The talk I gave during the second edition of Legend, Promemoria's biennial event dedicated to legendary brands, held at the Nuvola Lavazza

Legendary by Design: Why Does History Still Matter?

Me on the stage of Legend 21
Nuvola, the Lavazza Headquarter

Promemoria is based in a historic building in Turin, in what used to be the “Ditta Martini & Rossi” headquarters in 1887. We have a garden planted with at least one century-old tree, which once provided shade for Martini and Rossi employees, and now to Promemoria's daily work. The tree is the organism that remains, at once constant over time and constantly evolving.

The other day, looking at that tree, I wondered: I feel it has a great value, but what gives it value? The mere passage of time?

Perhaps it is not the kind of question a scientist or a naturalist would ask. Perhaps it's the question of a greenhouse's owner, or customer, or... investor: “How much is that tree worth?”

“How much is that brand worth?”

I looked for an answer among economists, but it was all so complicated. So I tried to find this answer among tree specialists—and an interesting one was given to me by Joost Verhagen, a forest management expert.

A few years ago Verhagen founded a very special agency in the Netherlands: its task was to change the way the economic value of trees was measured. The ingenious method of calculation used by Verhagen makes it possible to know not so much how much a tree's wood is worth, or how much oxygen it can produce, but how much would need to be invested to reproduce the same plant in the same place.

This is the key question: how much would one need to invest to reproduce the same company, the same brand, in the same context?

Where could I find the company history to determine its uniqueness, value and potential?

For the tree, the History is written in the rings of the trunk, the annual circles - for companies, brands, and products, it is in the archive. Of the rings, it is not just the number that counts, which corresponds to the years. It is the shape, the sequence, that counts. The rings are what reveal the uniqueness and distinguish one tree from another, just like the archive for a business. Because even when the appearance is similar—two oaks, two companies, two products—their path is always different, because it is defined by what happens: by duration, by context, by soil, by place, by climate, by events ...

So, for the trees, we need to cut down the tree and see the trunk in two. For a business maybe it's not the solution to wait until its history is ended to understand its value and regret the emptiness it leaves behind.

In fact, there is a more ecological method: we can investigate and reconstruct its nature by coring into history. Diving into the traces left behind over time: in the memory of people and places, of photographs, advertisements and correspondence, of objects, using the technology available to us today to systematize that collective memory, redrawing that architecture of knowledge, senses, experiences, and meanings—and putting it back into circulation so that it can be a source of inspiration again.

If you are trying to redefine the uniqueness of your tree, to replicate its success in the near future, if you are in expense of designing an effective and coherent growth strategy—wouldn't you want to know what has given value to that tree to date?