Sunday, July 27, 2014

What are Americans obsessed by? The three C’s: control, competition, and choreography

“Do you remember your, ahem, appreciative remarks to the woman who marched onto the assembly line? Don’t do that when the Americans are here. A woman from Italy might laugh; a Michigan girl will sue.”
  Beppe Severgnini tries to explain Americans to a bunch of Italian autoworkers at the Fiat-Chrysler plant Melfi, southern Italy.
“Americans are great to work with, but they have their manias, just like us,” I started out. “They are obsessed by three C’s: control, competition and choreography. You may think this is odd, but you have to respect it. After all, the United States is the most powerful country on the planet.”

 … Control reveals America’s passion for order and predictability. How-to books date from Benjamin Franklin, who was always quick to spot a market niche. America is a nation of optimistic self-improvers, convinced that happiness is above all a question of mind over matter.

The books also prove that Americans reject the idea that success comes all at once, without effort or luck. Often, we Italians mistake this for naïveté, but it actually reflects a love of precision and a desire to stay in charge of your own life. Don’t mock it.

The second C-word is competition. Americans love it; we fear it. Americans are prepared to lose in order to win, in almost every aspect of life. In Italy — and in most of Europe — we hate losing more than we love winning and tend to settle for an uneventful draw.

Come to think of it, competition goes a long way toward explaining the excellence and excesses of the United States, including the abundance of colleges, the number of television channels and the financial instability of the many airlines. You build automobiles here. Your American colleagues know that these automobiles have to be better than the ones your competitors make. If they aren’t, it’s only right that you go bust.

For a long time in Italy, we thought that back-scratching regulations and protectionism would save our industry. How wrong we were. Competition in America is more than a healthy economic precept; it’s a moral imperative.

The third word on the list is choreography. In Italy, important events like presidential inaugurations, national holidays or graduation ceremonies are slightly boring. Americans are convinced that anything important has also got to be spectacular, if not plain over the top, and ear-splittingly loud.