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You are here: Home > Rethinking Organizations > Experimentation and talent development #change #transformation #Italy #EU

Viewed 3709 times | Published on 2022-07-29 17:00:00



As I shared on Linkedin and Facebook over the last few days, I am currently in my traditional post-mission/pre-mission phase, as I did since 1990, when I left my first employer.

This articleis within the "rethinking busines s" section, as it was the previous one (Rethinking the future of work while going through the three transitions in Europe #digital #green #NextGenerationEU #repowerEU #business #models), and it leverages on what was discussed there.

Actually I am working on closing a book- but will take few months more.

Meanwhile, few more articles and datasets.

The next article, unless there are surprises on the political side in Italy, will be a dataset and explanatory notes on the organizational structures identified by the Treaty between France and Italy.

Incidentally: in this article I will refer to Italy while talking about experimentation and talent, but this is for three main reasons:
_Italy is a country, but it is still a collection of locations, sometimes with conflicting aspirations and projections abroad
_While other major countries have a more balanced distribution between small and big companies, in Italy small companies are not just more common, but dovetail with the local culture since centuries (we live in a constant state of real or pretended crisis, as the late Andreotti stated in his book "Governare con la crisi")
_The changes that other countries will eventually have to do, Italy is now compelled to do earlier, faster, deeper- the choice is between turning into a satellite or changing.

As you can see... three reasons where you can (except in few larger countries) replace "Italy" with "EU".

Few sections, for a short article
_a routine of "lessons learned"
_cognitive dissonance between being modern and talking about it
_the self-referential conundrum vs. opportunity seizing
_conceptualizing talent
_experimentation and innovation: degrees of freedom and risk

A routine of "lessons learned"

What I wrote in the introduction is actually slightly a distortion of reality: the reason why, after my first employment 1986-1990 (two business units, 1986-1988 and 1988-1990), went into "lessons learned" mode, was not just because that was part of Andersen's way of live represented by its methodology, Method/1 (then M/1), and those approximately 5,000 employees in St Charles near Chicago focused on knowledge processing and extraction, out of then 70,000 worldwide (those were the number I was told in late 1980s, and then within a brochure attached to my pocket daily agenda for 1990, listing employees by region etc).

Actually, I had been used to that for a while, as we moved few times around the country as a kid, and each time was de facto a different culture (and I am curious about cultures).

If you start doing that before you take yourself too seriously, you have a Pavlovian reflex that most grown-up have to re-learn after first de-programming themselves.

Example: in a training course I had to deliver on methodology, as part of a curriculum for project managers and business analysts I had designed for a customer, in the early 1990s, I saw that, being all in banking and IT, were focused on specific segments of "intelligence".

But, being those mainframe times (COBOL, screens with just characters, few PCs around and mostly with just MS-DOS), the logic-matematic side was the most developed, balanced in some people interacting with users with verbal abilities.

What was lost was what any kid develops: the ability to visualize in space.

Which, if you have to design databases, or just design charts and flows, implies a lot of paper-pencil-eraser, also when few rotations in your mind, Tetris-style, would suffice.

So, after the first day asked bring paper and scissors (I remember that one, after he asked his kid to loan the "tools" to his father, told me that his kid said that he too wanted to work with his father).

It did not take long to see how, after writing, cutting, repositioning the bits on the table, eventually in the same day, most started skipping steps, as they were again able to "visualize" before resorting to the triad paper-pencil-eraser.

The funny part, as I wrote in the past, is how that experience was so much sticking, that a decade later, when introducing me to a colleague, one of the class members reminded that "experiment".

Therefore, "lessons learned" implies three things, in my view:
_first, restructuring your memories (frankly, files are more a hindrance that a support, when you want to extract key lessons, if you have a decent memory still fresh)
_second, identify the bits worth "consolidating" (i.e. reading or asking something more about from those who are Subject Matter Experts: with the Internet, there is so much material, that, once you have done something for the first time, finding explanatory material is not an issue, and costs only your time and some googling)
_third, if you have time and resources, and have that attitude (I do, as I liked also architecture), try designing or visualizing at least in your mind what you would do, or would have done, in a different way, and which resources or mix of skills would be needed to improve efficacy and efficiency.

