Being an engineer, I have several friends who fill similar technical positions in the companies they work for. Quite often, we have the opportunity to talk about our jobs. One of the questions that rises more frequently is: in general, why do the sales guys earn more money than the technical people? Obviously, the thought underlying this question is that this situation is unfair. In my friends’ view, those who conceive and develop the product is supposed to make more money than people who just sell it. But, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. Why?
When this question is addressed to me, I answer by saying that an outstanding product will not be successful without an effective communication but even a mediocre product may be successful if promoted by an effective communication. This means that, although an engineer would never want to hear this, the communication is at least as important as the product conception and development.
This specific example refers to the world of business and marketing where the importance of the communication is known to such an extent that even specific degree courses around it have been created. The massive use of the communication for commercial purposes belongs to our common experience of consumers living in the capitalistic era.
Capitalism is a relatively young phenomenon in the history of mankind but of course, communication didn’t begin with it. If we go back in time, in fact, we discover the use of communication techniques way before the coming of the consumer society, for instance in the history of arts.
As known, my country is one of the—if not the—richest in terms of works of art. As such, I am so lucky to live in a place where people are continuously submitted to stimulus related to the history of arts. Paintings, monuments, sculptures, etc. are everywhere around us and we constantly face this huge legacy. From time to time, I attend public talks or take a guided tour to visit such places. As I have never studied art history, the help of a guide is valuable to contextualize and to understand the works of art I am looking at. In many cases, this support allows me to grasp the messages which the authors wanted to convey to the observers. In general, these works leverage a strong symbolism to embed such messages. Contrary to what I thought, it is not rare that the messages are related to very practical issues. Pertinent examples of this usage are the statements of the power of the aristocrats of the Middle Age and the Reinassance or the impositions of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, the work of arts that were created before the mass literacy played the role of today’s media (press, radio/TV, Internet). As the masses were not able to read and since there wasn’t any way to spread vocal messages, the visual communication was by far the form which was utilized the most (to some extent, this is still true nowadays). With regard to this, the strategies developed by the Roman Catholic Church throughout its millennia of history represent a masterpiece of communication science. The cathedrals, the iconography, the liturgy, etc. have been brilliantly designed to instill in the believers—who are considered sinners by definition, according to the Catholic doctrine—the guilt and to put them in a position of inferiority with respect to the Church and to the clergy, the only institutions holding the Truth. This complex system proved to be very effective as it allowed the Church to keep the secular power for centuries.
I had the chance to see another fitting example a few weeks ago when I attended a public lesson by professor Maurizio Viroli. This event is part of an interesting history lecture series that take place at the Giovanni da Udine theater. Each lesson is held by a different professor and is related to a specific topic such as the fortress town of Palmanova or the birth and the development of the bourgeoisie. The starting point of the lessons are always a work of art. In the case of professor Viroli’s lesson, his speech started from the analysis of the famous fresco The Allegory of Good and Bad Government which is a clear example of the use of visual communication as an educational method. This painting is located in one of the rooms of the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena where the city governors used to meet. The purpose of the fresco is not only to remember the governors how they should have run the public affairs. It was also conceived to address the common people. With this regard, it was supposed to communicate the following message. Although they were simple private citizens, they should have taken care of the public affairs as well by constantly keeping an eye on the governors’ work. According to professor Viroli’s interpretation, only caring about private matters is the first step toward the tyranny.
More recent and well-known examples of the effectiveness of the communication can be mentioned like the use of the pop music to convey strong political messages (i.e. the opposition to a war) or the use of mass media to affect the rising markets of the cryptocurrencies. This last fact reminds me of the irrational craziness we witnessed around the year 2000 when it seemed that any business related to the Internet space would have been amazingly successful. Nowadays, the communication is used to fuel the hype around a specific topic related to the digital currency world. For instance, it is sufficient that several media outlets orchestrate the discussion on a certain cryptocurrency to astonishingly drive its value up by attracting many inexperienced investors. A similar thing may happen in the stock exchanges. Some companies implement a very effecting communication—from their point of view—by just adding the word “blockchain” to their name to triple the price of their shares.
To conclude this post, I will talk about a positive example which deals with motivational and inspirational issues and which is taken from the world of sports. Like everybody, sometimes I am in over my head. In those moments, the problems I have to deal with in my personal life or at work seems insurmountable and I kind of feel overwhelmed by them. But at some point, the picture that I chose as the featured image of this post suddenly pops into my mind. It refers to the triumph of Beatrice “Bebe” Vio in the last Paralympic Games in Brazil. For the reader’s convenience, here is the clip of that moment (minute 14:22).
Every time I watch this clip I have the goosebumps. Anyone who knows what Bebe Vio had been through understands the irresistible explosion of feelings she lived in that very moment. It seems she can overcome the laws of the physics and fly along with her wheelchair any second. When I watch this sequence, in the blink of an eye, I put my problems in perspective and I find the energy to tackle them. This is the mighty message that almost anybody perceives when watching this clip for the first time. However, I think there is another powerful one, even though it is a little bit hidden, less flashy. I’m talking about the magnificent elegance with which Bebe’s opponent—who, it is worth remembering, has just lost an Olympic gold medal—celebrates the victory of the Italian fencer.
The composure, the sincere smile, and the genuine applause of the Chinese athlete Jingjing Zhou all represent an equally powerful message in terms of motivation and inspiration.