Viewed 6445 times | Published on 2022-02-07 07:00:00 | words: 3967
Let's try to have a short article- it is a Sunday, and, if you opened this link, you too are getting into "NextGenerationEU" and "COVID" fatigue.
There will be time for analysis- for now, what I shared before in terms of number crunching was enough.
Instead, here I would like to, in a way, have a digression over the latest couple of article (a couple of weeks ago Taking sides: a couple of thousand of years of tribal bipartisanship- lessons from #Italy to the #European #Union and last week Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > What's next - healing #Italy within the #European #Union #PNRR #NextGenerationEU #President).
In this article:
_the contextualization imperative
_why the PNRR / NextGenerationEU requires more than the usual
_healing and getting beyond the "specialist" trap
The contextualization imperative
There is a cultural element in all that you can find in the title, and I think that in any cultural and organizational change initiative, contextualizing the parties involved is important.
At least, that's my experience first in politics as teenager trying to remember to the Turin secretaries of the youth component of some political parties the upside of further European integration, then in the Army, when I decided to run an experiment by designing an introductory course on programming as logic for people from various backgrounds (eventually both for soldiers serving their 12 months of service, and NCOs or officers up to Lt Col), and countless times in business since mid-1980s.
In business, I started as a mainframe computer programmer, and basically once or twice a year added another role for four years (albeit my title changed less frequently), in my first company.
It was interesting how, actually, my first assignment had nothing to do with the induction training I had received (on COBOL and a methodology used back then by Andersen to document algorithms, Warnier) from May until July 1986.
As I was asked by my branch manager to do what he had been asked to do: take the preliminary feasibility analysis done by Andersen for a system for a Turin car maker to "propose" which suppliers' invoices should be paid automatically, take Andersen "bean counting" methodologies (i.e. output-oriented weighting), to see how many man/days would be needed to generate each object that the system would do.
Why me? Well, in the military I was used for part of my service to do each day a "funny" play on memory and combinations around fairness: I had to distribute services across few dozen people considering past services, current presences or absences, classroom continuous improvement training for us artillery specialists, and of course the demands of field exercises (each month we receive a batch of around 20 new people, and we had sometimes more than one field exercise taking a chunk of the available force outside the barracks).
So, both from politics and the Army I was used to have to mix people with different skillsets to achieve results, and having just to understand what was making "tick" each party.
Why? Because, first as a test in politics, then by doing those 20 or so interviews for few months, plus countless interviews whenever people came asking to be excused from this or that service, or to "sponsor" a "vacation" (I had not formal power except that of putting stuff into the signing book and presenting the case and its context), and also negotiating informally to have some of the people with study on biology or medicine coming through the door reshuffled to the barracks' infirmary as new helping hands.
What people tells you has to be contextualized, and I never regretted serving my 12 months the way I did, also if sometimes I was dead tired, as I ended up having four jobs at the same time ("furiere" from around 7am until 4pm, teacher from 4pm until 8pm, librarian until 10pm, then eventually took on a service in the "graveyard shift", the last one before the morning wake-up bugle call)... for 2k Italian Liras (around 1EUR- at the time, it was around the price of a pack of cigarettes, but luckily I was no smoker).
The key element was: if you look at my CV, you will see plenty of industries, activities across multiple domains, etc.
But, frankly, my experience in the Army interviewing and then organizing on a daily basis exposed me to countless personal stories and background mixes.
In the Army, it was about individual young men (in my time, May 1985 to May 1986), shuttled for 12 months across the country to serve within a hierarchy and exposed to drills whose purpose is simply to build the "average" (i.e. replaceable and predictable) "cog in the wheel", or a group of people who probably would have never met weren't for that service.
There was a blend of educational (my group was unusual- as artillery specialists, we had more university graduates than the national average) as well as socio-economic backgrounds.
Much wider than anything I found in business since 1986.
It actually helped in working across cultures and both in Italy and abroad, as you develop something that sometimes I still see many lack: listening.
When you sell, sometimes that listening is really focused on finding "cues" (really- openings) to attach your pitch to what is relevant for your potential customer.
In other cases, listening is to actually extract knowledge or information so that you can embed that within something new.