The latter of course is the tougher of the three, as requires resources and a mandate- and, often, after a mission and before another mission, you have neither.

When, in the late 1990s, I was based in London and working around Europe, commercial use of Internet in Europe was still moving its first steps: I remember how in France my USA colleagues while designing a network for business intelligence reporting countrywide complained that the network offered (9.6kb confirmed, 14.4kb peak) had the same price tag that in USA you would get for a T1.

As at the time my hourly rate was sensibly higher than the reduced rate that applied first in 2004-2006 for part-time activities as PM/BA in Government projects in .

I hold an Italian passport, but my concept of citizenship was probably too "American"- in Rome, I saw how was common to "extract value" from the State, not to give back.

So, as my two lines of activity were cultural and organizational change plus business number crunching, I also paid others to do experimental activities, to confirm some cases of the third point above, up to having formal licenses (and experimenting) with Oracle, IBM, Microsoft to use their database and related software to experiment decision support ideas.

And I remember that once paid also to have experiments done on connecting softwares from different vendors: experiment that then, after successful, stopped, as it did not make sense to cover R&D on "incremental innovation" for those who then asked to turn it over for free.

Plus attended plenty of events and conferences around Europe, and in-between missions, of course read a lot to keep up-to-date.

Actually, a couple of the funniest bits of "lessons learned" in the early 1990s.

First, after leaving my first employer as, despite being in my early 20s, had since 1988 worked interacting directly with senior managers in various industries, mainly on controlling, planning, etc, and wanted to understand more about the balance sheet, marketing plan, ecc.

Yes, I read serious books, but also found by chance in the USA an early MS-DOS videogame called "What they don't teach you at HBR", I think from "Venture" magazine, where... you had to learn to read a balance sheet, read the Wall Street Journal, while developing a robotic company, after a crazy scientist had decided to share for free his innovative patents that made petbots and housebots feasible.

Was funny.

Equally funny, as more than once was asked to be PM in reporting projects that involved VisualBasic, so purchased a license, followed a CBT, and developed a subscription-based knowledge management tool that then discussed with a partner, as it was a whole system but with a data-logic coming from my past experiences (i.e. flexible) to create a new service to support companies in having patches delivered to their systems based upon an asset catalogue.

Mind that, in the 1990s, sometimes I saw job ads in UK where a VisualBasic programmer was paid three times the salary of a banking branch manager.

It was funny to do all the service costing, preliminary analysis, first propositions, but then pulled the plug when, as usual, was "advised" to turn over specs and software for nothing- Italian standard.

In the "experimentation" section will share a couple more cases of lessons learned turned into experiments that was then to reuse in future projects (and partially already shared, for the encryption logic, within an old UK archeocrypto SIG I belonged to long ago- will probably share it online on GitHub with other prototypes already used "live" online and in services between over two and over one decade ago).

The key takeaway, and this is what I saw on the Andersen side and few other companies: unless you build as a second nature "extracting lessons" and thesaurizing them, you end up as in the 1990s many software and hardware companies certifying for ISO9000- i.e. using it as both an add-on and a way to define "legalistic" boundaries to their commitment to quality, not to deliver quality.

And this was my feed-back already in the 1990s also on data-related initiatives: a corporate, or social, data ecosystem is not simply a dump of data piling up across time- you need rationale, purpose, and a constant revision of both.

This actually is useful to connect to the next section...

