Abbot Ferdinando Galiani, the Neapolitan economist very popular in French enlightenment salons, maintained that markets are conversations. This is the phrase used in the opening of the Cluetrain Manifesto, the book by Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger which in 2000, with its passionate supporters and harsh critics, attempted to define the new era of Internet communication which turned marketing and corporate cultures upside down. It maintained that firms have to ask themselves where their corporate culture ends and, if it ends before the community starts, then they have no market. The train of thought is fascinating and the relationship between the lucid awareness of one of the finest brains of the eighteenth century in Italy and the vision of US hi-tech environments confirms the degree of strength the European cultural and philosophical tradition can still have in uncertain times in which past and future have to build new synergies for development.
“Conversations”, therefore. Abbot Galiani used, like all cultured people of that time, an elegant French which won over Madame Louise d’Épinay, Rousseau’s patroness. Today the language of markets is English or, more precisely, that meagre hybrid of British English and American English which allows people in finance, trade and business to talk to and understand each other from Hong Kong to New York, London to Mumbai, Qatar to Singapore and so on, globalising. A sort of contemporary sabir, the language (a blend of Italian and Arab dialects, Spanish, French and Greek) which over the centuries had allowed merchants and sailors to understand each other along the shores and in the ports of the Mediterranean.
English, therefore. Top language on markets in the global world. A language that needs to be known, spoken well and considered carefully and respectfully on account of its function in relationships, information and communication. A business language and an essential language (in the dual sense of its unavoidable usefulness and also the fact that it is reduced to the minimum of the terms that are indispensable for exchanging goods, property and services). And also the language of fundamental scientific relationships and international relations.
Here it is worthwhile stopping a moment to reflect on why one language is much more than a means of economic and political exchange. It expresses history, culture, personal and social values, ideas, habits and customs. It bears witness to complex identities, ways of seeing power and faith and also law, hope and love. It reveals projects for building and managing communities. A language is life and therefore a mobile and variable structure with its roots and contemporary side.
Italian business is flexible, innovative, creative and capable of winning over markets not because our entrepreneurs speak English (they have to speak it, but that’s not where their strength lies) but above all because they have a multiple cultural, artistic and social history behind them, filled with imagination. All this cultural heritage is manifested in a language, Italian. A language to be saved and valued therefore, both in schools and at work.
And conversation? In English, around the world, yet with national languages as a background present at the same time as an indispensable value. Good Italian multinational companies know, because in fact they are used to the intelligent Italian flexibility and the importance of culture, creativity and imagination (expressed above all in national languages), that you need to be “Brazilian in Brazil, Turkish in Turkey, Chinese in China”, “resilient”, therefore, and adaptable to change. The richness and competitiveness of Italian entrepreneurship and management lie in fact in Italians’ ability to free themselves of the patterns of managerial culture with an Anglo-Saxon imprint which until recently was prevalent (and today in serious hegemony difficulties after the great crisis of financial rapaciousness born in London and New York). Of caring for and promoting, in Italian business, the values, cultures and languages of the countries where we go to invest, export and build factories and service structures. A small Italian supremacy which has to be sustained and maintained.