Be it a new decision-making model, a redesign of a process, an organizational structure, or even helping to define the business and marketing plan for a start-up, listening is useful.
As an example, whenever I was asked, in the 1990s or 2000s, to work on cultural and organizational change activities, usually first checked if some conditions were fulfilled (I wrote in the past few articles on the subject, so no need to repeat here).
Meaning: risk is part of any cultural and organizational change initiative, but taking somebody else's risks? There must be a good reason (not necessarily financial).
In the end, contextualization implies keeping a balance.
But in order to contextualize correctly, the first step is being able to listen (or, anyway, assess).
If, as many do whenever dealing with others, you try to project unto others what you would do/think/choose, the risk is that you convince yourself (and them) that you listened, while instead just "pushed".
The trouble is: if you then take on risks assuming that there is a consensus, you end up having to pay the price for your own "shortcut" where you assumed that your "projection" was the reality- a cognitive dissonance that is quite common in Italy, from what I saw since 2012.
Why is this relevant to the title of this article?
Well... let's see an example in the next section
Why the PNRR / NextGenerationEU requires more than the usual
Reading Italian newspapers, you might be excused from that lingering feeling that the allocation of the associated resources sounds more like a candy store visit, than a plan for future development of the country.
Just to stay in my birthplace, Turin, I shared a while ago how the "be focused on few projects" had been understood... with thousands of projects for up to a couple of dozen of billions, i.e. over 10% of the national total.
Well, the recently adopted motto, for the ATP Finals, is "Torino So Much of Everything"- not really a prime example of understatement, considering that "understatement" is the most self-celebrated local virtue in each workshop or conference or event I attended in Turin since 2012...
Actually, if the new motto sounds familiar... have a look at this movie about Swedish forestry- funny coincidence, considering that a Swede announced just few months ago that he is going to build a battery gigafactory here.
Since the new administration went into office, there was a string of announces starting with a need of 90mln, then 1bln for the metro, then a generic "the PNRR money" (for Turin) "is not enough", to the announce that by 2024 there will be an overnight metro service (cost assessed: 156+108mln) on Saturday, to the further announce that between now and 2024 Turin will need a further around 500mln EUR on Sunday.
Choices- but also communication has an impact.
It is not just a matter of announces, or even balancing the books.
It is a matter of creating a different ecosystem- something that could leverage on those resources to create a longer perspective and better balance.
This requires a cultural and organizational change on a massive scale- and, frankly, those announces talk about tinkering, not change.
That tinkering talks about riding waves, i.e. keeping afloat, but without an overall plan- somebody else is the one creating the waves.
Yes, in real-life sea waves there is an element of predictability that human-induced waves not necessarily include.
The dynamics of human-generated waves (such as the NextGenerationEU and associated measures) is subject to other forces, and what now could be predictable, could change if, e.g. an assessment on the allocation of resources identifies potential long-term issues.
Most of the news items on PNRR allocation frankly lack this "grand design"- seem to be focused on a national balance of power, e.g. the above mentioned complaint about the "not enough" element.
Not enough for what? And I am not talking about a shopping list of items- I am referring about the overall puzzle composed by those elements.
Should it be a local, i.e. Turin, puzzle? Or a regional, i.e. Piedmont, puzzle? Or a national puzzle (which, incidentally, is what PNRR stands for- National Recovery and Resilience Plan)?
Actually, even the national dimension is not enough: as the national recovery and resilience plans for each of the 27 EU Member States imply something more.
Just piling up a shopping list to calm down all the countless tribes around the country does not generate a plan for national resilience.
On Saturday February 5th, the Italian business newspaper "Il Sole 24 Ore" reported that there are 350 board-level roles that soon will need to be filled by the Government- you can read here on the website of the ADN Kronos news agency.
Generally, this is in Italy implies a partitioning between tribes.
Do not worry: I do not belong to any tribe and, anyway, recently asked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs an update on the informal advice I was given in 2009 on how to renounce Italian citizenship, and was provided a link to the Ministero dell'Interno.