Cognitive dissonance between being modern and talking about it

As I wrote on my Linkedin profile yesterday
a curious element- courtesy of my "post-end-mission" learning rituals (and the forced confinment during the various initial lockdowns), had a chance to do some much overdue knowledge alignments on both cultural/organizational change and business number crunching

I must say that the "much overdue" was a blessing in disguise, as:
1. over a decade ago (mid-2000s), when I was part-time on government projects in Rome on both investment and immigration, many of current frameworks and concept on sustainability were in their infancy in the corporate and political mindset (remember that Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is from 2006, not 1992)
2. just over a decade ago would not have had the algorithms and online free computing and learning resources (I remember in 2008-2009 while in Brussels following courses on MIT and Yale- recording of their live courses, worth your time but not tools to interact etc)
3. a decade ago joining data and policy was almost heresy, as well as having people blending both- and I still see that being the case in Italy

but I still see that, while the material is there, what is missing is the cross-culture communication needed to benefit from all that, to accelerate implementation of massive social changes or even social engineering that are embedded in many initiatives (yes, including, in Europe, #NextGenerationEU and #RepowerEU)

now, move less than 10 years in the future, the 2030 by when the UN SDG should have been converged on: we will not get there at the current pace

to get there, we need to blend policy, data, monitoring, inclusion, integration- not the XIX century approaches that I still see around and are blatantly right under the surface

there is still (cultural change) work to [do], to remove "vertical knowledge silos" and mutual "I am superior mainly because you do not understand the logic of my approach and I do not care about your details"

engineers proposing perfect plans to be implemented by policy, but having zilch empathy for what means not just defining, but embed policy into society

and politicians that simply "outsource" anything that they deem a "technicality", without even bothering to grasp the basics needed to deal with constraints


Meaning: instead on focusing on a portfolio of acceptable venues of knowledge update, many organizations still focus on a "top-down" approach that was adequate when HR had time to support line/knowledge domain managers in defining criteria, curriculum, etc in full detail, summarize it all, and then scout on the market for suppliers, resulting, at last, in something new added.

Now, consider just that, if you invest, as an organization, in certifying your staff and managers, they often have to retain the certification by attending a constant stream of micro-training sessions across the year, and that therefore a command-and-control upfront loading approach that worked in the past would probably deliver "canned refresher training" that is obsolete even before you add it to your catalogue.

Results? If you are lucky, and your employees are focused on really keep up-to-date, they will look into the missing links personally.

If you are unlucky, you risk ending up as in that famous meme that, pre-COVID, was going around Linkedin, about two Cxx-level talking, one say, basically "if we train them then they could leave", and the other replying on the line of "the issue is what happens if we do not train them, and they stay".

As I keep repeating whenever I meet somebody who asks for information or advice: since 2008, whatever is not for my official role with customers, goes online.

It was funny when somebody contacted me to have free advice, but offering immediately to have an NDA: or- I give advice, you reuse it, and then I cannot use it anymore. Have a budget, will talk- otherwise, I rather keep sharing it online with anybody willing or able to extract value (or even just fun) from it.

Frankly, most of those that adopt this conservative attitude would have been ill-fitted for many of the most challenging roles I had in the past.

As they are able to repeat what they did, sometimes verging on the "one trick pony", but unable to unlearn and learn unless in a formal, structured, dedicated setting.

If you are working on a negotiation, or a project recovery, time is a luxury and you have to use it accordingly, not waste it into "paper tiger" battles.

Or: there is a time and appropriate use of different approaches, within activities, but if you can see yourself only in obsessive-compulsive repetition of more of the same, to escape uncertainty, better find somebody who will deal with that on your behalf.

In a complex society, there is a place for everybody.

In a complex and dynamic society built around constant streams of mutually interacting (and distorting) data, "one size fits all" approaches do not work.

It is quite curious something that I observed increasingly since the late 1990s in Italy: as somebody older and more relevant than myself said, in the past owners selected management, as they had the perception of that they wanted.

HR? Also in my smaller, smaller world, was supporting with knowledge of the corporate culture of the organization and ups-and-downs of their staff, but their contribution was limited to part of the profiing.

Nowadays, way too many claim to have universal knowledge on everything, not anymore a supporting role, and even seem to set, indirectly, strategy (if you decide the profile of resources that the company has to have, you are actually defining the boundaries of the strategies that are feasible).

I wonder how many, removed from their office cocoon, would survive in ordinary business activities.

Being modern instead of just looking modern implies also accepting that, the greater the number of external factors influencing the "posture" (in terms of business continuity) of your organization, the more you need "antennas" that contribute, not take refuge in a fictional control-freak attitude.

