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The link between Kant, Marcus Aurelius and business

He is an industrialist in the clothing sector, an international success story in Italian production. He has a factory in a fourteenth-century village near Perugia. He dedicates time every day to reading a book, declaring himself to be a great fan of Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian and Plato’s dialogues on Socrates, the memoirs of Marcus Aurelius and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Saint Benedict who taught us to be strict and gentle, a demanding master and a loving father, and Kant, awed “by the starry sky above me and the moral law within me”, the lesson in tolerance of Frederick II  and the passage from the Bible in which the prophet Ezekiel asks the sentinel how long the night is, receiving the answer that it is not long or short but dawn is breaking.

His name is Brunello Cucinelli and to those who interview him (La Stampa, 15 June) he demonstrates the importance of a great cultural passion for success in business. It takes culture in fact in order to be competitive. Technical culture (production and products) and general culture (contexts, visions of the future, the soul of those who produce and those who consume goods and services). Innovation is in fact expressed through technologies. Yet technologies are none other than a thought which links mental processes to manual skills. It is the actual long history of business in Italy which documents how the key to success lies still in the extraordinary capacity of product ranges to adapt to the changes in needs, cultures, customs and consumption of the various groups of the public, on markets which are constantly changing.

Cucinelli, as a “humanist” entrepreneur, is the umpteenth demonstration of the accuracy of the definition of a great historian such as Carlo M. Cipolla on the Italian aptitude “to make fine things, which everyone likes”. It is also necessary to have, deep down in one’s personal identity, the colours of Titian, the heresies on the light of Caravaggio, the unprejudiced curiosity of Giordano Bruno and Galileo, the moral passions of Leopardi and the painstaking research of Giulio Natta (even without explicit awareness of the exact cultural references) in order to be able to create growth for companies whose competitive rationale is based on style, culture and quality.

Technology is equal to thought”, wrote in fact Il Sole24Ore in its review a few months ago (4 November 2012) of the republication, by Bollati Boringhieri, of A History of Technology edited by Singer,  Holmyard, Hall and Williams in 1954, a “classic” which still has a lot to say. What? For example that the science education of the new generations does not coincide with simple technical training, that technology is closely related to science, placing it within the dimension of “applied research”, and that the capacity for specialisation is definitely necessary, but without forgetting the essential nature of the general vision. As every good philosopher of science knows (and as the fanatics of technology forget).

It is important therefore to discuss openly technologies, the greater spread of scientific culture and more prolific relations between university education and the needs of the labour market, i.e. of companies. Without forgetting in fact the testimony of Cucinelli (and the corporate histories of Olivetti and Pirelli, to extend the range). Without falling into the trap of the opposition between scientific culture and humanistic culture, yet if anything storing up the experience gained in France’s grandes écoles where engineers have, among the compulsory subjects for study, philosophy, drama and writing. General thinking in fact, in order not to be technical but good technologists, able to think of a machine, its production effects, the relations with those who adopt it, the economic, social and environmental spin-offs. Something the Italian Politecnici also know well. Culture is business, just as business is culture.