Three centuries in a month and moving forward: #Italy, #EU, and #COVID19 - Preamble


Actually, since February I started letting know my local observers in Italy drafts of a post more focused on Turin, Italy and its future.

The focus? What's next, and the "three colors" (plus one) within the transition of Italy.

Various drafts were "leaked" (the beauty of knowing what leaks and what doesn't) on purpose- as also if currently I am not working locally as a cultural and organizational change consultant, I follow the practice that I adopted after my passage through Rome and Brussels.

Or: share publicly what could be of general interest, and use the observers as a "back-channel" to hopefully share what could be of general interest, but for various reasons I would usually share it only with customers (public, private, non-profit), or at least would release with a delay.

At the bottom of this article, I share the "visual outline" that I had developed for that article, further material will follow in the future.

Nonetheless, if you visit either my facebook profile or linkedin profile, you can find between January 2020 and April 2020 various posts that share commentary on related issues: talent management, succession in family-owned companies, the forthcoming selection of the main industrialists' association new top management, and commentary on business, political, social events.

Anyway, this month started to post on my personal yet mainly public Facebook short commentary on "Italian cultural keywords" from the Treccani dictionary, keywords that underline some habits that served well Italy in the past, but that, even without the current crisis, or the one of 2008, already created issues at least since the 1970s.

What are the three colors I was referring to?

Yes, inspired by three movies- blue, white, red, but in a different order from the movies from Krzysztof Kieslowski, and on a different subject (albeit equally emotional: innovation and social evolutions have always been emotional affairs).

In my case, each color represents a different approach to innovation and social evolution.

White, where a contraction of available resources does not generate a corresponding reconsideration of power structures and arrangements- resistance to change masked as innovation.

Red, an approach that adds on the "white" a curious rationale to call for joining forces- but in order to explicitly support those who assume almost a divine mandate in their existing role.

Blue, the first sign of evolution, that tries to couple an obvious continuation of the status quo, with a sharing of future benefits.

As those are obviously the colors of the French national flag, I added a fourth color, green, which is the difference between the Italian and the French flag (no surprise there, if you know the history of both).

It is has actually a different meaning, in this context, as Italy, while being a country with few natural resources for the XIX-XX century fossil fuels economy, has actually potentially three resources that might be critical for the next industrialization.

  • Natural resources, such as water, coastlines, a network of thousands inhabited locations that have been connected for two thousand years or more, and could be points within a different arrangement
  • Human capital, due to centuries of accumulated knowledge via educational institutions (some of the oldest European institutions are in Italy, from banks to universities)
  • Cultural heritage, that is, in my view, more an enabler than just a resource to use for tourism

As you can see, I discount the existing aggregated wealth- as financial resources aren't what is missing in our globalized economy, and local resources are frankly mismanaged and with too many relational strings attached, to be relevant.

There is a flip side, that I kept writing about since I first posted online an article on change (2003): Italy still lacks a "unified Weltanschauung".

Whenever there is an element of scarcity, or other form of crisis, quarreling between its parts starts- and the Government often (not just now) had to balance different sets of localized interests, and returning rivalries such as that between Turin and Milan, or Milan and Rome.

If you lived in Brussels, probably you can see how this, in effect, is something not that much different from the inherent weakness of the European Union: what many years ago described as a "Fair Weather Union".

Yes, on the national level we still have a stronger level of formal cohesion, but that does not represent an indication of the level of operational cohesion, as shown by the current crisis.

And in Italy we add on top of that also a "tribal" element, whereas whenever a new set of resources (human or financial capital) is needed, we rather try to build capabilities in our own small or enlarged tribe, than pool resources- adding procrastination and missed timeframes for opportunities almost as a national habit.

Over the last ten days, I followed few courses on Coursera to update, expand, and resurrect my knowledge of epidemiology (as I studied it long ago, first as I wanted to re-use in business risk management and cultural/organizational change management concepts from risk management and diffusion methods from medical risk management and cultural anthropology).

Which courses? Three on "technicalities" and "updates":
1. Johns Hopkins "Design and Interpretation of Clinical Trials"
2. Imperial College "Science Matters: Let's Talk About COVID-19"
3. Johns Hopkins "Fighting COVID-19 with Epidemiology: A Johns Hopkins Teach-Out"

While also reviewed quickly and read few books on and around epidemiology (and plan to read more).

My interest? As usual, cultural and organizational change: any epidemic, moreover any outbreak that eventually evolved into a full-fledged pandemic, produces a long-lasting set of social impacts.

Therefore, looking at "technicalities" also in the past was useful to understand the whole picture.