Also because: at least in the past that attitude came from the owners, who were risking their own company, and had a clear understanding of what was at stake.

Instead,"guilty but not responsible" can anyway generate impacts that deny any goodwill created with internal and external stakeholders through everyday business activities.

I saw many times disgruntled staff eventually dumping on the frontline what were really backoffice minutiae that turned into constant sources of stress.

There was an element within the latest article, referring to the evolution of the organization of work into a more "fluid" mutual relationship between employers and employees.

When "talent development" could be a one-off affair involving a round in formal or informal schooling, followed by apprenticeship, followed by a career until retirement with little evolutions or retraining...

...we were in a different world and, mostly, at least in Italy, ignoring reality.

As, if you look at any time since after WWII, when Italy experienced its "economic boom", since at least the 1970s, when electronics and computers became more ordinary, believing that fathers could teach their sons/daughters their job was feasible only in limited roles.

The limited dimension of Italian companies since the 1980s-1990s, when, except few formerly government-owned companies and few large multinational (and a bit of our "pocket-size multinationals"), what I saw around Italy was a kind of dual reality.

We use all the "lingo" of modernity, the information age, and even have "new age"-ish overtones in way too many legislative initiatives.

But, at the same time, we cocoon in what is attuned to the "extended family"-size tribal economy of Italy.

Hence, the "shaman" attitude in staff management so common in Italy: if your model is the family, as some Italian colleagues told me, it starts getting too heavy a burden at or around 50 employees (does not matter if "perm" or "gig"), but when that model if the Urweltanschauung (allow me to invent a word), the "original organizational sin", scaling up means transferring on somebody that role, without realizing that scaling up implies also generating a different set of potential interactions.

The approach that I found in other markets, oriented toward multi-party contributions to the overall corporate social ecosystem stability, here is still not so common, always alternating toward one form or another of "extended family"/"tribal" mindset.

And this leads to the next section: what are the side-effects on business continuity?

The self-referential conundrum vs. opportunity seizing

In a self-referential social structure such as the one I observed since 2012 in Turin (but also the echoes from Rome in the past were on the same "mental line"), the risk is always an excessive focus on self-reassuring choices.

This extends obviously to social organizational structures, e.g. industrialists associations that are really representing the interests of mini- and micro-companies also if their "bureaucracy", both internally and via exchanges with other foreign organizations, understands quite well the real needs to move forward.

Therefore, since 2012, whenever in both Turin and Milan, and virtually elsewhere, in Italy attended various workshops, events, etc really those presenting or sharing experiences were doing their best to present opportunities and "push" for action, innovation, etc.

Instead, what the audience asked most often was to offset their own organizational development costs.

I wrote often in the past about the demise of the first attempt (more to follow) to integrate technological and humanistic teaching for post-grads working in small and medium companies.

In a town proud about its industrial culture and roots (automotive but also aerospace, electronics, etc), were not even able to find 9 (yes, nine) employees representing small- and medium-companies sent by their employers.

The logic I overheard is the one of the "meme" I referred to above: if you have "extended family" companies, where management is often just allocated between family members, and where anyway even coaching interns is considered a cost (interns in Italy often are seen as a low-cost semi-skilled workforce, not a resource for the society), the idea of sending your best to do something innovative generates anxiety, and reject.

So, also when companies adopt "antennas" looking outside to contribute evolutions, evolutions that a nimbler, smaller company could probably embrace faster, those antennas either leave, or get used to the "status quo", and make as little noise as possible.

Therefore, while antennas should act as alert systems and help to seize opportunity before others do, having those antennas often acts as a corporate Prozac: we have those focused on that, confirm that we are going in the right direction.

Even more interesting is when, attending few of those events in a row, as an outsider you hear contradicting messages but, apparently, nobody else sees the contradiction.

Only then, eventually, to hear the usual noises asking the State or local authorities to intervene.

It is not enough to train, even pay innovation managers and scatter them into small companies: you need to create the momentum to help change cultures.

