So one of three things happened that got you here. The first is you clicked a picture on Google, which left you on this page wondering what the hell is going on. The second is you’re a history buff and want to see what ludicrous idea you need to shoot down via a smart-ass comment. The last is you’re a regular reader of the site and know that this should provide at least a few moments of sanity to go along with a chuckle or two.
Kudos to the third person and sorry to the first. As for the second, this is for you:
And just to be clear, that’s not because you know more history or because you can probably prove me wrong, it’s just because nobody asked for your historical opinion. I won’t claim to be a historian here — in fact I haven’t read about feudalism since grammar school — nor will I argue that my article is not an insane stretch. I already know these things, but nonetheless I’m going to share the idea I came up with while on my nightly run.
Side Rant – The best way to forget how much running sucks and to prevent your body from realizing the torture you’re putting it through is to think about other stuff while you’re doing it. Based on that I always wonder if the best runners in the world just have a good imagination or if this strategy is exactly why I was never an elite runner.
So how do I tie feudalism, a class system that existed mainly during the medieval times in Europe, with modern day businesses? Well I started by doing some very light reading and then quickly finding a pyramid that I could use to better understand it. The pyramid also gave me the opportunity to cast my own assumptions on feudalism, which is great when you’re attempting to make a comparison because it allows you to tie things together that shouldn’t be. It’s also basically cheating, but I’m already 300+ words into this thing, so we’re going with it.
Here we go.
Now that we have our pyramid, we can start making the comparisons. First you have the king, they’re the head honcho. They get to make the decisions, collect the vast amount of the profits and are in charge everyone else within the society.
Looking at a large business, you have the CEO or Board of Directors who serve in a very similar role. They are responsible for the success of the business or “society” and they are in charge of everyone that factors into it. They also usually reap the majority of profits via either true income or a high salary. They run the show and they get all the benefits of doing so.
In both scenarios the role may have been attained through hard work or by taking it from someone else. It also could have been handed down from family member to family member.
Also in both scenarios, not all of the people at the top of the pyramid are bad and not all treat their employees/subjects poorly. Conversely, some work their employees very hard and share very little of the rewards.
At the end of the day, both kings and CEOs provide many of the same things — land, safety and protection — but in very different senses.
In all scenarios, everyone wants to be the king.
In the feudal chart above, the Lords are responsible for providing armies and loyalty. Pretty straightforward and pretty important to ensure that your society stays intact with you at the top.
These people are your upper management in the company. They are responsible for being the quintessential “Yes Men” and ensuring that the king stays happy at all times. They do this through assuring profitability, thus keeping the “kingdom” whole and by making sure the lower classes function as expected.
To an extent this class also reaps in the rewards but are tasked with doing much more work at the same time. They have the ear and company of the king, which allows them to influence decisions and partake in some of the fun. They also have the ability to change or overthrow the king if they really want, however that’s far and few between in the modern day, as I would assume it also was in the middle ages.
Lords need to keep the respect and popularity of the people while ensuring they do whatever is necessary to keep their fortune as well. Welcome to your upper management.
This is probably the hardest one to tie back to today’s companies because knights were used for intimidation, protection and to take over other people’s stuff with physical force. Sure I could come up with scenarios where those things might happen, but it’s easily the biggest stretch of this whole thing.
So what comparison can I come up with? Well I guess we can compare them to middle management.
Middle management answers to the lords and of course the king. They are responsible for keeping the entry level workers and the other employees on task and in line. If they are salespeople, they could be responsible for taking other peoples business and further building the “empire”.
They are also rewarded much less than the other two class systems while doing a large part of the work to keep the business where it needs to be and growing. Under-appreciated and often thought of as replaceable, middle management is usually only recognized once it’s gone. Every once and a while someone will rise through the ranks, but that to seems far and few between without jumping to another “kingdom” or business.
Based on what I knew, being a knight seems very similar. Every once and a while a great warrior would ascend through the ranks and become a lord, however more often they were used for their skills and an afterthought post-use. That of course was until a king and lords found themselves lacking an experienced and loyal army.
Lastly we have our peasants who basically work for all of the basic things that humans need. In return for houses, protection and food, these people were responsible for busting their ass day in and day out. These workers either worked harder or just as hard as the knights but received less compensation.
At times they may have been less qualified for the other positions or were just born to the wrong family/situation. Either way they ended up working just to survive, which is not a notion that’s lost in today’s society.
Similarly, the lower you are on the company ladder, the more likely you’re doing “grunt work” and being compensated less than the coworkers above you in the pyramid. In some cases the lower wages and compensation are deserved for the job that’s being done, while in others the gap is far too large.
Also, some workers find themselves in these positions for survival while they can’t find jobs in the other sections of the pyramid. As you could have guessed, the higher you go in any pyramid model, the less open slots there are.
So there you have it, my best attempt to tie feudalism to today’s companies.