It could be interesting for some of my readers, as mainly provides advice on how to obtain Italian citizenship, also if my interest was more limited to a specific section (you can see the post on Facebook where I shared the information).
While I will still be here, I will just be a "resident analyst": there is plenty of quixotic material worth filling books about.
Oh, incidentally- I have been filling those book with my posts and articles since 2012 (and also some books): so, the train left the station long ago, hence I am not trying to "sell" anything- I might just eventually convert into something more organic what you read on this website.
I prefer to comment whatever the tribe involved, if the analysis is the same.
And now that I removed from the table the potential "personal conflicts of interests", I can refocus on the point discussed in the previous article: healing.
Healing and getting beyond the "specialist" trap
Yesterday morning went around for my Sunday morning walk.
I might have a "spring" attached to my back that brings me back to Turin since when, in 1997, first relocated abroad.
The first "call back" project in 1998 was actually in Parma, then few times in Turin and eventually Rome.
While I have to be based in Turin for my current mission, I try at least to benefit from the opportunity of a walkable city.
Well, since last year a little bit less- there is always the danger of having a runner on wheels zig-zagging under arcades between pedestrians: at least twice a day had a close encounter, in Turin.
My morning walk yesterday morning included, as generally each month on the first week-end, a visit to used book stands.
There were many when I was a kid, now, beside a small section in centre town (via Po), the first Sunday of each month nearby the old main station (Porta Nuova) there is an open air used books market that stretches for few hundred meters.
As you can imagine, I look for (cheap) unusual books about history and cultures, possibly in few languages.
In Italy I made the last (last, not latest) attempt in 2018- being offered to work for free to support somebody else's business as if it were an honour bestowed upon you eventually ceases to amuse you, and starts getting boring.
Moreover, when, after going ahead for other opportunities elsewhere in Northern Italy, and seeing curiously a second interview involving somebody from Turin and vocal observers from Rome, you are told your hiring was stopped- as if only Turin and Rome were the options.
Better to keep sharing online, as I said to few locals who asked for confidential advice, even going as far as announcing an NDA to protect themselves and their own intellectual property while... asking you to share your experience (and your IPR).
If you follow my articles (and even posts on both Facebook and Linkedin), you know that I do not consider myself a specialist in anything- except identifying, designing, implementing change, and business number crunching to highlight key information that could affect managerial decisions.
For everything else on my CV, it has always been a matter of studying, meeting and working with people who are "vertical specialists" (specific industry, or even specific technology or subdomain thereof), and sometimes officially having to coordinate them toward an agreed purpose (project, initiative, negotiation, etc)- or being the generalist (e.g. as PM or management consultant) in a specialist team.
Often, it takes a couple of months to be conversant enough on a domain that was not explicitly on my CV.
So, I am neither a traditional "generalist", nor a traditional "specialist".
After the end of a mission, I retain only general knowledge of any new domain I touched, so that, if there is a further need, I know where to dig deeper (or who to contact), by "spotting" key patterns that might be transferred to another domain (or new activities in the same domain).
In the previous article, I referred to "healing" as the role for the Italian President of the Republic, and a more "managerial" role for the President of the Council of Ministers.
President of the Council of Ministers Draghi has many qualities, developed across a career of increasing domain-specific responsabilities, but often he seems to be focused on the end purpose, and ignores the need, in his current non-technical role, to build a coalition of the willing, or at least to fudge some corners or phase-in some changes in a socially sustainable way.
It is not the end per se, but the path that delivers it that can make a change socially sustainable, and reduce resistance to change.
In my self-defined role since 2012 as "analyst", I can write and state what I would not state if I were still working on cultural and organizational change or business and organizational development.
Change has a significant part of communication, often indirect communication, i.e. letting people "discover" points that they can relate on, and loosening a bit of control so that they can make the points their own, and turn into the "spreaders".
Often, a point, to achieve the level of implementation needed to become both effective and sustainable, needs to be "embedded", almost "transplanted" within the existing "cultural fabric".
And those who are insiders can convey their pre-existing credibility and informal knowledge to ensure that the "transplant" is not rejected.
Exporting change is akin to exporting democracy: it never really worked, and in many cases it seemed so just because... somebody then introduced another change that made fuzzier the real assessment of the success of the previous one.