Also because, in some cases, I heard of "tremendous opportunities" seized by playing tricks such as showing to be bigger through an integration of apples and pears, something that was seen as a success, but really was actually a success for those providing the opportunity, as could then dump the supplier when the process was not needed anymore, without having to take over/responsability (as would have been the case if the turnover represented by the contract exceeded a threshold).

I know that it is almost a lost cause, but probably this is were local authorities and State should provide the "cultural element", sweetened by the formal deliver of free services and negotiation support, plus other elements, to avoid that smaller companies not only lose competitiveness by mistaking a short-term fluke as a strategic long-term opportunity, but also, due to real "antennas" doing their awareness role, a single bad choice turns into a stampede of bad choices.

It is the Gresham Law extended from currencies to corporate choices, but in Italy it is quite common.

If you, the reader, are an Italian over 35, probably remember when, long ago, suddenly everybody wanted to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon, and there was, in some areas, an allocation in the tens of thousands of EUR (50k, in some cases).

Now, you would expect that amount to cover the overall initiative, notably for small companies or shops.

No.

In Italy, suddenly there was a garden market of small IT companies offering off-the-shelf e-commerce and taking care of presenting the request, spending the money, even some offering to give back some, and just putting up a "virtual shop".

Actually, a "dampener" were the local laws associated with that and the custom of Italian shops to have a significant slice of their turnover unreported.

Many websites did not last long, but at least that waste of money then allowed to get any shop used to have a connection (which was eventually added as a requirement for cash registers).

Still, the "stampede effect" is quite common: years later, when there was a law subsidizing industry 4.0 (i.e. "smart", "connected", etc) machinery, many Italian companies (that often had really obsolete equipment) purchased new tools, but... did not connect them to their information systems, and, as initially the funding did not cover training, did not train.

Simply, they had new fancy tools with plenty of potential- used as those that had been replaced.

Therefore, unless you break the self-referential mindset, that is good for bestowing honors and confirm existing choices, maybe not all the opportunities will be missed, but:
_the onboarding time would not be as fast as could be expected by smaller organizations
_the social and business costs could make those opportunities viable only after restructuring.

And, as happened often recently, the locals would surface the issues (i.e. de facto do an assessment), and open the door to an acquisition, that, courtesy of their own surfacing of all the issues, would be at less favourable conditions.

There is another "trendy" concept that is routinely misunderstood: what is "talent".

Conceptualizing talent

As in any other industrialized country, Italy too has a string of TV shows about "talents".

I do not watch TV, hence I know about them only via newspapers- and, if and when needed, I go for the "digest of it all", a.k.a. YouTube.

Shifting to the corporate world, I shared first in 2003-2005 in my online e-zine on change (BusinessFitnessMagazine, you can read the old issues revised in 2013 online), then also on a book specifically on bringing on board experts and related issues (#Synspec) some ideas about what I observed while working on cultural and organizational change, or as project/account manager, etc.

The first element is: many look for talent, but ignore the context were that talent was expressed or developed.

To visualize via extremes: if I were the best swimmer in the world (I can float but cannot swim), if I were then to be shuttled in the middle of the desert, I doubt that my talent would deliver the same performance.

Might be useful as a forma mentis or structure, but would not be operational from day one. Morover, the longer I were to stay as "swimmer without water", the less, if then I were to be dumped again into water, my talent would survive.

Now, shifting to various business domains, I often saw companies forget the context.

What is an asset in a specific context (a "talent"), can easily turn into a liability in another- e.g. when small companies hire financial controllers or managers that used to work in large multinationals, to reorganize their own "bureaucracy&control" side.

Then, are surprised when people start complaining that to do exactly the same activities, now they need to add extra time to fill-in forms, reports, etc.

Which would be fine, if you were interested in expanding that side.

But often those bringing on board that kind of talent forget that bureaucratic paper mills generate value if integrated in a whole organization with that mindset.

If all those data, reports, etc are not integrated within the organization, are simply unnecessary overhead.

You can obviously think about your cases, but that covers the "contextualization" part.

The second element is retaining talent, not just in terms of "keeping as an employee", but also as a contributor of specific skills etc.

