30 September 2009

Modern Corporation: modeled on the medieval church

In two earlier posts, I concluded that the medieval church became evil. This matters because the medieval church is still a model for institutions who could follow it down the same path. It is difficult to overcome a blueprint at the foundation of Western Civilization, a blueprint referenced in the design of the modern corporation. The medieval church had popes and priests who discerned the will of God and directed the congregants; the modern corporation has CEOs and mangers who discern the will of the market and direct the employees.

The US represents for many the apex of progress yet 84% of people here are unhappy in their jobs.

Job dissatisfaction hardly compares with burning at the stake. In the grand scheme of history, it is a fairly petty and pathetic complaint to be unhappy at work. Yet if one can’t enjoy what one does all day – what defines one’s life – it makes one question the progress up to this point. Is this really the culmination of thousands of generations of genetic and social evolution? Or could it be that the transformation of work and what it means to create value and to be valued is the next personal frontier, the domain for the next revolution?

About a decade ago, I went into GM to do some training and consulting work. I left appalled. The managers were conscientious and the employees seemingly sincere and yet they seemed more like parents and children than consenting adults. The distribution of power constrains employees from acting like adults.

The corporation – GM and nearly every business – could learn something about needed change by looking at the huge transformation of the church over the last half millennia.

Two big changes to come out of the Protestant Revolution were the entrepreneurial approach to religion and the shift in authority to the individual. These two are inextricably linked.

Post- Protestant Revolution religion is wildly entrepreneurial. Luther claimed that we are all priests and the germ of this idea – the notion that individual revelation and conviction ought to be the root of religious belief – continues to spark new denominations. The World Christian Database tracks 9,000 denominations.

In terms of freedoms granted, the church may be the most evolved and modern of our institutions. Churches either meet the need of their congregants or the congregants go elsewhere – or nowhere. It is not just freedom across religions but within. Even people who call themselves Catholic can profess and practice very different things from each other.

If the medieval church is the model for the current corporation, we can hope that the post-Protestant Revolution church is the model for the future corporation.

There is a great deal that will be different in the next version of the corporation, but most of these changes will begin with a shift in the notion about where authority ought to lie: in central authorities or in the individual. It means trusting the individual with true freedom. All the needed design changes for the corporation can follow from this profound shift.

1 comment:

Lifehiker said...

Wow! Although I felt I had a lot of autonomy in my corporate job, and enjoyed it (mostly), it's hard for me to imagine a decentralization of authority without some very clear ground rules.

You could write more on this, Ron.