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A tale of corporate liturgy

Do you think the words vision, mission, positioning, brand, merger, acquisition, trust, start up and spin off indicate modern issues? Just try to look back, to Catholic organizations of the Middle Ages, and maybe you will change your mind.

This is what medievalist Alessandro Barbero, an Italian professor, has suggested during his speech “At the origin of the company organization: religious orders in Middle Ages” at the “Festival della comunicazione” in Camogli, near Genova, Italy.

Was Steve Jobs’ look (jeans without belt and a black shirt) an innovative one? If you go back to the XIII Century, you can see how St Francis imposed on his friars a simple and poor uniform to be suddenly recognizable in their mission. The sharp hood was the main symbol of this uniform: a look borrowed by the friars from the poorest people.
After St Francis’ death, the debate on the hood’s shape was one of the causes of the spin off of the Capuchins, a new order maintaining the sharp hood.
The fight for the right to wear the white mantle between the Templar Knights (with a red cross) and the Teutonic Knights (with a black cross) was also a brand-related dispute going on for decades.
The Hospital Knights (later named the Knights of Malta) also wore a similar uniform, a black mantle with a white or red cross.

Barbero explains how orders were founded to fulfill a need: at the beginning, after 1000 a.C., the fear of God’s Judgement was enforced by monks who prayed for men’s soul (Benedictine). Than came the Crusades, the battle to free Jerusalem from the muslims, leading to a fighting attitude (the Templars and other knights). Cathars’ efforts to introduce a new Christian way were instead fought by preaching (originating the Dominican order). The hate against an excessively wealthy Pope gave birth to the Franciscans. Finally, during the second half of the XVI century, Jesuits were a result of the struggle against the Protestants.

What the catholic clergymen had accomplished could now be called positioning, diversification, branding, corporate image through majestic headquarters and operational effectiveness thanks to a strong organization.

As Catholicism reached market saturation, it unfolded a new age of mergers, battles with ‘antitrust authorities’ (monarchies) and differentiation. What happened to the Knights is a good example: after the defeat of Christianity in Jerusalem, the Templars were banished and dispossessed by the Pope and the European monarchies, the Teutonic order disappeared and the Hospital Knights reinvented themselves as ‘guardians of the sea’, settling in Malta and changing their name to the current Order of Malta.

If you google ‘Vision 2050’, you reach two big organizations: the first one is WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), founded in 1986 and based in Geneva; the second one is the Order of Malta.

Is the corporate use of the words ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ just a coincidence or a deliberate reference to ancient religious organizations?

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