When I had for the first time in the early 1990s to design a proposal for a matrix organization, my point was based on observations in various corporate contexts.

If you get an expert on X and put her/him within a team as "resident expert", but almost nevere "works her/his magic", gradually will deplete value.

So, a matrix approach was a way to keep experts within their own community, while providing their expert contribution in another context and, by design, becoming an ex-ante (in the design/inception phase) team member, not just somebody dropping by at the end.

Which, eventually, would evolve also the culture of the team, to embed the logic of the expert within the team, and to see, at the corporate level, how that kind of expertise contributed in different parts of the organization, easing evolutions.

Therefore, "talent" is not an absolute, but a relative, and the talent mix should be monitored, maintained, evolved.

Also, I will never get tired to repeat: the obsession of having graduates "pre-programmed" just for your business needs of today is yet another application the Gresham Law.

Many years ago, while working on the introduction of a new technology, I had to propose a "triaging", in this case literally tripartite.

The concept was: as it was a paradigm shift, there would be
_those who would jump at the opportunity
_those who would look "if it sticks" (this is quite strong in Italy- as we had in the past new draconian laws that were revoked before being enforced)
_those who would simply avoid it as long as possible.

I know what you think- but, in my case, "contextualizing" meant to have first done a "check" on the culture of the organization, as I saw many organizations dumping people without realizing that, as typical in Italy, we talk "market" but think "tribe".

Or: also phasing-out has to be managed according to the culture of the organization, as otherwise, to remove a few, you can demoralize many, and eventually lose the best who are willing to take on new challenges, and retain those who simply either cannot or do not want to leave.

Actually, in some cases, the opposite is done explicitly to force a cultura change (not that cultural "forced feeding cultural change" worked in Italy better than "exporting democracy" elsewhere: goodbye Talibans, welcome back Talibans- a quarter of a century social engineering experiment done without really giving the locals any chance to choose their own way).

So, trying to "import pre-packaged", including "pre-programmed talent" that is ready to use is sometimes immediately productive- until you have the next technological change.

But it is curious how often, in Italy, saw that those proposing an extension of this "pre-programmed" approach, did actually assume that their children were to go on more "mind-opening" curricula.

It is again the same point I presented in 1990-1992 while selling methodologies and associated change services: in Italy the number of training days per year for "cadres" was a fraction of those spent by their colleagues in Germany.

Another element to consider is that our current pace of technological and social change, as shown by the COVID crisis, further accelerated technological innovations adoption (for the time being incremental innovations, but gradually both budgets and capabilities will move to a different footprint).

Hence, getting somebody pre-programmed now on something that took at least 1-2 years to consolidate into a curriculum, to be "delivered" in a couple of years focused just on that, removing all those "distractions" about "learning to learn", would imply getting four years later what was already available to your competitors.

Yes, you would save the cost and hassle of having to do additional training in house, but if your competitive position is weak now, you are consolidating weakness, not generating strenght.

Choices.

In my view, as anyway in those two years those getting through show that they can learn, better to, say, add few months more and provide them also with at least learning strategies, and incentives to continuous learning (why not adding post-grad CPEs points, embedded within the employment contract).

As you saw, here and there at the beginning of this article shared hints about experimentation.

Well, let's closed with something more structured.

Experimentation and innovation: degrees of freedom and risk

Before giving my contribution, I would like to share an e-book on experimentation fundamentals that already shared with younger connections.

Maybe you will not work in web design, marketing, generic IT, product development: still, while could point you toward few books worth looking at about the subject of "experimentation within corporate environments", that e-book is a good, short introduction and, as usual almost everytime I suggest to read or watch something, comes with links to further material.

You can go either the "party savant" (replacing the old "idiot savant") who reads one book or article and the tries to "attract" everybody on his (as usually men do so more often than women, in my experience) "Newfoundknowledgeland", lecturing everybody on those minutiae.

Or you can see that as a starting point, and the seek other material focused more on what matters to you.