Hence, as a final (preliminary) touch, yesterday and today went through a fast re-watching of the lessons on the history of epidemiology since the XVII century from Yale, that I had first studied in June 2013 (it is within the online portfolio that Yale started posting online at least in 2009, when I followed a course on Game Theory).

Now it is funny to receive from Coursera and others suggestions for further courses in clinical trials and epidemiology.

Even funnier, as since my time in Brussels, routinely I receive CV requests for missions within the pharma industry- missions where I always lack this or that skill or experience that I consider critical (coming from cultural and organizational change and, before that, politics, I am quite hard-nosed whenever I have to scrutinize requirements for success- I take risks when it is my own budget and my own time, but I dislike the habit of taking risks on somebody else's budget and time).

If you read either my mini-books (many can be read for free online) or other articles on this site, or even commentary on Facebook or Linkedin, you know that I routinely criticize the hyperspecialization of post-WWII, as inadequate for our forthcoming (in some cases, current) social transformation.

There is a time for everything, and there will always be a role for hyperspecialists who can blend a mix of skills, knowledge, experience that for the time being cannot be yet replaced by software (albeit, as shown for e.g. the interpretation of medical exams, in some cases software now delivers results akin to those delivered by the best human doctors).

Gradually, we removed "bridging" skills- except in roles that, in most organizations, are too far away from the operational side to actually leverage on that "bridging" to spot and steer opportunities when visible, as the communication chain is too long.

A recent knowledge update I followed (was re-opened last week for few months, if interested) is a course on "intrapreneurship", i.e. entrepreneurship within an organization.

My interest? I think that in the future (but in some industries, already in the past), most opportunities will have a really limited shelf-life: not enough to survive through the traditional "business case approval cycle".

And, as I wrote already almost two decades ago, those on the "frontline" are probably the best antennas to deliver information critical to identify and maybe even anticipate trends (it was based on my experience since the late 1980s on quantitative support to management, and then cultural/organizational change management)

If interested the (free) course is Intrapreneurship – Employee-driven Innovation.

Automation is gradually extending toward what was in the past considered "intellectual work" or "manual work that requires human intervention".

The future of human intellectual activities will require more often than now a "systemic view".

Most of everything else will be automated, except labor-intensive but unstructured manual work, or when it is socially preferable to still have humans (e.g. some person-to-person services, albeit COVID-19 showed how avatars and co-bots plus other IT could be used creatively to cover activities that in ordinary hospitals used to be covered by humans).

Many "mind narrowing" specializations that were functional during the post-WWII rebuilding and industrialization will turn into redundancies over the next few decades.

This article is a both a digest of selected previous articles, and a commentary on some ideas (min and from others) on the way forward.

As I wrote on Facebook on March 12th while commenting on an announce by an Italian company of a forthcoming new faster test on COVID-19, we are entering into a "Dr. Strangelove" scenario, or... "how I stopped fearing COVID-19, and learned to live with it", paraphrasing the title of that movie.

Because now as in early March I think that, the way it is being socially managed this disease, and not just in Italy, we will have some structural impacts for a while.

A blessing in disguise, as these temporary changes (e.g. quarantine, impromptu teleworking in schools, workplaces, and, yes, even for politicians, à la Judge Dredd) could help reassess priorities but, more importantly, allocation of resources and supply chains, as well the structure and deployment of the life-work balance, by highlighting tons of small details that technologists ignore.

Just in time, as otherwise we will have technologists drive e.g. the design of smart cities, and discover only downstream how many "human sides" have been forgotten.

As I wrote in the past, paraphrasing somebody else, technology is too critical for our future society to let technologists alone drive it.

Actually, since January 2020 on Facebook shared links to articles, websites, courses, movies that I think could be a relevant cultural background while designing what's next.

As it was reminded today by a survey shared on the the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, the impact on HR of COVID-19 will be structural.

Hence, we have to think systemically- mere tinkering could apparently be easier to sell, cheaper, and faster, but would terminally damage competitiveness.

Therefore, Italy (but not just Italy) needs to see what happened to many of its XIX century organizational structures and XX century industrial and business organizations not just due to the COVID-19, but since the beginning of this XXI century.

As will be discussed e.g. on the percentage of Italians with access to Internet at home (not just on smartphones), Italy started "drifting away" from the EU average since at least 2001 (showing up in statistics in 2002), while most of the other countries (except few mainly former-COMECON countries) converged with the "best of the pack".

As I wrote above, this relatively long and dense article is mainly an introduction outlining a publishing roadmap- more will follow.

You are welcome to follow any of the online profiles listed on my outline website.