So the other night, Jessica and I are bingeing on The Outlander: Season 1. We’re behind the times. We’ll watch Stranger Things in like 2023. Anyway, in Episode 11 the lead characters, Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire, head back to his home, Lallybroch. For those that don’t follow the show, it is set in Scotland in the year 1743. Upon returning, Jamie resumes his role as Laird of Lallybroch. He clashes with his sister and her husband who have been running the home and the surrounding system. The tenant farmers come in pay their taxes to the estate. Jamie forgives one of the men who can’t pay his taxes that he grew up with who had a poor harvest. The brother-in-law, who seems like kind hearted guy, tells Jamie he can’t do that because the estate has expenses and taxes to pay itself.
Watching the show, it hit me that Jamie is a bit of a small business owner. He had been away taking care of business out of town that could ruin the whole enterprise. He had left the operation in the hands of a trusted relative who had run it fairly well in his absence. But upon returning, he jumped right in and started making decisions. It was his right to do that, but he upset the order of operations for everyone involved. Sounds a whole lot like a lot of small business owners I know (myself included).
So I got on my phone and started googling to see if anyone else had noticed the similarities between feudal lords/lairds and small business owners and I found: Feudal institutions and small business governance: an exploration and comparison by Ronald K. Mitchell; Stephen J. O’Neil
There are several interesting comparisons in the paper. Both a feudal system and a small business are based upon ‘promise theory’. The vassal believes the promise of the laird to protect and oversee the best for the whole estate in the same way an employee believes the promise of the small business owner to protect the business and do what it is best for its continued survival. These promise-based relationships are often face-to-face and hierarchical.
The sales team in a small business is similar to the knights. They have a military-type duty to be both defensive and offensive in the protection of the estate. Because of this protective nature, they are often lifted to a higher status in the eyes of the laird and the small business owner.
A high level of trust is demonstrated by the laird to their subjects, until it comes to the time of succession, when even nearest family members often cannot be trusted.
A small business owner and a laird both make decisions for financial reasons but they have plenty of non-financial reasons behind their decisions as well.
I don’t know that I have any huge insights that help me or you operate your small business more effectively. I’ll just encourage you to be on the lookout for good ideas and similar situations in unusual places. They might even show up watching a television drama.