Also as a negotiator, despite what many think, my choice often was not "making your case", but "making your case perceived and resonating a note within the mental framework of the audience".
I know that I shared this "success" for my team in previous articles- but it was nice to be told in Paris, in a negotation that I followed since its inception and was able to deliver much faster than previous ones of even smaller scale, that we won not because our product was the best, or even because our company had the size matching the need, but because we understood better their business, and matched our proposed solutions to their needs.
My role? Negotiator, conveying messages from specialists to other specialists and to non-specialists, digging into my past experiences, with plenty of listening and watching for small signals.
Including using a proof of concept project to understand better the business approach of that specific customer, not just to show bells and whistles of what we were offering.
I think that anybody can do that.
It is a team work, the roles I covered were actually of negotiator and catalyst for the team, i.e. getting all together into a coherent, cohesive whole.
Alone, would not have achieve that. Moreover, without the previous experiences that both I and the team contributed, we would not have achieved that (or other) successes.
If it is not your instinct, at first would require some conscious effort to avoid being manipulative or fake, but eventually becomes a second nature.
No matter how many good reasons (from a specialist perspective) you present, it is your set of micro-actions and the words that you use to convey your message that often are "interpreted", as all the "technicalities" are lost to many.
In Italy, when something becomes too "systemic" (i.e. involving too many elements related to too many specialization that have to be blended), what an American colleague said to me in the early 1990s of what he was told about the local reactions to his proposals over a decade before in Rome still holds true: "troppo complicato", too complex.
We Italians would like complex services and structures to be delivered as fast as an "espresso" coffee.
We Italians want the services and society that only an industrialized economy can deliver, but the would like to keep retaining an interpretative and action-oriented social framework where you can be individually "special" just because you know somebody who owes you something.
Also, now that employment opportunities for graduates are meager, if compared with other countries, sometimes from media that until recently worried that a large chunk of our graduates move abroad, it seems as if the solution is to convince all of them to move back to agricolture.
A typical Italian reaction: better a waste of resources than having them delivered to another, competing tribe.
Forgetting that already after WWI and WWII there had been plans to de-industrialize Germany, plans that were sidelined after it was identified that...
...bringing back to a pre-industrial age the country would have meant having few millions too many inhabitants to sustain with lesser resources.
Whose failure is this cognitive dissonance? Well, do not say politicians.
You can clearly see, if you understand Italian, that our politicians unfortunately are exactly like us, just with the addition of some fictional or real power associated with the elective office.
And, in Italy, even a simple clerk within one of the gazillions of Italian bureaucracies eventually will feel "superior" to those who, instead, should be his/her "customers".
You get summons to the court of the bureaucracy, in Italy, you do not get services that the taxes you pay finance...
For the time being, I refrain from building a "tableau de bord" on the PNRR implementation, as there are already way too many in Italy.
I prefer to focus on the analysis and the implementation processes and associated organizational structures.
Communication and transparency still are conflicting with the traditional "relational-tribal" socio-economic structure of Italy, as if giving the same information or same access to all were to be an insult to some assumed or agreed "special relationship".
Often in Italy you hear or even read in newspapers calls for "specialists" to cover political roles but using a "specialist mindset"- I beg to differ.
In these times where we have a unique opportunity to play "catch up and align" (and recover 20 years of divergence vs. EU), we need to accept that a specialist who goes for a political role has to be "political".
The audience is not made just of specialists, but of people who not necessarily have the interest or even skills to appreciate all the nuances.
I think that anybody, in a complex society, eventually will find a set of knowledge domains where s/he has just a general grasp (or not even that), and has to choose based on trust.
The COVID19 crisis showed how much our relational socio-economic structure created negative side-effects that could have been avoided if we had had a better relationship citizen-State (which includes, in my view, all the structures of the State- including local authorities and security forces).
The more "technical" the actions to be implemented, the more "political" need to be the guidance.
Yes, it is the old Clausewitz dictum.
Will our élites be worth their role, or will we just see yet another distribution of spoils and posturing?
For now, I will close the article here.
Have a nice week.