How I am a parties? If I talk at all, generally I am boring- listed to what others say, then if makes sense turn into "knowledge transfer mode", i.e. share pointers etc- I do not like to share what I digested, I prefer to share pointers, and then let others identify relevance.\

As for experiments: you have been doing that all your life, unless you are a robot.

Sometimes,in a business environment, limited controlled experiments are called "training", to transfer some approaches that then those sponsoring the training hope will be "embedded" by those attending within their ordinary business activities.

I promised at the beginning that I was going to share something about my past business experiments.

First, I either (when I could) finance them myself, or discussed with a customer or partner the potential up and down sides.

I never liked those who manipulate into e.g. using half-baked processes or software, conveying the feeling that were "standard, true-and-tried", when instead were anything but.

Also because, sometimes, I found myself called up as PM or account/relationship manager to recover the results of those "unannounced experiments" (usually after some consequences).

The experiments that I would like to share here are one on the organizational side, and the other on the conceptual/service side.

On the organizational side, once in early 1990s a manager "sold" that in five days would have been possible to help finalize a plan to transition (physically) the whole IT of a company, plus, for good measure, revise the organizational manual about the roles and tasks assigned around the company.

No, I was not also asked to provide cooking and cleaning, but would have been in line with the promises.

What did I do? Well, a Gantt is a Gantt, and I was used to both political events logistics and its military counterpart in training fields organizations.

So, I considered the first plan as an event to macroplan.

As for the second part, the manual, relied on my prior BNF knowledge, about the structure of human and computer languages (as originally I had planned to study either political science, philosophy of language, theoretical physics- but then went for something that would have given me economic independence faster), and PROLOG (its sintax and approach to deliver answers).

So, disassembled the descriptions of roles into components (e.g. subject verb complement), using BNF/PROLOG syntax to restructure the document, normalize, and identify discrepancies, and restructure the descriptions.

As many organizational design and marketing consultant know, there are times where customers keep asking more and more examples, information etc... and then, decide to the organizational or technological or business implementation "with their own resources".

Meaning: handing over the documentation to their existing supplier that did not have the competencies to deliver.

It happened to me in Italy (as I said, I am too foreigner in my own country), and to others both in Italy and other European countries.

The upside? Few projects before and after that on organizational design, once that I have some sparetime, converted my approach into a software that was really a prototype, but allowed me to revise that organizational distribution of activities in hours instead of days, and change/redo it in minutes the manual itself.

Another bit that probably eventually will go online.

On the service side, a company worked for through a partnership ceased to exist, so registered in the early 2000s a domain called "ComshareNoMore.com", and created a community website to offer a free service and test few ideas (eventually, the new features of social media in 2005 made that obsolete).

I had around 150 members, and was useful to test an encryption engine that I had designed and that was then to be linked with Gutenberg.org (basically: the concept was to use the "book" method, but instead of a physical selected book, use any book available online, so that would increase the scale of potentials- I do not know if now somebody is using GoogleBooks in that way, but I shared the logic online while member of a UK group).

Also, helped to test (yes, was one of summer experiments) various elements, e.g. having the content stored encrypted on the webserver, but decrypted only for presentation, based upon the user connected.

Actually- I had developed and used that first for my own website, the also the online e-zine on change that I had 2003-2005 and referred to above.

Another experiment was based on something that happens in corporate environments, in this case in training, but often also in sales presentation.

Say: if you work in business-to-business sales, it is normal to keep informed about evolutions that might impact your customers.

As since the 1980s worked in multinational environments, and my first business sales experiences were to "sell" projects on decision support systems to senior management, knowing a bit about the business environment was both fun and useful (I know- my idea of fun is twisted: but I love to understand the context).

While delivering an analysis training (yes, the same "string" of the paper and scissors above), I had of course prepared all the material for the exercises, starting from the routine analysis of interview reports, etc.

Well, while going in office I read an article about new Anti-money laundering rules from Basel (early 1990s) that transferred responsability to the employees.

It was a short article, filled with action verbs, consequences, deliverables, timelines, etc.

Moreover, as my audience was in banking, would certainly resonate more than the usual exercises about libraries, deliveries, etc.

