is not similar to a “paradigm”, but rather a theatre script, a musical score, a multiform novel packed with characters like Manhattan Transfer by Dos Passos – at the same time realistic, symbolic, visionary, lyrical and prosaic, rich in interior monologues and fast dialogues, descriptions of landscapes and poetry quotations. Rationality is not necessarily identified with a scientific nature that reflects the past, in which the same “know” of “know how” is precisely a “known”, and not knowledge revealed to the future. To understand the present, look to the future and prepare yourself for the “event”, in the sense that Pirsig gave to the word in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – open-mindedness, self-analysis and individual reflection is needed, combined with the ability to continuously find original solutions, through a maniacal attention to context; to what is outside. In Plato’s Parmenides the difference between seeing  and looking can be perfectly caught.

One then [one, the indistinct being] […] is neither like nor unlike, neither with respect to something/someone else nor with respect to itself [XI, b] […] yet, if looking at it from afar and without acuity, it will appear as one, from close up and keenly examining it, it will immediately appear infinitely multiple [XXVI, b].

In deliberate contrast to scientific management and its derivatives, we have called the set of Variations and chapters the Humanistic Management Manifesto. A choice that calls for some explanation. Firstly, waving the “humanistic management” flag immediately renders the sense of difference between “scientific” and “humanistic” and therefore the radical novelty of which the Manifesto wishes to be the bearer. Yet, on the other hand, “humanistic” approaches to management have already been made in the past that have nothing to do with the new forms and new content that we wish to introduce. We are aware of the possible risk of misunderstandings: nevertheless, after careful reflection, we have reached the conclusion that the term “humanistic management” is still the best, in terms of consistency with the project.

To avoid being accused of vagueness, what we mean by humanistic refers to a specific intellectual affiliation, historically dated and rooted in Europe, specifically in classical Greece and the Italian Renaissance, now even more significant since precisely in the field of scientific research and innovation, the alternative cultural model which has prevailed in the United States appears to be in crisis. An intellectual affiliation that, however, cannot be just reduced or simplified to a sort of Italian or European style with unmistakable and graceful manners: a taste for beauty, for the arts, for the good things and the pleasures of life. Certainly, a good part of humanism is that ingenious Mediterranean, Greek, Latin and Renaissance spirit, elitist, aristocratic with aesthetic leanings, which points to an ideal of Epicurean joy of the moment; but it also fed by that ethic of respect, those evangelical and (tormented) secular formulations, which belong, for example, to Erasmian Renaissance thought: a wise (or tempered, Socratic) mediation between pietas and the culture of moral commitment.

Our search for a humanistic management moves between these polarities, with the fact remaining firm however that the views, reasons and humanistic sensibilities (nourished by doubts, controversial a priori truths and recurrent questions) have always been connected with the need to take measures, against any metaphysical hypostatization, towards the (pedagogical)  transformation of the world and, at the same time, the development of the individual’s intimate and internal life (self-teaching): towards oneself, personal responsibility, one’s own infinite journey of personal quest.

Take note, though. The humanism that we wish to propose has the overcoming of the typical contradictions of modern dichotomous thought amongst its characteristics: therefore, also the opposition between “scientific” and “humanistic”12. Giving emphasis to the adjective “humanistic”, the risk, however absurd, is not just that of losing sight of what is good in the scientific paradigm, but most of all, what Humanism has always been: a synthesis of many cultures, which also includes the scientific one.

It is necessary to pause here a moment on the responsibility of the school and the universities for having exacerbated an old rift but which, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reached the point of producing the net distinction between science of the spirit and science of nature. The path of an evolution of thought that thrusts its roots at the origins of the Modern Age and in the progressive emancipation of the various scientific branches from Philosophy and Theology, precisely through the birth of the scientific method, was thus completed. The same advent of the Modern Era is fluid and its traces, as Hauser wonderfully showed in his Social History of Art, can be found throughout the Middle Ages. But, above all, it asserts itself as a vast movement that slowly involves all aspects of our life: from politics (birth of nation states) to religion (thanks to the Reformation), to private life (appearance of the middle classes), to economic development (industrial revolutions). And it is precisely in “managerial” life that modernity arrives last. Following the development of life sciences, management also becomes “scientific”, with the studies of Taylor and Fayol.

From that moment, the idea of science has pervaded company organizations, private and public, amidst the elision of the individual identity, but without the deep understanding of the value and ethics of scientific thought becoming widespread. The misunderstandings between science and technology have done the rest: they have marked the original rupture even more, causing an attitude of condescendence – if not annoyance – towards all that “smacks” of philosophy, literature, calm reflection within an organizational culture.

Yet something is changing. Narrative, poetry, theatre, cinema and the visual arts are increasingly capturing the interest of many creative people, intellectually alive, responsive to change, affirming themselves as potent tools of individual and collective growth, based on solid ethical reflection. As scientific culture is invasive up to the point of making itself all reaching, borne out by the technological spin-offs, so is the humanistic one, which is capable of comprising the scientific and technological ones. If this is aimed at the lessons drawn from the conception of humanitatis virtutes directed to the recomposition and synthesis of opposites, the other looks for and acts on separations, disaggregations and negotiated, short-lived recompositions. If one tries for thousands of years to understand human nature in depth, eschewing impossible explanations, accepting and reproposing them as a circumstance of problematicism, the visiting of which could give rise to something new, the other makes use of its extremist streak to expel any turbulence that is not explainable through the age-old methods of observational identification.

In conclusion, the time has come to return to the wisdom of our parents when they advised us to, “go to a secondary school specializing in the Classics and then you will also have the foundations to become an engineer”. The question is not only pertinent to the method of work, the basic preparation for methodical learning: it is a question of values. Start with the study of Greek and then study the science in depth, or rather systematize the various elements: Aristophanes and the latest software, the parallel lives of Plutarch and human resource management, the Odyssey and the development of a new product for a new market, Plato’s Republic and the vision of a company. In this way, humanism can grow at the individual level, which must then learn, at the corporate level, to populate the automatisms and expert systems on which the modern production system is based, jamming mechanical, irresponsible operations. This is the difficult part of the task.

A task that can only be performed by referring to a reflective humanism centred on contamination, on diversity, on multidisciplinarity that must not become a Babel of confusion. A humanism in which Dionysus and Apollo, the professional and the manager, the technologist and the novelist meet, discovering, as happened to two theologians, bitter enemies in a famous tale by Borges, that in the eyes of the Supreme Being they are all part of the same multi-faceted oneness.

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