A world in which there are no rules. Where the arguments are replaced by the force. In which betrayal, fraud, and even the evilest crimes are the simplest recipe for power. That’s how Italy looked like in Machiavellian times. And, in many ways, how a modern business looks like.
Machiavelli lived in the early 16th century when Italy was divided into many independent, constantly fighting states. He did not like it and wanted to reunite the country. However, he saw that contrary to the beliefs of the idealists, obeying strict moral rules doesn’t mean that everything will end well. Most commonly the opposite is true.
According to the Italian thinker, the whole world is ruled by two forces. One of them is a fortune – a natural course of events over which man has no influence. The other is virtu – skills and knowledge of the human being, who knows the laws of nature, cause and effect relationships and can act in accordance with them. Not ethics, but precisely this knowledge allows you to be successful and survive in a world full of dangers.
The philosopher’s thesis fits well when talking about business. You have to distinguish those who act ethically and according to the law from those who are successful.
However, despite his appearances, Machiavelli wasn’t amoral. He knew that crime is a crime under all circumstances, but sometimes it is necessary to commit it to avoid an even greater evil. It would be great if every ruler was generous – but then he would have to raise his taxes to a point when that would cause riots.
Similarly, in business sometimes we’re in the no-win situation when we have to choose between two things. Is it morally acceptable to fire a few employees to cut costs and save the company from bankruptcy, when we’re in a difficult financial situation? No matter what we going to choose, someone has to pay to price. However, an Italian thinker would not hesitate for a second – if we want to survive in the market, we must be able to sacrifice our particular interests.
The phrase “the end justifies the means” best summarizes his philosophy. In order to do something good, very often you have to low bow.
Machiavelli, however, thought it was useful to know what was considered to be fair. An effective ruler shouldn’t pay too much attention to ethical principles but must be aware that others take them into account. It is one thing to be just and another to seem just.
Many corporations are bragging about social campaigns or foundations they support, and actions they give patronage to. Do they do it out of a sense of mission? Who cares! It is an effective way of doing marketing, it attracts customers and that’s the most important thing.
The philosopher, unlike most of his predecessors, wasn’t interested in abstract ideas, for him it was only facts that mattered. A “good product” is a product that sells well. A “good company” is a company that generates high profits. A “good employee” is an effective one.
It is worth mentioning, that it also refers to Machiavelli’s philosophy itself. It may seem cruel and brutal – we can think that the people who follow it are tyrants, without any human feelings. But that’s a reality, and we can not deny it. We all would like the world to be a place without people who want to dominate others at all costs, who treat all moral rules subjectively and who are prepared to commit the greatest crime in the name of their own success.
But there are such people. Also among our competitors.