So, I did an impromptu experiment: set aside my material, and developed live with the audience the analysis.

It was interesting and funny, as obviously those attending had an emotional attachment to the subject, so discussion was also lively.

How was that possible? Because, as Eisenhower reportedly said, it is not the plan, but the planning the matters.

Tossing aside my carefully designed plan when needed was something that happened once in a while in negotiations, when the customer went into "brinkmanship mode", i.e. pushing for a deal on different terms at the last minute, to see if we blinked after having been pushed off balance.

But, again, works only if you seem to be improvising, but, in reality, you are just adding new elements from the context to a framework that is already in place.

In this case, sometimes controlled experiments are also useful to get people (in my case, consultants) ready to manage crises.

If you re-read the previous lines, there are two elements:
_yes, you might experiment something completely new- but, frankly, in business, usually most experiments I went in were on incremental organizational or technological innovation, and based upon a direct or indirect collection of behavioral approaches and technologies repurposed for the experiment into a new "mix"
_those two that I described were directly financed by my activities, not dumped on corporate customers.

Why the latter? Because my first projects were on mainframe in automotive and banking, and before that had political activities and served in the Army, not on PCs or websites.

Hence, I was used to changes potentially impacting on a large audience that would not accept the "we are always in beta and anyway you pay only with your data" standard that was introduced first by PC- then web-based computing.

I think that running experiments (including social experiments) within a corporate or social (e.g. smart city) environment should imply, as done in social/medical sciences for clinical studies, adopting a kind of "ethical framework".

The detachment from reality (and impacted users) delivered by PCs via networks and Internet already in the early 2000s was sometimes generating really unethical noises- more than once I had to discuss points with technicians claiming the "neutrality of technology" reminding of Mengele and his ilk.

Let's be frank: most of the Internet-based economy is obsessed with itself and a little bit too "light" on code of ethics when their actions are outrightly manipulative.

It is not just the GAFAs of this world (who, incidentally, at least are more or less always in the spotlight), but countless wannabes who seem to operate under the assumption that whatever they do is eventually right.

Running experiments should actually something done more often in any change activity, notably when the target operating mode is untried, but should be better managed, as the potential fallout of misuse, abuse, impacts (look no further than Cambridge Analytica).

If anything, for another good reason: the way most experiments are run is as if nobody were running experiments at the same time.

Which is fine if you are in a controlled environment in a lab.

But if you are on the Internet, or on media, there is often a kind of structural feed-back embedded within the architecture.

The most blatant example was the "tunnel vision" built by Facebook, e.g. when somebody told me that the more they commented on specific posts, the more those post became their view on the universe.

Hence, running an experiment in those conditions would probably self-reinforce with other experiments run within the same circles, further reinforcing detachment from reality.

Then, if traditional media pick up on a trend and reinforce it, that too generates self-fulfilling prophecies.

As most large companies now have their own internal social network, and the others are "projected" onto open social networks,beware therefore of what you experiment on and about, if you use digital media.

If you re-read the description of the two experiments I shared above, both were
_in a closed or relatively closed environment
_before social networks started ballooning (I was a member of Facebook in 2007 by invitation).

The e-book on experimentation that shared above is obviously focused on web and web marketing projects but, actually, you could consider that concepts in your own environment.

On the ethics of experimentation on humans, have a look at Johns Hopkins "Design and Interpretation of Clinical Trials"- there is a 2hrs segment focused just on that.

Closing the circle: experiments require talents- if you have "paint by numbers" experts (i.e. who just can replicate what they learned in a course, not adapt to adopt), it is better to phase-in experiments on smaller steps that you would have otherwise used.

Another obvious use of experiments is to test approaches before spreading across an organization, also to identify potential "pivots" or "influencers" who could actually be involved in first experiments or "pilots", and then have the mindset to "convert" (and support) others into adoption.

Only: beware of the risk a Cxx level manager said in a conference in Germany- "I have more pilots than Lufthansa" (i.e. way too many "let's try" that never developed into something entering the corporate mindset).

Have a nice week-end!