The Merchant World is all too often the poor relation of the six reference Worlds that enable us to visually map the Worlds present within an organisation, or between two organisations that need to cooperate. We carried out a World analysis on the motivational levers of the Corporate Banking teams of a major European bank: Paris, London, Benelux. Paris turned out to be the least commercial of the teams. The French spirit is often more intellectual than commercial. Whether it’s inspirational, industrial or civic, it prefers ideas and concepts and is loathe to put them into practice pragmatically, to win whatever it takes.
That’s why the example of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher, is such a fascinating bridge between these two worlds.
He was behind a number of initiatives, the most significant of which was the creation of the “carrosses à cinq sols”, the first intra-urban public transport network in Paris. In the 17th century, only people with private means of transport could travel quickly around the capital. Pascal’s idea was to create a network of five routes, three of which would leave from the Luxembourg Gardens, where he lived, to enable the bourgeoisie of the time, for a relatively modest sum, to cross Paris at their leisure. Dated 1662, this innovation was a huge popular success, earning him the equivalent of an annual income of 250,000 euros, proof of the financial success of the operation.
More than two centuries before Taylor took an interest in scientific management, what lessons can Marchand draw from these Pascalian adventures?
- Segment your market. Pascal was aiming at the bourgeois who couldn’t afford to live like the gentlemen but who, thanks to the equivalent of ten euros, managed to do so by taking their turn in the carriage. We are in a mid-range to top-of-the-range segment.
- Set a price that makes sense to the buyer. Pascal’s arithmetic machine was a failure because of its exorbitant price, which limited its expansion (today, only 9 of the 20 built are listed worldwide). For this new project, the price is not set at random, since it corresponds “to the amount of a soldier’s daily pay, or the price of a medical procedure such as bloodletting”. In short, pricing that takes into account a psychological threshold.
- Communicating in the Other World. Pascal emphasised the exceptional nature of his arithmetic machine. In contrast, the five-salary carriage was presented as “the coach in the country”: he emphasised its commonplace nature, the fact that it was a commodity available to all, in keeping with the manners and customs of the time.
- Defining his business model: Pascal outsources everything he can, from manufacturing, thanks to a network of Norman craftsmen, to distribution. He controls both ends of the chain, mastering the upstream end (product design) and the downstream end (communication with the public) “in the same way as Apple or Nike”.
- Monitor the quality of execution. Pascal does not confuse his theological work with this commercial experience. For here he is not inventing anything: public transport already exists in other cities. But he is innovating, which is not the same thing. “The arrangement of materials is new,” he wrote in one thought. “When you play paume, it’s the same ball played by both, but one places it better”.
- Think big: “scalable” we would say in start-up language. The regional and international expansion of the concept was under discussion at the time of Pascal’s death.
When the Civic World meets the Commercial World, value creation is optimal.
With this project, which became a public success, the philosopher demonstrated two things that should no longer surprise us three centuries later:
1) the Merchant approach to management methods did not wait for the 20th century to appear; they already existed in the 17th century
2) Neither did the notion of an organisation’s “raison d’être”: this commercial operation was also a charitable enterprise aimed at giving people the chance to live like Princes, riding in a coach.
You can explore deeper your Merchant and Civic Worlds together, instead of pitting them against each other.